Is it just us - and every other football fan in greater Baltimore - or isn't the sky a little bluer, the air a little sweeter, and the world just a darn better place this holiday season? Maybe it has something to do with the Ravens clinching a playoff spot by beating the rival Cleveland Browns (Version 2.0) at home on Sunday. After two seasons on the outside, it's mighty nice to see the local team back in the big dance.
Yes, yes, it's just a game, but there's something to be said for the way a pro sports team can thrill its fans and bring together a community. The Ravens are more than Monday morning water-cooler conversation, they're a common denominator from Arbutus to Lauraville, Westminster and Govans. And after enduring a lot of Baltimore bashing in the media this past year - some merited, much not - what a joy to have a hometown team making national news for its achievements on the field and not its links to performance enhancing drugs.
With a record of 11 wins and 3 losses, the Ravens are far from perfect - as much as certain disgruntled talk-radio fans seem to think they dwell on Mount Olympus and not in Owings Mills - but they do have a feel of destiny about them. There have been too many timely turnovers and comeback wins not to see fortune's hand at work. But like the Super Bowl winning team of six years ago, the Ravens are built on an outstanding defense, a punishing running attack and strong kicking game. It's not always the most glamorous way to win but it's effective.
The Ravens also don't seem to be burdened with many of the shortcomings that trouble other NFL teams with their meddlesome owners, selfish wide receivers or outspoken malcontents. And the addition of Steve McNair has given the team a confidence and maturity they sorely lacked in recent years. The Ravens quarterback could be exactly what the team needed for a return to championship form.
Of course, it's too early to tell. The league's best teams can lose to the worst on any given Sunday and there's always the risk of a critical injury or two. But this could be the year for the purple and black. And for those who weren't in Baltimore on Jan. 28, 2001 when the Ravens beat the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, be prepared: There's nothing quite like having the hometown team win it all and everyone, young or old, rich and poor, is Ray Lewis dancing across the field in a moment of utter triumph.
Heck, it's the playoffs. A fan can dream.