'05? Oh, no!

A look back over this year? Where to start? Better yet, let's not start

With a stumbling season for the Ravens, national embarrassment for the Orioles, and a Terps letdown, it was a year to forget

The Year In Sports

December 26, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

So, the boss sidled up to my desk, coughed and asked if I could write a column summing up the year in Baltimore sports.

I looked at him. He smiled. I asked if he realized it couldn't be done, at least not honestly.

You're supposed to put a happy face on a year-end look-back piece, because otherwise you're just a grouch who shoos kids away, opposed to the idea of holiday cheer. But, of course, we're at the end of a year that was as rotten as last month's milk, and everyone knows it.

The Ravens? They plummeted to the bottom like a bowling ball in a swimming pool.

The Orioles? Words can't do justice to the extent of their nightmare.

The Terps? A double disappointment: no bowl, no Big Dance (the latter for the first time since 1993).

Great, the boss said, can you turn it in as early as possible? (This is a management technique known as "calculated obliviousness.")

Editors love things turned in early. But, I warned, if I turn this in too early, I might miss the weekly Orioles catastrophe. What if the Oriole Bird demands to be traded to the Blue Jays for foam padding? I can't comment if I've already turned in the column.

No problem, the boss said. He explained that they were putting together a "package," which is newspaper talk for lots of pictures and charts and a few sentences of copy, and said it would hold up regardless of what happened.

I tried another escape tactic, pointing out that I had already played the "things could be worse" card in my saccharine Thanksgiving Day column about being grateful that we at least had pro teams (OK, next time you write it), so I would have to play it straight and admit the truth: We stink.

The boss said he would run that past some readership focus groups but it was probably fine.

Obviously, I couldn't get out of the assignment. But sitting down to write, I couldn't bring myself to trudge through the sludge of raffyponsonbollerbillick one more time. I remembered how grateful I was that the director of The Exorcist took us into Linda Blair's room only so often.

But what could I say about a year straight out of Dickens? (It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times.) Not only did the local teams faithfully disappoint, but there was also genuine sadness when Chuck Thompson and Elrod Hendricks died.

I decided, this being the season of giving, that I should do what I could to make everyone feel better.

There were, after all, silver linings to the year, a few positive developments that somehow escaped the shredder that mangled everything else. Johns Hopkins won its first NCAA lacrosse title in 18 years. Jimmy Patsos started making noise with Loyola's basketball team. Former Maryland golf coach Fred Funk won nearly $1 million at the Skins Game. The Orioles hired a great pitching coach. Dave Zastudil punted one really far. The weather was generally pleasant.

When that well quickly ran dry, I wondered how else to make people feel better. Then I had an idea: I should try to find a year even worse. As bad as people feel about 2005, they would surely be pleased to look down their noses and sniff, "Yeah, this was a bummer, but it could have been [fill in the year]. That was really bad."

Of course, I had to find such a year. I nosed through the record books, consulted some of our city's old pros and, maximizing my researching skills, slept on it. Here are the candidates:

1984. The Mayflower vans rolled for Indianapolis. The Orioles, coming off their last World Series title, started their long slide to invisibility.

1988. The Orioles lost their first 21 games and a franchise-record 107 overall. There was no pro football team. (We were in between the USFL and CFL.) The Redskins won the Super Bowl.

1902. The Orioles moved to New York and became the Highlanders, later the infernal Yankees.

But when I weighed those years against 2005, I had a hard time saying any were worse. Yes, the year the Colts left was disastrous, but the Orioles finished over .500, which today would be grounds for a parade. And although 1988 reeked, that year the Orioles signed a lease to move to Camden Yards, a development that eventually resulted in two splendid sports stadiums and the NFL's return.

I might be biased, but I think we just came through the worst year of all. So here's the solace I'm offering as a holiday gift:

If things can't get any worse in 2006, they're bound to get better.

john.eisenberg@baltsun.com

RAVENS CONTENTIOUS NOT CONTENDING:

WHAT WENT WRONG:

Entering a season in which some predictions had the Ravens competing for the Super Bowl, the team quickly fell out of contention amid injuries and poor performances. Linebacker Ray Lewis missed most of the season. Kyle Boller (above) - his injury was cheered by the home crowd - still hasn't established himself as an NFL quarterback. Running back Jamal Lewis spent a lot of time bemoaning his lack of carries.

ORIOLES: POINTED IN WRONG DIRECTION

WHAT WENT WRONG:

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