For Ravens bloggers including Derek Arnold, writing about Baltimore's football team this season has been a joy they did not expect.
"Everything about being a Ravens fan is more fun this year than last, and blogging is no exception," wrote Arnold, who writes at bmorebirdsnest.com, in an e-mail. "The turnaround by the team has been incredible to watch, and a blast to cover compared to the dismal season last year. Now if only we could get those 'orange birds' to do a similar 180 ..."
Ravens blogs come and go, but there's at least a half-dozen or so dependable ones that post regularly. Some of them are "mini-me" versions of large media, mostly linking to other football sites such as The Baltimore Sun's Ravens coverage. Bmorebirdsnest.com is probably one of the most authentically voiced, infused with a big helping of raw emotion.
While a more even-handed outlet such as, say, this newspaper or sports talk radio explain the valid reasons why baseball slugger Mark Teixeira opted to take $40 million more to play for the Yankees instead of the Orioles, for example, bmorebirdsnest is more apt to tell the aforementioned player what he can do with his $40 million more. Its most popular Ravens post of the year was a poll weighing which team its readers hate more: the Steelers or the Redskins. (A blogger for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette linked to the post and it drove a ton of traffic from Steeler Nation.) And its contest for a pair of free tickets to a Ravens-Raiders game last October was won by, surprise, a woman who e-mailed a photo of herself in a bikini top.
Arnold, of Pasadena, said he's been thrilled with the Ravens' success, which has helped bump unique visitors to his site to about 600 a week, up from 250 earlier this season. An advertising deal with MASN, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, brought in a little bit of money, but the blog is definitely a "labor of love," said Arnold, a 26-year-old environmental scientist.
Sunday's game "was a blast to watch, for sure," said Arnold, who posted during his lunch break yesterday. "I thought the Ravens did exactly what I thought they would do, which is beat up on an inferior team. Now, the same cannot be said about the Tennessee Titans, so I expect a good deal more nail-biting on Saturday." (The Ravens play the Titans in the next playoff round at 4:30 p.m. in Nashville, Tenn.)
Later this week, he plans to blog about the respective rushing tandems of the Titans and Ravens. "I'm going to compare the LenDale White/Chris Johnson combo to the Willis McGahee/Ray Rice/Le'Ron McClain trio," he said. "Needless to say, I'll do so in a way that the purple boys come out ahead. As for the game itself, the usual pregame will be up on Thursday or Friday, then the victorious post mortem on Monday."
Arnold is not complaining about the success of this year's Ravens, but he acknowledges that blogging about the current team lacks some of the exhaustive fodder for discussion and drama that defined the Brian Billick-Kyle Boller Ravens. Billick, the former coach, was almost Palinesque, someone with a forceful personality who engendered strong reactions.
"A couple weeks ago it occurred to me, and I had remarked to those around me, that writing about the team this year has been noticeably different than it was last year. Last year, with Billick and Boller, and all the losing, there was so much criticism to throw around, and the writing pretty much did itself at times," Arnold said. "Now, I'm certainly not complaining, but it was definitely an unexpected problem. I don't want to just be writing, 'Well, that was awesome,' every week, but at times, there hasn't been much more to say.
"You give praise to the players and coaches, and then the next week they deserve more of the same. As fans, we tend to get ahead of ourselves all the time (think how many people in Baltimore were already predicting playoffs when the team was 2-0), but I'm superstitious enough that I don't want to write Super Bowl previews in Week 10. It's been interesting, that's for sure."
He and Nick Onorato, 27, of Columbia, who takes most of the photos for the site, generally watch games at Arnold's father's house or at Beefalo Bob's, a Pasadena bar where their Ravens' Roost club gathers. He used to try to take notes during the games after he began blogging in 2007, but found it's better to set his digital video recorder for note-taking afterward and just to focus on the game as much as possible. Research and writing take up to five hours a week.
Local sports blogs have taken hold more than the national ones, although maybe that will change. AOL Sports yesterday unveiled Jay Mariotti, a former columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, as its new full-time commentator. The news was viewed as the latest tremor in the shift from old to new media.
"You're not sitting back and analyzing, scrutinizing the same five teams over and over and over again," Mariotti told the Chicago Tribune, comparing his old gig to his new one. "If there was one wish I had about Chicago sports fans, it would be to be more open-minded. ... I was working in a city with a bubble around it. Yeah, sometimes they care about Tiger Woods or Michael Phelps. But I would be hard-pressed to find any metropolitan area that's more consumed with its own stuff, including sports, than Chicago."
Mariotti must never have visited Baltimore. He could have substituted just about any old-line sports town for Chicago, in fact. The obsession people have for their local teams is reflected in the independent blogs that bleed purple or orange or whatever a team's colors are.
The Ravens bloggers thought they'd be back just toiling at their day jobs by now.
They're thrilled that they're not.
See what several Ravens bloggers wrote during the pre-season versus now.
To read the Baltimore Sun's Ravens Insider blog, go to baltimoresun.com/ RavensInsider
What blogs were saying pre-season about the Ravens prospects and what they're saying now (mainstream media predictions weren't any better):
* Aug. 28: "With the Ravens rather dire situation at quarterback, I wonder if it has crossed the mind of Ozzie Newsome to bring back Steve McNair. Trent Dilfer is another former Ravens' QB that has popped up in thought."
* Sunday: After today, John Harbaugh padded his resume considerably, and repaid Mr. Bisciotti's instincts handsomely. Harbaugh also proved that he meant exactly what he said as he stepped to the microphone at his introduction a year ago and spoke of team, team, and team.
* Aug. 26: "Ever since the Ravens said that they would have an open competition for the quarterback spot everyone had an opinion. I think even I flip-flopped at least twice. Kyle Boller has the most NFL experience, he may not be the future but he gives the team the best chance to win now.
Troy Smith is called by some a natural leader and can make plays with his legs. He could really help out the young line as start to work together. Joe Flacco is the future. He has a solid arm and good size and if the team is rebuilding, why not let the number one draft pick take the helm?"
* Sunday: "If Flacco can make one or two of those passes against the Titans they have a great shot to win next week and go deep into the post season. If not you will see 13-10 type games the rest of the way out and as we have seen their records against the Steelers and Titans in those close matches stand at 0-3."
* Sept. 5: "It's just my opinion, but ... I'm pretty darn excited about seeing how Ravens rookie Joe Flacco handles his starting gig. ... the Ravens offense will still remain around the bottom of the league. ... if their defense stays healthy, they should return to the top tier of defenses. ... the combination is worth at least a .500 record, and who knows what else."
* Saturday: "I apologize for the lack of depth and supporting insight on my prediction of the game, but I am getting ready to leave for the game and will be there in person to wildly cheer on the Ravens with the rest of the huge throng of Baltimore fans who have made the trip to South Florida just like me. We will be heard on TV's yelling "Heeaaappp" and "Reeeeed" so loud you'll hear us in Baltimore!"
* Sept. 2: "It'll be at least two or three seasons before we know whether or not Ozzie rolled the dice on the right guy, Joe Flacco. Ozzie's track record at this position has been terrible, and if he strikes out again, it may be time for him to move on. ... I've enjoyed giving Willis McGahee a hard time this offseason. I think I even wrote an article blasting him for coming into camp four pounds overweight. Talk about misguided anger. McGahee is one of the few bright spots on an otherwise bleak offense. ... The most I can say about Le'Ron McLain is that I had to Google his name to make sure I spelled and punctuated it properly. ... I have a feeling it's going to be a long year in B-more."
* Sunday: "What did you expect? That Miami would win? No thanks. Joe Flacco is the first rookie QB to ever win a road playoff game, and only the third in NFL history to win in his postseason debut. The 27-9 final was damn close to what I predicted here on Blogimore (27-3). Five more turnovers for the defense. Two more picks from Fast Eddie Reed. Another pick-six to the house. Yawn. Baltimore's D makes it all look too easy. Bring on the Titans."
* Aug. 25: "Ravens fans shudder at the thought of starting a rookie quarterback again. "We've seen this movie before," is the overwhelming sentiment, referencing Kyle Boller in 2003. ... The decision on Flacco should not be made based on decisions made by a different set of coaches with a different player. ... I've already heard grumblings around town this week that "Flacco is a bust." Seriously, Ravens fans? Please tell me that we are smarter than this. Dollars to donuts says it's the same fools saying this that embarrassed the entire city on national television by cheering when Boller got hurt. And the ones that booed him last week after he threw his first incompletion on his 9th pass. Perhaps Joe should leave his iPod on when he takes the field."
* Yesterday: "What more is there to say about Ed Reed? In the span of about 4 months, he has gone from "will he ever play again?" to having arguably his best season and forcing his name into any future conversations regarding the best safeties to ever play the game. If this man does not win his 2nd DPOY (Defensive Player of the Year) award this year, they should just stop giving the award. (Edit: James Harrison won it. What a bunch of BS.) ... Since there isn't enough space on the Web to give Ed the amount of praise he deserves, we'll move on."