For Baltimore sports fans, now is the early spring of our discontent.
Could it really be that just six weeks ago, we were living in sports fandom ecstasy? The Baltimore Ravens were parading down Pratt Street hoisting a Vince Lombardi Trophy, having won the Super Bowl, the highest honor in U.S. professional sports. There was even a bit of afterglow leftover from the Orioles' surprising season and playoff effort, the first time Baltimore's Major League Baseball franchise had reached the post-season since 1997.
You have to go back decades to recall a time when Charm City's baseball and football teams fared so well simultaneously. This was the American Dream, at least for the ESPN-addicted. SportsCenter hosts likely hired teams of writers to dream up new Edgar Allan Poe puns to accompany all the highlight footage they were showing.
How did it go from king of the hill to "my kingdom for a starting free safety" so quickly? Let us count the ways.
Top of the list, of course, has been watching the Ravens lose free agents faster than Berger can sell fudge cookies. The latest was nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who signed with the Houston Texans. But add to that list six other players who started in the big game, including wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who will soon be tattooed by strong-arm quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, a man who knows tattooing.
Even the signing of Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco seems to have drawn a mixed response from Ravens nation. Management may deny it, but his $120.6 million contract clearly had an impact on how much the team can spend on his supporting cast. No wonder a popular Internet meme after his signing pictured No. 5 posing for the 2013 Ravens team picture on empty stands.
Meanwhile, the Orioles treated baseball's off-season like they'd already had their fill of talent for the foreseeable future, thank you. Supermodels partake more at the Golden Corral's steak night buffet lines than the O's did in free agency. Guess 35-year-old Brian Roberts' return from multiple injuries, including a serious concussion, was good enough for them.
We don't know what the Orioles' future holds (they are certainly winning a lot of games in grapefruit country, for whatever that's worth), but it sure seems like baseball writers around the country have already written them off. Hardly anyone predicts the Orioles finishing any better than fourth place in the American League East. Even professional gambling oddsmakers rate the team last in the division.
But at least that's better than Towson University's odds of winning men's soccer and baseball games after this school year. The school's new president has run into something of an alumni buzz saw with her decision to drop those teams. Just this week, Maravene S. Loeschke got a scolding in absentia over how she's handled that unpopular decision at the Board of Public Works from both Gov. Martin O'Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot. The two decided to hold up a $25 million construction contract until she comes to Annapolis to explain herself, perhaps the first time in recorded history that they have joined together to outvote Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp on anything. (Fortunately, Ms. Loeschke's background is in theater, so she's not entirely unprepared for such moments.)
Oh, and did we mention that March Madness has begun without a local men's team? For basketball-serious Baltimore, that's a big deal. It's all very well to see the University of Maryland and U.S. Naval Academy women's teams make it to the big dance, but watching the Terrapin men play in the NIT despite beating Duke twice this season and having a possible future NBA lottery pick in the front court is kind of a drag.
All of which brings us full circle back to the Ravens and Orioles, who can't quite work out a way to allow the world champions to host the National Football League's traditional Thursday night opener because the Orioles are home that night, too. One would think that this was equivalent of hosting a dinner party for Pope Francis and the clergyman formerly known as Pope Benedict on the same night. Can't we all just get along?
There are really just two remedies for all this. Fans can give the O's and Ravens' respective management teams the benefit of the doubt and wait to see how that turns out. They can discover women's college basketball and root for Towson academics (it is a college, as you may recall). Or they can pick the last bits of confetti out of their Boldin jerseys and head to the nearest sports bar. Just remember, the triumph of a championship wouldn't mean much if there wasn't some adversity to overcome on the road to getting there.