The season began with a thrashing of the Steelers and had the promise of ending with the Superbowl in Indianapolis, of all cities, where the Ravens had the prospect of facing off against either the 49ers (coached by our John Harbaugh's little brother) or, as it turned out, the Giants (a team Baltimore has a bit of history with when it comes to NFL championships). The Ravens' aging superstars were offering a reminder of why they're headed for the Hall of Fame, and its young core of talent was blossoming on both sides of the ball. For Baltimore, the stars seemed aligned.
A last-second field goal, alas, was not.
We leave it up to our colleagues on the sports pages to analyze what happened on the field Sunday in Foxboro, Mass. We turn our attention now to what happened in our collective civic psyche as that football hooked left in the New England night. For this endeavor, we turn to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' classic model for how we deal with grief and tragedy
Denial. Maybe it was all a dream. Perhaps the NFL will do a few more instant replays and determine that wide receiver Lee Evans really did have control of the football in the end zone and then hand the Ravens the win. Maybe we'll discover that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's extensive skin-care regimen violates league substance abuse policies.
Anger. Billy Cundiff, we regret to inform you that this phase may be a bit rough for you. Sure, there are plenty of other reasons why the Ravens didn't win Sunday, and in any case, the missed field goal would only have sent the game to overtime. But the lot of the NFL place kicker is to have the entire fate of the team resting on your right foot. In our more generous moments we say, "Let he who has kicked a 32-yard field goal cast the first stone," but realistically, Mr. Cundiff, probably best to keep a low profile for a while.
Bargaining. Sadly, this is likely to be a particularly unproductive stage. After all, what do we have that Bostonians want? Seafood? Check. Mild winters? Global warming is eroding our bargaining position on that one. The Orioles? Sorry, the Red Sox already have a AAA team.
Depression. Purple Fridays will soon give way to black Mondays. There will be a collective shedding of fanstashes as they are ritualistically thrown into the Inner Harbor. Joe Flacco, mid Polar Bear Plunge, will briefly contemplate just staying in the water.
Acceptance. Finally, we will begin to appreciate that despite a heartbreaking finish, this was a pretty great season. Perhaps it's unhealthy or unwise to put so much stock in the fate of a professional sports team. Maybe, in as much as we identify with the Ravens, we would be better to realize that the Ravens are a business, not an embodiment of civic character. But that isn't going to happen. The team is perhaps the greatest single institution tying the region together, crossing race, culture and class lines. If you're stuck with a stranger on an elevator, chances are good you can strike up a conversation about the admissions policies at Ball So Hard University. Other cities have sought to achieve the same effect by encouraging everyone to read the same book at the same time. Perhaps that's something to consider; after all, books can break your heart, but generally only when their authors mean to.
The journey to healing may be long, and it may not be pretty. But it could be worse. Better to come so close and fall just short (or left, as the case may be) than never to have had a chance at all.