Past's burden borne lightly by those who wear uniform

Ravens Extra

January 14, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

Throughout a week of civic angst and anticipation, the Ravens seemed happy to carry the burden of Baltimore's star-crossed football legacy, but perhaps -- in the end -- the history of the horseshoe was just too heavy.

The moving vans left nearly a quarter century ago, but the hurt seemed fresh again as the Colts arrived for yesterday's epic playoff showdown between the city's past and present NFL franchises. Fresh enough to raise a question:

Did we -- the fans, the media, anyone who got caught up in the madness -- end up painting so many layers of meaning on this football game that we psyched ourselves and our team right out of the postseason?

That's silly, right? The Ravens prepared as they had all season. They got the first-round bye. They had home-field advantage. They had everything going their way, including the cresting passion of a fan following that still, after all these years, was looking for some kind of Colt-catharsis.

It was all good, or was it?

The history question was posed to tight end Todd Heap after the game, but before he could answer, teammate Ed Reed sneered in the background.

"How long ago was that ... [19]56 ...'62?"

Clearly, it has not been long enough for the generation of older fans who revered the Colts and eventually adopted the Ravens. Obviously, it was not so long ago that it doesn't still make for the kind of hyped-up media reflection that accompanies sports events of such magnitude. Certainly, it was enough of an issue that Reed was tired of hearing about it, and so were many of his teammates.

"History didn't play this game," said linebacker Adalius Thomas, who just might have played his last game as a Raven. "We did."

That's true, of course, and the Ravens made it clear throughout the week that there was more than enough riding on their playoff opener without filling their heads with images of Mayflower trucks and surrogate outrage over the way the Colts' franchise stole out of town.

The company line was always that the Ravens were treating the Colts the same way they would have treated the New England Patriots or the San Diego Chargers or anyone else who got in the way of their march to Miami. The anti-Colts sentiment that gripped the city was fine if it raised the decibel level in the stadium, but it had nothing to do with the way the Ravens would approach the game.

Never mind that it was enough of an organizational issue that someone decided that the word "Colts" would not appear on the scoreboard (the score was "Ind." 15, Ravens 6) and that the public address crew should refer to them only as "Indianapolis" in all game updates.

"There are a lot of things that go on during the week," Heap said. "What you have to worry about is what you do in the game. We came out and played today and were not at our best. I sincerely believe we have a bunch of guys who leave everything out on the field."

When Reed finally got his opportunity at the podium, he had made peace with the issue and denied that the Ravens had been unfairly burdened by a history that was not of their making.

"No, not at all," he said. "It was a great game ... great with the history that goes with it. We love to play in that kind of atmosphere. Hats off to the fans. We wish we could have gotten them a Super Bowl."

OK, maybe the old Colts controversy didn't get into their heads, but it certainly got into Ravens fans. The new Colts insisted all week that it wasn't an issue. The Ravens largely did the same. But fans watched the first playoff round last week and rooted for this matchup, even if most of them couldn't bring themselves to root openly for the Colts to beat the Kansas City Chiefs.

Everyone knew that this game had the potential to liberate a generation of tortured souls or simply torture them some more, but nobody wanted to believe in a cosmos that would allow the Colts to drive away with the fans' hearts again.

The Ravens might move forward, but Ravens fans won't. They'll root against the Colts next week and beg for this matchup again next January.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning understands that, but he wishes Baltimore could separate the past from present.

"I hope we can just move on," Manning said. "I was 8 years old when that happened. It was one guy's decision and that one guy isn't around anymore. I think we need to get past it, but we saw a lot of middle fingers on the bus ride in here."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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