There I was at the last game of the regular season in my assigned Ravens season-ticket end zone seat, freezing in the rain — I mean soaking wet. My question to myself: “What is my problem?”
It was not because I was grim, standing next to gloating Steelers fans, but because I cared about the outcome of a game that has no real bearing on my life.
Why, as a grown man, do I not only care but have long ago fused my entire psyche on the goings-on of these guys who scatter around like ants down there on the fake green? When they win big, they gain success, grab some fame, definitely bumps in their paychecks. I get an invoice for next season. I have felt this slap of reality in the past with the Ravens’ two Super Bowl wins. I was rapturous, dancing around, going out in the streets, slapping hands with strangers like I had Mardi Gras fever, but that elation was off the fumes of someone else’s success.
Still here I was — at a meaningless game at that. The Ravens had already clinched a spot in the playoffs and were mainly playing their backups. All I can say is, what goes on down on the field plays out inside me. Players sometimes talk about it in terms of overcoming adversity.
This cliché is found aplenty throughout sports. Players in locker rooms build up the great odds they face and the injuries they suffer, and they love to point out naysaying pundits. But, with football, overcoming adversity is intertwined in the very muscle tissue that cranks from the moment the center snaps the ball. The linemen shove against each other, the receivers fight off the blocks at the line, all to support the quarterback’s insane throw between two defenders that can be brilliant or pathetic.
Problems and disaster lurk everywhere, and it can seem impossible, like being down in a two-possession game with time running out, but then miracles play out so sweetly. It’s the comeback or, with the Ravens this year, the hold-ons, as in don’t blow it in the last minutes of the game. It is this story arc, this hard-shoving cadence that clicks down like the perfect piece snapped onto my life’s struggle.
Life is rough from the big picture — war, climate change, the election — to the personal: computers gone crazy, suicidal drivers, weird health issues and emails of rejections.
To get out of bed is to go into battle. Adversity stands every day ready to cause havoc or worse. That’s why football’s us against the rest of you all fits with my angst just right. The Ravens, despite their rather stellar success — 17-12 in the postseason, and they have only been around since 1996 — plays that chip oh so well.
The Ravens started as the ultimate outsiders, winning the 2001 Super Bowl mainly with defense. Who does that? The second Super Bowl victory, in 2012, came from a season of perfecting an awkward philosophy — winning ugly is a beautiful thing.
But now we have Lamar Jackson, who just may be to football what Jimi Hendrix was to guitar (oh, you thought I was going to make a Michael Jordan and basketball comparison). Then again, the challenge is here with Patrick Mahomes, his own scrambling style and two Super Bowl rings.
But doesn’t it figure that Baltimore may be the favorite this week, but we are being treated as misfits when put up against the sheen of the defending Super Bowl champions with Taylor Swift expected to come to Baltimore? Here’s hoping she visits half those places already pictured on social media before the Ravens inspire her to write a No. 1 sad song.
It’s hard to explain to civilians and the naysayers, but to stand in the stadium with 70,000 underdogs to create a unified chorus in the key of F# to confuse the Kansas City defense plugs you into something. No matter that it might not be tangible or usable to push the lever for change for your own life or the life of this city.
In 2011, the Ravens were one toe tap away from going to the Super Bowl when receiver Lee Evans supposedly didn’t get his second foot down in the end zone before having the ball knocked away. That catch would have given the Ravens a four-point lead over the New England Patriots with 30 seconds left. That hurt, but now add missing the game-tying field goal. Now that’s some pain. That is some real adversity.
According to Ravens legend Ray Lewis, he gathered players in the tunnel and told them that their journey to the Super Bowl started right then amid the worst loss of their lives. Lewis’ declaration proved prophetic. I like to believe — no, I need to believe — that this team draws something from the characteristics of our city. They needed us. We needed them. And so it goes with Lamar and No. 0, Roquan Smith. We need them. They need us.
Believing with wild abandon pushes against that creeping self-consciousness glop that stops us from dancing and singing, leaving us to stand silent at the show. Do not go gentle into that good night. Take that risk and dance like John Harbaugh, well … OK … um.
In the 1970s, people used to talk about having soul — that extra bit of oomph that lights up inside. You feel the connection that goes beyond the tangible all the way down to the field. At least that’s what I get from throwing myself into this team, shredding my voice box while mastering the seat-banging drum roll.
I feel the stadium rumbling in my chest, the soul of the city that is a bit nervous with their hometown favorite, but also know all this pent-up apprehension will surely explode into energy come Sunday. As my Baltimore Polytechnic Institute buddy told me last week during the freezing tailgate, so cold that the propane heater provided light not warmth. I asked him why we put ourselves through this like our lives depend on this. He said, “We’re from Baltimore; this is what we do.”
Charles Cohen is a writer, filmmaker and Baltimore native who thought his football days were over when the Colts left town on a snowy March day. Now, he is so worked up he wonders if he can even watch the AFC championship game. Hitchcock’s suspense has nothing on this.