Fair-feathered fans?

With the possible exception of Mayan calendar followers and all others who expect the world to end in a matter of hours, is there a gloomier bunch around metropolitan Baltimore than Ravens fans? Rarely in the history of professional sports have people with so little to grouse about made themselves so miserable.

It can't be a Baltimore thing. Just three months ago, this city was thrilled over the unexpected good fortune of a hometown team that hoped to — in the final days of its season — capture a playoff spot. And when the Orioles did, winning a wild-card position that didn't even exist in previous seasons, the fans were absolutely ecstatic, and the team was the toast of the town. It was like we'd hit the lottery.

Contrast that to the down-in-the-dumps mood of Ravens fans. Do they realize their team has already captured a playoff spot and is likely to host a post-season game, something the Orioles were not guaranteed in the first round of the Major League Baseball playoffs? Because someone really ought to tell them about this playoff business if they don't.

This is a lesson in the tragicomic effects of expectations on the human condition. Nobody saw the Orioles success coming, and so we were thrilled. The Ravens, one of the most successful pro football franchises in recent years, are viewed as underperforming, and so this feels a lot like the straight-A student in the family we saw destined for medical school who just came home with a 3.0 grade point average and an interest in selling door-to-door.

Really, we get it. The three straight losses, the injuries to key players, a defense that gives up far more yardage than the fearsome Ravens teams past, the nagging doubts about the starting quarterback, the sudden firing of the offensive coordinator. We don't blame fans for feeling a modicum of disappointment and anxiety about the future. No doubt many in the organization, from the owner on down, feel that, too.

But hey — snap out of it. Lighten up. This is the National Football League, the most popular professional sport in the land. You think simply making the playoffs is no big deal? Try talking to people living in Jacksonville, Fla.; Oakland, Calif.; or Arizona, where January weekends are looking pretty open right now. Heck, just 40 miles to the south, the long-suffering fan base is thrilled to cheer for a team with eight wins on the season. The Ravens have nine.

Perhaps it's the fact that the NFL season has only one-tenth as many games as baseball's, but football fans tend to treat each game like a matter of life and death. They declare themselves the league's best after every win and the worst after every loss. If baseball fans reacted to losses as Ravens fans do, they'd never be able to lift themselves out of bed in the morning.

We leave the analysis and prognostications to the sportswriters who can decide what Coach John Harbaugh and his players ought to be doing to improve their plight. This is what we know: Last year, a team with a less-impressive regular season record at this point — including two losses to the Redskins when their quarterback was the pedestrian RG1 (Rex Grossman) rather than the rocket-like RG3 (Robert Lee Griffin III) — went on to win the Super Bowl.

Now, that same team, the New York Giants, is about to hit town and would like very much to beat the Ravens to keep its own hopes alive for a playoff spot. M&T Bank Stadium is said to be one of the most difficult venues in the NFL for visiting teams. At 4:25 p.m. on Sunday, it's time to prove that's true — and that Ravens fans haven't given up on the hometown team.

So, are Ravens fans the fair-weather variety, or do they stick by their team when the going gets tough? (Honestly, we're not auditioning for the pre-game pep-talk, because Ray Lewis remains the master at that). If Baltimore can survive the Mayan calendar's prediction for the end of the world, its football team's followers can survive a few setbacks on the way to the NFL playoffs.

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