The Ravens and Redskins are scheduled to play a simulated game today at M&T; Bank Stadium, and - considering that it's barely August - there's only one possible explanation:
Any excuse for a tailgate party.
I know. I know. It's called a scrimmage, but the baseball terminology seemed appropriate since this is still the middle of baseball season, regardless of how eager a lot of Baltimore sports fans are to see a game that doesn't involve the Orioles' bullpen.
It's not even a game, and the Ravens can charge $25 for a club seat because the hunger for NFL football has become so pervasive that even Michael Vick couldn't make a dent in it. Personally, I think the NFL should be flagged for encroachment on the national pastime, but I'm obviously in the minority.
Of course, the mind-set has been established around here that football season cannot start too soon, thanks to the Orioles and their decade of despair. Nine straight losing seasons - soon to be 10 - have turned Baltimore back into a football town.
That might be understandable, but it's still unfortunate for a couple of reasons - chief among them the fact that this year's Orioles team, surprisingly enough, is still worth watching.
Hey, I'm surprised, too. I was counting the days to training camp like everybody else (see my July 17 column) when a funny thing happened on the way to Orioles oblivion. Things have actually started to get interesting.
Don't misunderstand. It's not a good team and I'm not printing 2008 playoff tickets in my head, but it's hard to deny that the team has developed a number of compelling story lines - and, happily, none of them has required interpretation by a molecular biologist.
The positive energy emanating from interim manager Dave Trembley has changed the attitude of the club in a very observable way.
The hiring of new president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail ostensibly set the club in a new direction, though there has yet to be any hard evidence the front office is doing anything dynamically different than before.
Erik Bedard and newcomer Jeremy Guthrie continue to put real performance alongside the pitching potential that must be the cornerstone of a successful rebuilding project.
MacPhail hasn't tipped his hand, but he played it just right with his trade-deadline media conference and the announcement that Trembley would be allowed to carry his "audition" through the end of the season.
The players have bought into Trembley's philosophy, and the fans want to believe that he represents the new beginning they have been waiting for from the beginning of this century.
Who knows if we'll still be saying the same thing in late September, but you have to admit it was fun to head for Cooperstown last weekend with the Orioles in the midst of a six-game winning streak. It was almost enough to make you forget that the Ravens were scheduled to report to their training headquarters in Westminster at about the same time Cal Ripken Jr. would take his rightful place in history.
It would be even better if MacPhail had found a way to make a meaningful trade at Tuesday's waiver deadline ... or the bullpen hadn't let those two games get away in Boston this week. Still, you have to admit you were getting back into it.
This is the point where I get all the letters from fans claiming they won't get fooled again. The Orioles and their ownership have let them down so many times that they won't allow themselves to be hurt again. Sounds like a case for Dr. Phil, but instead we turn to the Ravens as soon as we can to make us feel whole again.
If you recall, I said a few paragraphs ago that there were two reasons that's unfortunate. The other is fairly basic. Baltimore has long prided itself on being a great sports town, and you can't call yourself a great sports town if you've quit on one of the teams that helped make it so great.
In other words, go ahead and enjoy your tailgate party today, but don't give up on baseball just yet.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Saturdays and Sundays.