Jean Marbella: Super Bowl is next stop on Baltimore's ride to remember

Baltimore has always had a past, and even at its lowest points, it looks hopefully to whatever the future has in store. It's the present that seems to elude the city.

But if we cling to the past, with equal parts nostalgia and desperation, if we usually end our sports seasons with an always-next-year sigh, this has been a year of living in real time.

Get used to it. We're going to the Super Bowl, and we're not done yet.

If you love sports, and you love Baltimore, it's been, to quote both Ray Lewis and Michael Phelps, a ride. How fitting that Baltimore's great Olympian as well as Orioles like Adam Jones were in Foxborough, Mass., to see the Ravens beat the New England Patriots and win a trip to the Super Bowl.

Somehow, we're achieving critical mass here, aren't we? Suddenly, winning isn't a once-in-a-generation thing in Baltimore, or the stuff of old memories and dusty anniversaries.

It wasn't so long ago that our highest aspiration was for the O's to play .500 ball. Or, going a bit further back, to even have a football team.

And yet this year has been one great season after another. First the Orioles made it into the postseason for its first time since 1997, now the Ravens have made it past the conference championship for the first time since the 2000 season.

It's like that old 10,000 Maniacs song: These are the days.

Who doesn't want to be the one with the stories, rather than the one listening to someone else's? I can't wait, years from now, to tell the same stories, over and over again, of the year that was.

I'll go on about the year Joe Flacco became Mr. Joe Flacco to opponents. How everyone underestimated our laconic quarterback. I'm going to work on my timing, so that when I say some reporter once asked him if he was one of the elites, they'll shake their heads in disbelief. Really, I'll tell them, and then there was all this outrage when he said, why, yes I am.

And then I'll tell them about the instantly mythic game in Denver, up where the air was rarefied indeed with mighty Peyton Manning on his amazing return from a year's recuperation. And yet it was the Ravens who overcame what should have been crushing kickoff and punt returns, and found their way to victory.

People will start checking their watches when I get to the second Corey Graham interception, and I'll be talking to myself by the time I make it to rookie Justin Tucker's winning field goal.

And still, we were underdogs going into Foxborough for the AFC championship. And as in Denver, that's how we looked, at least in the first half. It's almost as if the Ravens have to create an ordeal to overcome. That they have to earn a "W" rather than glide over to one.

But midway through the third quarter, you could feel an entire city starting to exhale. The ghost of last year's devastating AFC championship, on that same field, was about to be exorcised. We could finally enjoy that ride, to a definitive, 28-13 final score.

"They didn't beat the Patriots. They manhandled the Patriots," exulted Jamal Craddock, 31, enjoying the game at Nevin's Pub in Federal Hill.

"This was an epic journey," he said. "Look back at the history. They beat the Colts. They beat Peyton Manning. They beat Tom Brady. They defeated each of the quarterbacks that have beaten us in the past. It isn't anything but fate for them to be here."

Fate, destiny, whatever. I see not so much divine intervention at work as sheer, ground-scratching, gutting-it-out will. I see a overachieving team that outworked the glamour teams, defied the oddsmakers, the pundits and all the other naysayers and now finds itself one more game from taking it all.

Please, world, continue to doubt the Baltimore Ravens.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jonathan Pitts contributed to this article.

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