Baltimore is favored over New York in the big one ... and where have we heard that one before?
Jan. 12, 1969: The Colts, having just run 15-1 through the NFL, are 17 1/2-point favorites over the Jets in Super Bowl III. Sports Illustrated calls it 47-0 for the Colts. Then Joe Namath does the unthinkable, guaranteeing victory for the American Football League underdogs, and goes out and sinks the unsinkable. New York 16, Baltimore 7.
October, 1969: The Orioles, stocked with Hall of Famers, are being called the best team since the '27 Yankees. The Mets, stocked with Ron Swoboda and J.C. Martin, are being called a better team than the '62 Mets, who played 160 games and lost 120 of them. Everyone expects the World Series to be over in five games, and it is. New York 4, Baltimore 1.
Are we sure we want to go any further with this? Those Colts had Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall at quarterback.
These Ravens do not.
Those Orioles had an offense capable of putting double digits on the scoreboard at any time.
These Ravens do not.
This is not a symbiotic relationship, Baltimore versus New York. With the exception of the 1958 NFL championship game--Colts over Giants, in overtime--the rivalry between the Big Apple and Crab City has been as one-sided as a Raven intrasquad scrimmage.
This is the Baltimore-New York connection in a warped nutshell: Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote the famous poem that gave the Ravens their nickname, left Baltimore for New York, where he published many of his most substantial works, including "The Raven." He did, however, return to Baltimore to die.
Except for that grainy, 42-year-old photo of Colt linemen parting the blue sea and opening that game-winning hole for Alan Ameche, Baltimore-New York has been the worst kind of one-way shuttle. When Baltimore wasn't playing stooge to New York in "upset of the century" fodder for ESPN Classic, it was playing farm club to New York's wildest athletic fantasies.
Babe Ruth was born in Baltimore before achieving immortality with the New York Yankees, who were born in Baltimore before moving up the coast in 1903. The original Baltimore Orioles, who nearly folded midway through the 1902 season, were sold to a New York saloon owner for $18,000 and resumed play the next season as the New York Highlanders. In 1913, the team was formally renamed the Yankees.
(Baltimore, meanwhile, was without major league baseball until 1954, when the Browns moved from St. Louis--the first, but not the last, time a professional franchise named the Browns moved east to Baltimore.)
Earl Monroe made his reputation as an all-NBA guard with the Baltimore Bullets, averaging 25.8 points in 1968-69, only to be swept out of the playoffs by the Knicks in first round. He averaged 23.4 points in 1969-70 and was again knocked out of the first round by the Knicks.
For Baltimore, that was only the opening act. In 1971, the Bullets traded Monroe to--egad!--the Knicks, where Monroe reached the NBA final in 1972 and won it all in 1973. In return, the Bullets received Dave Stallworth and Mike Riordan, both of whom were long gone by the time the Bullets won their lone NBA title in 1978.
Reggie Jackson spent one unremarkable season with the Orioles in 1976 before moving to the Yankees as a free agent and winning World Series championships in his first two seasons in New York. In '76, Jackson hit 27 home runs for the 88-74 Orioles. In '77, he hit three home runs in one World Series game for the Yankees.
Following that well-worn path, Mike Mussina jumped aboard the Baltimore-New York airlift last month, abandoning the rut-ridden Orioles for the promise of World Series glory with the three-time defending champion Yankees. Well, that and $88.5 million.
While Mussina pitched for Baltimore, the Orioles reached the American League championship series in 1996, which turned in Game 1 when a 12-year-old fan named Jeffrey Maier, playing hooky, reached over the right-field fence and caught a fly ball by the Yankees' Derek Jeter before Baltimore's Tony Tarasco could catch it. Home run, Yankees, who went on to win the game in 11 innings and the pennant in five games.
Baltimore also lost Vinny Testaverde to New York, the Jets, which was seen as a blessing at the time. But this recent run by the Ravens has done wonders for Vinny revisionism: Testaverde looks better and better every time Trent Dilfer drops back to pass.
On the bright side, Baltimore hasn't been left entirely empty-handed.
The Ravens' top offensive player, kicker Matt Stover, is a former Giant.
And, there's that grainy photo from 1958, Ameche trudging the final yards to the end zone and a 23-17 Colt victory in the first NFL championship game to be decided in overtime.
That game, often called the greatest in NFL history, is considered the unofficial birth date of professional football as we know it today. It demonstrated to millions of Americans how perfectly an oblong ball could fit into a rectangular box called television, that box eventually transporting pro football past baseball as the country's pastime and turning its annual championship game, the Super Bowl, into a national holiday, which brings us back to where we started.
Baltimore, favored by a field goal over New York.
If only Poe, who had an appetite for the macabre, had been born a century and a half later.
Once upon a midnight dreary,
While I pondered, weak and weary,
A Super Bowl contest with no score,
While I nodded, nearly napping,
From Collins and Dilfer and footballs flapping
Into the wind to the west Florida shore.
"No Namath," I muttered,
"No Unitas, no Jimmy Orr."
Only this, Giants-Ravens.
Quoth the rest of the country,