Ravens innocent as lambs in face of conspiracy

Pro Football

October 16, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

If there ever has been a must-win game for the Ravens in their history here, it's today's game against the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium.

That is, if the refs don't steal it from them again.

You know, they stole that game last week. Just like the NFL wanted them to. The NFL doesn't want the Ravens to win. It hates the Ravens.

The NFL is jealous of the Ravens' success. The refs are afraid of the Ravens' attitude. Whatever they have to do in tandem with each other to stick it to this franchise, they will.

You know that, right? You've been saying it all week, since about halftime of the game against the Lions. The e-mails started then, and then came the phone calls and the diatribes on the talk shows and in the streets and everywhere conspiracy theorists gather.

The conclusion: not, "Boy, did the Ravens blow that," but "Man, is the league out to get us."

It's not the players' fault. It's not even the coach's fault; not this time. Why hold them responsible when they lose? Sure, Brian Billick said in every utterance last week, and wrote on his weekly online diary, that he and the players need to be accountable for their actions. Yeah, yeah, blah blah blah. When our heroes lose, it has to be someone else's fault, right?

Good thing we know whose fault.

It's obvious why. No one ever wants Baltimore to win. No one ever gives it the respect it deserves. New York, that's who they love. New York and D.C. and Philly and Boston. Little ol' Baltimore gets the short end every time.

Isn't it obvious by now? If it wasn't before, when no one gave the Orioles any respect the first half of the baseball season, isn't it now? OK, so the Orioles couldn't keep their pace and actually went completely in the other direction and shamed themselves on the way down. Stop nitpicking.

When it comes to this football team in this city, the NFL will do what it has to do to make sure it doesn't win. So it's time to stop blaming the players and coaches for the blizzard of flags, the flurry of personal fouls, the double ejections and fines, 18-point loss, the last-place standing, the hole the Ravens are in a quarter of the way through the season.

It's all about hating Baltimore.

They're still mad about Ray Lewis. They're mad about Jamal Lewis. They're mad about Billick. They're mad about Art Modell. They're mad that they had to put a new team in Cleveland. They're mad that the city kept bugging them for 12 years about getting a team back. They're mad that Johnny Unitas never played for the Giants.

There's also the lucrative, football-crazed market that sells out every game at a new stadium for a team annually near the top in apparel sales, with a coach and players the networks love to mike up at every opportunity, and a decades-long legacy that transcends moving vans and late-night abandonments.

The NFL hates all of that.

Anyway, the Ravens lost to the Lions last week because of the refs; don't even try to dispute it. All bad calls, and none of them was the Ravens' fault. That's not even mentioning the two times they didn't get calls overturned by replay. That's because Billick complains about replay too much, and they're going to get him back for that no matter what.

None of the calls could possibly have been a result of simple bad judgment or even incompetence - since the NFL appears to have trouble finding enough competent officials to cover every game, anyway. They definitely couldn't be because the Ravens might actually have committed the penalties. No, it was part of ... the conspiracy.

With all of that going on, who can blame the players for going ballistic for the entire second half last week? It's a reasonable reaction to unfavorable calls. They were playing 11 on 17. They had to stand up for themselves.

A little head-butt, a little pelvic thrust, a little ball-hurling, a little malice in your heart, a couple of fat fines - all understandable under the circumstances. Either do that or react with calm, class and accountability, like the Los Angeles Angels did last week when a truly blatantly bad call cost them a baseball playoff game.

But the Angels probably don't really want to win. Or they're soft or something.

Regardless, if the Ravens aren't careful, the same thing will happen this week, since the NFL likes Cleveland and hates this city.

It's us against them. The misunderstood Ravens representing beaten-down Baltimore and its disrespected fans - against the entire NFL.

On second thought, this isn't a must-win game. With this excuse in mind, the Ravens have not lost a game yet, and never will.

They'll all be stolen from them.


Points after -- David Steele

Just when you thought no city could be embarrassed by the actions of its football team more than Baltimore was by the Ravens last week, along come the Vikings to put everything in perspective. For the players' sakes, these "party boat" stories had better be wrong. If they are, plenty of people would gladly, and with great relief, apologize for jumping to conclusions.

Good thing the NFL made ESPN halt production of Playmakers a couple of years ago. Fans might have gotten the wrong idea about the players' character.

David Stern likely is looking on from afar and thinking, "That's what a league gets when it doesn't have a dress code."

Just so we're clear here: You can't play in the NBA unless you're a grown man, but once you're in, other grown men can tell you how to dress. Gotcha.

Steve Nash might be the most fun player in the NBA to watch, and is as solid and genuine a person as there is in sports. It's not his fault that he's about to get exposed as less than a truly deserving Most Valuable Player now that Amare Stoudemire is out for four months.

Two weeks into training camp with his new Lakers team and Kwame Brown hasn't threatened to "slap the [expletive] out of" anybody. Quite a feat, considering Kobe Bryant's still there.

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