Baltimore in late July is not normally considered paradise, but for many, there has never been a summer quite like this one — and not just because a cold front has briefly moderated temperatures and humidity to something manageable. We are a sports fan's paradise. Not only are the Baltimore Orioles contenders in the American League East, but the Baltimore Ravens have opened training camp on their season as defending world champions.
Yes, yes, everyone knows the Ravens won the Super Bowl more than five months ago, but seriously, does reminding ourselves of that ever become tiresome? World champions. World champions. World champions. It just has a nice ring to it — and a big, shiny trophy, too. Let's toss some more purple and black confetti like we did last February.
Even those Baltimoreans who care little about sports have to admit that it's just an awful lot of fun to know the local teams are showing up on ESPN SportsCenter highlights instead of the blooper reel. It gives us something to talk about around the water cooler, the food truck or even the front steps. How about those Ravens, hon? It brings a certain amount of community pride to a city that could use a little bit extra to brag about every once in a while.
For those who aren't regulars to the sports pages, here's the scoop. NFL training camps are like the fraternity hazing of sports. Large men will now huff and puff and run, lift and pound on each other to earn a spot on the 2013 squad. There are draft picks and free agents, veterans and rookies, all seeking to: 1) survive and 2) make the team. If you have further questions about the process, consult the HBO series, "Hard Knocks," which this year follows the Cincinnati Bengals as they do much the same thing.
The Ravens will be without nine starters from the Super Bowl team, including linebacker, team leader and inspirational dancer Ray Lewis, who has played here since the last Ice Age (or something like that). For most teams, this would be considered extremely bad news, but here's where the jury is out, to say the least.
Football prognosticators have already started doing their thing, and they've noted the substantial turnover in personnel and, as a result, few are picking the Ravens to repeat. Some don't even expect the team back in the playoffs. Bleacher Report fully expects a Super Bowl featuring the San Francisco 49ers against the New England Patriots (apparently on the theory that losing a tight end to a murder charge shouldn't be any big deal) while the Ravens stay home.
Of course, that's exactly how we like it here in Baltimore — with low expectations and a chip on our shoulders. Coach John Harbaugh is a master of cutting through the hype surrounding professional football and recognizing that it's still a game of blocking, tackling, running and passing — oh, and with apologies to Justin Tucker, sometimes kicking. When asked by an out-of-town reporter this week about who will be the next "face of the franchise" now that No. 52 is gone, he disputed the very idea that there was ever a face of the franchise to begin with.
History shows that Super Bowl champions tend not to repeat, whether their starters return or not, and many follow their big wins with mediocre seasons. Whether it's because of complacency, egos, distractions or just bad luck, it's hard to say. But it's clear these Ravens still have something to prove to the world. Even Joe Flacco, that Super Bowl MVP who threw 11 touchdowns with no interceptions in the playoffs, was dissed in a recent ranking of top NFL quarterbacks on NFL.com, which listed him 13th. Matt Ryan and Cam Newton were rated higher.
But things look pretty good from where we're sitting, particularly compared to our neighbors to the north in Philadelphia and New York, where mediocrity abounds. Last year, we had the good fortunate of watching the Orioles and Ravens march to playoffs and assumed it was all a dream. Well, the good times are still rolling. Let's enjoy them while they last.