t was a question I wasn't expecting to hear from my oldest daughter for a few more years.
OK, so "Daddy, when are you going to take me to a Ravens game?" isn't really one of those questions, but this year, of all years, wasn't necessarily the one I planned to take my 8-year-old to M&T Bank Stadium for her first NFL game.
Still, I was 8 when I saw my first professional sporting event and I have vivid memories of it to this day. So I took out a loan, bought some pretty good tickets, and got ready for a daddy-daughter day watching the Ravens play the Chargers last week.
I've been to dozens and dozens of Ravens games as a writer. I can count on two fingers the number of times I've gone as a fan. And this was the first time I've actually plunked down money — and lots of it — to see the team play.
The experience of a wide-eyed 8-year-old who's amazed by everything is slightly different from that of a somewhat cynical fortysomething who just can't believe how much down time there is during a game.
You don't notice it that much in the press box, because you spend the game writing or scanning the game notes or looking up stats (or taking another trip through the buffet).
But the commercial breaks are interminable. The replay reviews are constant. And the penalty flags are endless.
Do we really need commercials after a touchdown and then more commercials after a kickoff? And does anyone remember the days when an incomplete pass was actually an incomplete pass, rather than pass interference?
I can understand why attendance is becoming an issue for the NFL. If you stay home and watch the game on your big-screen TV you do so in a comfortable 70-degree setting with the power to change to a different channel — including that godsend known as "The Red Zone" — during breaks in the action, the discretion to make some food without having to hit the ATM and, hopefully, the ability to go to the bathroom without waiting in line to do so.
Not to mention the fact that attending a game is an eight-hour commitment, minimum. I have a lot of respect for the season-ticket holders who do this eight or 10 times a year. I'm guessing the social aspect of the tailgate parties are probably as big a factor as the play on the field.
Does all that sound curmudgeonly?
Probably. And it shouldn't because I had a great day. And, more important, so did my daughter.
It started with her getting dressed in purple and then putting on some really cool eye black stickers. She got into a football stance and created a picture we'll treasure.
We picked up some friends and experienced a leisurely drive on a surprisingly warm late-November day.
The walk from a nearby parking lot to M&T Bank Stadium was nice enough, filled with the smell of grilled meats and the sound of entrepreneurs hawking all of manner of Ravens gear, from foam fingers to oil paintings to T-shirts featuring not-fit-for-print material. (I got to know the walk pretty well because we made it twice. The first time we weren't allowed in because one of the members of our party was carrying a purse that was deemed too big to be brought into the stadium. The allowable size is perfectly fine, providing you are an American Girl doll. No big deal. We just got a little extra exercise.)
Once inside the stadium we walked all around, taking note of the large photos and news clippings of Baltimore's football history on the wall (I cared, she didn't) as well as the numerous souvenir stations featuring all things Raven, from earrings to trading cards to helmets to blankets to jerseys of every player not named Ray Rice (she cared, I didn't).
Rice has been a pretty big issue this year. He was her favorite player. OK, not necessarily because of his running style, but because he wore No. 27 and she was born on the 27th. (Maybe that isn't the best way to pick a favorite player, but, then again, Orioles first baseman Lee May was one of my favorites because he wore my birthday — May 14 — on the back of his uniform).
She had two Ravens jerseys. A purple No. 27 and a white No. 27. They're no longer a part of her wardrobe.
So she's trying to pick a new favorite player. She's not a huge Joe Flacco fan — she's probably heard her dad saying, "No, he's not an elite quarterback" too many times — but she does like Torrey Smith, largely because of the cute videos he posts with his little son, and Jacoby Jones, largely because he was on "Dancing With the Stars." (She also likes Haloti Ngata, but we'll table that discussion for now.)
There were a lot of positives. The stadium food and drink selection is really good, if a bit pricey. The souvenir selection is really good, if a bit pricey. She loved the club-level views of Baltimore and looking up at the top of the stadium. (If only I had known she wanted to sit at the very top, I could've saved some serious coin.)
She really enjoyed the player introductions, especially when Terrell Suggs came out, and she made me take note every time the cheerleaders were performing a particularly acrobatic stunt. She read through the program, quizzing me about C.J. Mosley's life story. She cheered when she was supposed to, booed when she was supposed to and sang along with "Seven Nation Army" a half-dozen times.
I was a little worried about how long someone who can't get through the first 15 minutes of "Star Wars" because she claims it's too boring would stay focused on the game, but she paid attention throughout. She asked good questions, showed concern for injured players, and enjoyed watching other fans on the massive video screen.
With the Ravens holding a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, one of the people we were there with suggested we leave to beat traffic. I was proud to hear my daughter say she wanted to stay to the end. (Of course, 90 minutes later, sitting in a not-moving car on a Baltimore side street, I was wishing she had said, "Let's roll.")
We all saw a great ending, although not the ending most of the 70,000 or so in attendance were hoping for. The Chargers rallied for two touchdowns, but the Ravens still had a chance, literally, until the final play. It would've been quite interesting if Kamar Aiken had gotten out of bounds on that last reception and given Justin Tucker a shot at a long, game-winning field goal, but it was the right call by the officials on a day when they made a lot of wrong calls.
Once home, my daughter excitedly shared the highlights of her day with the rest of the family. She was glad Smith and Jones played well. She took some souvenirs into school the next day to show her friends.
Maybe she made some memories she'll carry with her forever. Or maybe not. It didn't have to be life changing. She had fun. I had fun. That's plenty good enough.
My youngest daughter said maybe she'd like to go to a game next year. Ordinarily I'd rather take in a game from the press box or in front of the TV. But for another daddy-daughter day I'll gladly make an exception. I'll start saving now.