On Thursday afternoon, a few minutes into a conversation about the NFL’s biggest story, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker was starting to realize something about himself.

“I’m sounding more and more like a Swiftie.”

Which was perfectly fine with Tucker. He was wary of the label initially — not because of ambivalence toward Taylor Swift or her music, but because he admittedly doesn’t know every lyric to every song, and he figured his own level of fandom might disqualify him from Swiftie consideration.

These are strange times to be a Swift fan in an NFL locker room, and Tucker might be the Ravens’ biggest. With his every drive to the team facility in Owings Mills, “Cruel Summer” blasting over the speakers when the mood is just right, two of the country’s most powerful cultural forces — football and Swift — become ever more intertwined.

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On Sunday, after a couple of weeks of speculation about Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s courtship of Swift, she watched a game at Arrowhead Stadium beside Kelce’s mom, Donna. After a blowout win over the Chicago Bears that featured a touchdown catch by Kelce, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said he thought Kelce “wanted to get in the end zone just as much as all the Swifties wanted him to.” Kelce and Swift were later spotted leaving the stadium together.

(Jason Hanna/Getty Images)

Tucker half-joked about the intense public scrutiny of their relationship — “Just let ’em live, man! They’re human beings, too!” — but acknowledged Swift’s outsize impact on a league that needs no help getting the country’s attention.

“Folks who might not otherwise have been following the Kansas City Chiefs or NFL football, they’re now fully invested, which I think is great,” Tucker said. “It grows the game in a significant way. I mean, hey, it’s a rising-tide-raising-all-ships type of situation. And Taylor might be the captain right now. We’ll just be along for the ride.”

Tucker, an accomplished singer himself, called Swift a “pretty incredible artist.” He said he’s “maybe working toward the label of Swiftie” — there are blank spaces in his knowledge of her discography, and he’s never seen her perform live. But Swift is a hitmaker, and Tucker can’t resist. “I just like bops,” he said. “I like tunes that slap.”

Tucker’s favorite Swift song changes from day to day. On Thursday, it was “Lavender Haze,” from her 2022 album, “Midnights.” His wife, Amanda, is a big fan of “Folklore” and “Evermore,” the albums Swift released in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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“There’s no doubt she’s one of the greatest artists of not just our time, or our generation, but maybe of all time,” he said. “There’s no doubt that her impact is remarkable.”

Swift’s hold on the zeitgeist might only be tightening. She’s reportedly scheduled to attend the Chiefs’ away game Sunday night against the New York Jets. On Oct. 13, her new concert film, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” will arrive in theaters worldwide.

Tucker said he doesn’t know what to expect next from the new romantics. “I just wish them the best as human beings,” he said. “I’m happy for Travis and his jersey sales.”

Bad luck for the Irish

Former Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton was sitting in his hotel room Saturday night, phone on silent, locked in on the Fighting Irish’s top-10 matchup with Ohio State.

Former Notre Dame center Sam Mustipher was down the hall in his own room, with film queued up on one side and the game on the other. As the Fighting Irish closed in on the Buckeyes in the third quarter, the film was set aside.

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Former Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison was out getting food. But something was niggling in the back of his mind.

“I was like, ‘Hold on — something is going on!’” Harrison said.

Soon, all three Ravens were watching — and agonizing. Just before Harrison’s return, Notre Dame went up 14-10 midway through the fourth quarter.

“When we scored the touchdown to take the lead in the fourth, and then we stopped them on fourth down going towards our end zone, I thought that was game,” Hamilton said.

When Harrison turned on the TV, Notre Dame had retaken possession with just over four minutes left. He looked at the clock and the score and thought, “Oh, this is a game. Hold on now.” He was nervous, but when he saw the Fighting Irish start passing, he was confident his Buckeyes would have time to orchestrate a comeback.

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He was right. The Buckeyes drove down the field, and on the game’s second-to-last play the Fighting Irish sent only 10 players out, a mistake Hamilton didn’t notice at first — “but also, it’s not my job to notice it.”

Ohio State, lined up at Notre Dame’s 1, punched it into the end zone with one second remaining.

“And then they called game,” Hamilton said. His phone stayed silent for the rest of the night.

Harrison, while excited, went right to bed. When the team regrouped the next morning, hours before its game against the Indianapolis Colts, Mustipher said, there were “a few long faces” among the Ravens’ Notre Dame contingent, which also includes left tackle Ronnie Stanley. But did that keep Harrison quiet?

“Ahhhh, I rubbed it in,” Harrison said with a grin. “I should have told them to wear a [Buckeyes] T-shirt walking into the stadium. It always [comes] to me after the fact.”

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Next up on Harrison’s list? Ohio State’s Oct. 21 matchup against Odafe Oweh and Jordan Stout’s Penn State.



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