THE FIRST TIME Peyton Manning steps behind center tonight, Brian Billick would like you to forget your nice Mid-Atlantic manners and give him such an earful that he can't hear himself think.
This shouldn't be very difficult, considering that every seat at M&T Bank Stadium will be filled for the Ravens' regular-season opener ... and most of you fans have been preserving your vocal cords by sitting quietly at Oriole Park for the past two months.
There has to be a lot of pent-up frustration in Baltimore right now, so why not subject Manning and the hated Colts to a little primal scream therapy? If you have any trouble getting into character, just imagine you're an Eagles fan - minus the part where you throw up on the usher at halftime.
(So it begins again. I'm sure you were wondering when I would kick off a new year of Eagle-bashing, since I almost went soft on the Iggs and their surprisingly well-behaved fans at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville. Turns out that most of the real Eagles fans had gotten lost in South Carolina and Georgia on the way down, and were forced to watch the big game from prison.)
Billick has gotten some flak in the past for trying to orchestrate the crowd noise for big home games, but I don't see anything wrong with that. The Orioles often post cheers on the scoreboard to get the crowd involved, though things have gotten so bad lately that the die-hards - and you 14,000 who actually showed up for the 10th anniversary Cal celebration know who you are - are having trouble out-shouting the no-shows.
Nobody should have to tell a Ravens fan why it's important to pump up the volume. Manning is the king of the audible, so the decibel level at M&T could have a real impact on the outcome of the game. If you're concerned about the possible negative effects of the noise on your own hearing, just go to a souvenir stand and ask for a pair of Official Rafael Palmeiro Earplugs.
Billick would also like you to lay off Kyle Boller, who didn't exactly inspire great confidence with his performance during the preseason. The natives already are restless, but the kid deserves more than one game to get his feet planted firmly in the pocket.
There will be plenty of time to boo if he doesn't show any progress this year ... but not tonight.
That said, it's OK to get a little nostalgic about Trent Dilfer, who will start for the Cleveland Browns when they open the season this afternoon against the up-and-coming Cincinnati Bengals. The oddsmakers say it isn't going to go well for Trent, and it's hard to disagree. The Browns were 4-12 last year and still appear to be rebuilding.
I think the Department of the Navy dropped the ball when it ruled that former Navy fullback Kyle Eckel could not play for the Miami Dolphins this season.
Don't misunderstand. I realize that Eckel has an ironclad service commitment and that there was concern about the appearance of misplaced priorities during a time of war, but I believe that the interests of the Navy and the Naval Academy would have been better served by letting him play in the NFL.
The season lasts only four months and the possibility of such a waiver would make it much easier to recruit top-flight athletes to come to Annapolis. Maybe that's not Job One right now, but the military has a long history of using servicemen with special talents - particularly athletes and actors - to raise morale and aid in recruitment.
The Sidney Ponson arbitration case presents an intriguing scenario for teams that might be interested in signing the troubled pitcher for the 2006 season. The legal wrangling likely will go on throughout the offseason, forcing clubs to decide whether to treat him like an unrestricted free agent or wait to see if the Orioles are forced to pay him the 2006 salary called for in his terminated contract.
The collective bargaining agreement does not allow a released player to double-dip, so whatever another team agrees to pay Ponson would come out of the judgment against the Orioles if the arbitrator rules that they were not entitled to withhold the remainder of his guaranteed salary. Might make more sense for interested teams to just wait until the dispute is settled and try to sign him for the minimum major league salary.
Of course, that presupposes that anyone would want to inherit his checkered history ... but, trust me, someone will have him in camp next spring.