On several fields, hard year for a football fan

December 19, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

As a football fan for at least the past 40 years, it's been a rough 2005 for me.

And I'm not just talking about the Ravens.

In fact, I'm not as upset with the Ravens as some of their so-called "fans" are. You know, the ones who showed up when the team was competitive and winning games and whose seats are empty now that the team is in a bit of a slide.

There was talk among fans and some of the Ravens themselves about how the team would go to the Super Bowl this year. I didn't buy into such foolishness. Instead, I did something that has left me at peace with the Ravens' performance in 2005.

I lowered my expectations. It's time you lowered yours.

Just how the Ravens were supposed to make it to the Super Bowl when there are at least six teams in the American Football Conference better than they are boggled my mind. Judging from the Ravens' 4-9 record so far, the only way they could have made it to the Super Bowl is if each and every member of the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals either dropped dead or withdrew from the league before the season started.

And speaking of the Bengals ...

Isn't it time someone pointed out that the Ravens should have hired Marvin Lewis - the Ravens defensive coordinator when the team won Super Bowl XXXV and now the head coach of the Bengals - as head coach and told current Ravens coach Brian Billick to take a walk? Come on. You know it's true. Just SAY IT.

Now there were snide letters from a few so-called sports "fans" in this very paper written before Lewis got the Bengals job that dismissed his qualifications to be a head coach. Lewis had great talent when he was the Ravens' defensive coordinator, these "fans" opined. That's the reason the defense was so good.

The Ravens have great talent on the defensive side of the ball now. The defense isn't as good as it was in 2000 or 2001, when Lewis was with the team. It's not even as good as it was in 2003, when the unit was ranked third in the league.

In fact, it's interesting to compare the Baltimore and Cincinnati football teams since 2003, when the Ravens won the AFC North Division. The teams split two regular-season games in 2003, but our Ravens distinguished themselves by losing to mediocre or downright pathetic teams they had no business losing to, like the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders.

In 2004, the teams again split two regular-season games, but the Bengals won the second when the Ravens collapsed in the fourth quarter.

The team's been collapsing ever since.

The Bengals have beaten the Ravens twice in 2005 and sit atop the AFC North. Lewis' Bengals have improved every year since 2003. Billick's Ravens have gone from good to mediocre to downright awful.

But that doesn't bother me. Remember, I lowered my expectations.

I knew Kyle Boller isn't a Super Bowl quarterback. Not yet, he isn't. He may get there one day, but he's not there now. The defense isn't as good as it was when the Ravens won the Super Bowl after the 2000 season. The team's been on a two-year downhill slide. And we were supposed to believe those ingredients would result in a Super Bowl title in 2005?

I'll move on to talk about the real disappointment of 2005, which came from the team that truly represents Baltimore's glorious football past. No, that wouldn't be the Ravens. It's not the Colts either, who started their winning streak, with cruel irony, in Baltimore.

I'm talking about the Morgan State University Bears, who were the cream of the crop for years in black college football. They had one of the best winning records in the 1960s and Pro Football Hall of Fame players like Leroy Kelly and Willie Lanier to prove it.

The once-mighty Bears of Morgan have been on a downslide of their own. But there was some hope in 2004 when the squad was competitive, beat some good teams and came close to beating some others. The Bears won their last game of 2004 to finish with a 5-6 record.

The 2005 Bears finished 2-9 and lost their last game 65-15.

At a symposium in Greensboro, N.C., earlier this year, I described myself as a proud fan of Morgan State Bears football (which I am, although I'm not an alumnus of the school).

"It's been a rough year," I said of 2005.

"It's been a rough decade," answered a professor at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, who is a Morgan alumnus.

"It's going to be a rough weekend," chimed in second North Carolina A&T professor, referring to a game Morgan was to play against the Aggies that weekend, to chuckles from all assembled.

They'd better laugh while they still can. The Morgan Bears will rise again.

And as for the Ravens?

Continue to lower your expectations.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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