Too little, too late

Even defeating the archrival Steelers wasn't enough for disheartened Ravens fans

December 31, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

For Ravens fans, a season of futility and frustration came to a merciful end last night at M&T Bank Stadium. And not a moment too soon.

Even a 27-21 victory yesterday over their archrivals, the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Steelers, couldn't assuage Ravens fans. They had suffered through too much this season:

A franchise-worst nine-game losing streak.

A 5-11 season, the team's worst record since going 4-12 in its inaugural campaign in Baltimore in 1996.

A loss to the 0-13 Miami Dolphins in Week 15.

Injuries that cost significant playing time to a number of the team's veteran standouts.

Empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday were a further indication of the fans' frustration. Additionally, many Ravens fans sold their tickets to Steelers fans, a move comparable to University of Maryland basketball fans selling their seats at the Comcast Center to Duke or North Carolina fans.

"It's been a very trying season," said Lew Smith, a retired corporate pilot from Ocean View, Del., and a season ticket holder since the team moved from Cleveland. "I don't think management has been honest with us about how really, really bad they are. They are a horrible football team."

Ravens president Dick Cass can understand the angst of the fans, many of whom were talking about their team going to the Super Bowl this season after finishing 13-3 last year.

"It's been a very disappointing season for us and for all of our fans," Cass said before the game. "It's terrible when you disappoint the fans."

Like most longtime fans, Smith puts much of the blame at the feet of Ravens coach Brian Billick.

"Coaching-wise, I don't think they have a clue," Smith said. "He's lost total control of the team."

Debbie Young of Annapolis doesn't fault Billick.

"We've had a lot of injuries this year," said Young, a season ticket holder since 1999. "I don't think you could blame that all on the coach."

The performance by rookie quarterback Troy Smith was an encouraging sign, one of the few shown by the Ravens over the past two months. Making his second start, Smith completed 16 of 27 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown.

"He's got to be our starting quarterback next year," said Dennis London, a former Catonsville resident now living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "He doesn't make the mistakes that [Kyle] Boller makes. I like everything that Troy Smith does. We can build the franchise around him."

Cass said the front office cares what the fans think but can't react to their message board and talk show rants.

"We have to follow what the football people are saying," Cass said. "When the season's over, we'll go through an evaluation process like we do every year of our coaches, of our players and make decisions based on those evaluations. If you started listening to everything the fans wanted to do, I don't think that would be in the best interest of the organization."

Yesterday, Todd Waltemeyer of York, Pa., sat in the cold and rain after declining to sell his tickets to the Steelers fans who make up a majority of the fans where he lives.

Said his friend Van Blevins of Bel Air, "I'd rather flush my tickets down the toilet than sell them to a Steelers fan."

With seven months until training camp begins in Westminster, Ravens fans have a long time to contemplate the most disappointing season since the team came to Baltimore.

So do the Ravens players.

"It's been a tough season for me personally because of the ups and downs of the year," said 18-year veteran kicker Matt Stover. "When it came down to it, we didn't close a lot of the games, we made a lot of mistakes, and I think we'll learn a lot from those as young players and as older players. We have to instill that sense of Ravens fear back into this league."

don.markus@baltsun.com

Year-by-year

2007: 5-11

2006: 13-3

2005: 6-10

2004: 9-7

2003: 10-6

2002: 7-9

2001: 10-6

2000: 12-4

1999: 8-8

1998: 6-10

1997: 6-9-1

1996: 4-12

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