Did Sun play up the Ravens-Colts game too much?

Public Editor

January 21, 2007|By Paul Moore | Paul Moore,Public Editor

Like a heavy-drinking sailor after a weeklong bender, thousands of Baltimore Ravens fans woke up to a serious emotional hangover last Sunday after the Ravens' 15-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Many of the articles published the week of the game reminded readers of the Colts' surreptitious decision to leave Baltimore for Indiana in 1984, breaking the hearts of countless football fans here.

The game thus was much more than a divisional playoff battle on the road to the Super Bowl - it was a chance for revenge and redemption in front of fans who had never gotten over being abandoned 23 years ago.

Some have wondered if The Sun's exhaustive coverage leading up to the game - which included front-page articles for six consecutive days followed by a massive Page One presence on the Ravens' loss - contributed to this groundswell of emotion. Other readers felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Ravens-Colts coverage (especially on Page One) and said they skipped over it.

Reader Erin Goldfarb said: "By Sunday morning I couldn't take it any more. The giant headline, `PURPLE PAIN': Once again Colts break Baltimore's heart,' and the amount of space it all took up was way too much for me. There was so little other news that I just put the page aside and went to another section."

From S. Levin: "The Colts didn't break our hearts, the Ravens broke our hearts."

John S. White wrote after the loss: "The Sun will now be forced to put an end to the obscene coverage that you have been giving the Ravens. There can be no excuse for front-paging this team day after day just to appease, presumably, the football fans who apparently purchase The Sun for no other reason."

It is important to note that this really was a big game. The Ravens finished an outstanding regular season at 13-3. They received a first-round playoff bye for winning their division and home-field advantage for at least one playoff game. They were again legitimate Super Bowl contenders, six years after winning the NFL championship.

When the Colts won their first-round game, they were destined to come to Baltimore. It was natural for Sun reporters and columnists to examine the likely emotional resonance of such a game for longtime Baltimore residents and how it might translate to the players themselves.

It also can be argued that The Sun's coverage reflects the community's serious interest in the Ravens and this game in particular. More than ever, metropolitan areas' identities and sense of community are directly linked to their sports teams. It is also in the newspaper's best interest for the team to be successful because it improves single-copy sales and greatly increases the number of visitors to its Web site. The risk, however, is that the newspaper develops too much of a boosterish "we" and "us" mentality.

For the sports department, it was like Super Bowl week. The department produced comprehensive daily coverage of the Ravens and the Colts, including three "Ravens Extra" sections. The reporting, editing and photography of the game itself and stories about what's ahead for next year were outstanding.

Sun editors hoped that some of the front-page articles about the game might appeal to those readers not interested in football. In my view, the results were mixed. The Jan. 9 interview with Colts' owner Jim Irsay - the son of the late Bob Irsay, who remains despised here for moving the team in 1984 - received prominent play. The article, which reiterated Jim Irsay's desire to let bygones be bygones, did not justify its position on the page. On the other hand, John Woestendiek's Jan. 11 piece from Indianapolis, "Many fans but fewer fanatics in Indy," was a highly readable change of pace because it did not take all the hype too seriously.

But no front-page article generated as much feedback as columnist Dan Rodricks' "Sweet visions of payback get sidelined." Rodricks had the unenviable and, in my view, thankless task of trying to articulate the feelings of so many disappointed fans. "Vanquishing the blue-and-white imposters from Indianapolis was critical for an entire metropolitan area's spiritual well-being," Rodricks wrote. "But here we are, sour with Sunday-morning sickness."

As Rodricks said later: "I am getting hammered across the country ... and so is Baltimore." The criticism broke along these lines. "Get over it. It's been 23 years so drop it." "Art Modell moving his team from Cleveland to Baltimore was just like what Irsay did." "The people of Baltimore and The Sun should get a life."

Many readers, were simply exhausted by the coverage. For them the result of the game - no matter the outcome - could never justify the amount of coverage it received.

And yet there were those who accepted all the hoopla with equanimity.

Carole Fisher wrote: "So give it a rest. The Ravens players are more miserable than we can possibly be. As a true sports fan, I'm ready for next year."

Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.

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