Nothing unites a region quite like a major sports event, and Baltimore has a doozy tomorrow evening. For those living in sufficient isolation to be ignorant of this (a cable-free cabin in the mountains, a hole in the backyard), the Ravens play the Indianapolis Colts in an NFL divisional round playoff game.
Even Baltimoreans who do not customarily spend their weekends with eyes glued on televised professional football are likely to understand the significance of this. Of all the 31 franchises in all the U.S. cities, it had to be the Colts - betrayers of Baltimore, back-stabbing users of Mayflower moving vans in the dead of night, the true love that traded Crabtown for cornstalks.
A Ravens-Colts matchup is not so much a traditional rivalry as it is the latest twist in an unsettled and emotion-filled quarter-century-old grudge. This may be less meaningful to the players involved, few of whom are even old enough to even recall the Baltimore Colts, but even they can surely feel the electricity in the air. Baltimoreans are aching for a win.
It's a game with more plots than Greenmount Cemetery. The Ravens are the hungry underdogs, the team that needed to win its final regular-season game and upset the once-mighty New England Patriots to get here. The Colts are all confidence and swagger, the organization that chose to phone in its last two regular season games (deciding that a rested 14-2 was better than a perfect 16-0) and haven't played hard in a month.
Ray Lewis versus Peyton Manning, blue-collar toughness and grit against the living legend, the NFL's Most Valuable Player, the best quarterback to wear the horseshoe since Johnny Unitas. Add to this the possibility that the game could be decided by Matt Stover, the much-admired, longtime Raven who now kicks for the Colts, and the game has more layers than an Under Armour outlet store.
And what a surprise even for the most ardent fans. The Ravens' regular season proved such a desultory affair that few had anticipated this momentous rematch from three years ago, when the two teams last met in the playoffs. At the time, the host Ravens were the team that many expected to go to the Super Bowl. Instead, the Colts won, 15-6, and went on to Super Bowl glory.
Forget moving vans; that painful disappointment ought to motivate Ravens players - not to mention recollections of the 17-15 loss to the Colts in late November, a game that turned on the Ravens' inability to finish off offensive drives with touchdowns instead of field goals.
From joblessness and foreclosures to budget deficits and the mayor's plea deal, these past months have been a time in Baltimore to forget. How sweet would it be for fortune to be reversed, for the Ravens to take the magic they found in Foxboro into Indianapolis and win one for their fans?
Small wonder that the entire Baltimore area is energized at the prospect. For at least one day, we are all Ravens, young and old, fearsome in our black and purple. We dance like Ray Lewis, we run like Ray Rice, catch like Derrick Mason, hit like Terrell Suggs, flatten opponents like Haloti Ngata.
If the cheers of a million fans could be converted into points, if a city's excitement might be transmitted along power lines running from the Inner Harbor to the sidelines of Lucas Oil Stadium, the game would be won by a landslide. Oh, if only it could be so.
Readers respond I've lived in Indianapolis since 1974, and it is really a great town. But I have to tell you that I am beyond upset about what the blue and white losers did on Dec. 27 when they sat Peyton Manning and other starters against the Jets. Most fans are and were hopping mad, but many have sadly gotten over the disrespect paid to them when Colts President Bill Polian went on the radio and huffed that the fans' priorities weren't the team's priorities.
Now this week, Peyton is on the radio telling the fans how important they are for this week's game. Important indeed! Karma will get these guys, and I for one hope their egotistical butts are pounded into the turf play after play after play.
Go Ravens! Find a way to kick Peyton Manning and his play-to-lose wimps out of town. Such disrespect deserves nothing but a disgraceful victory at the hands of a team that still knows the meaning of the best that sport has to offer. GO RAVENS! Mayflower can surely not come back too quickly for me.
Dan McGlaun, Indianapolis