Let’s face it, if you live anywhere in or near the Greater Patapsco River Drainage Basin, you must be at least vaguely aware that Baltimore’s National Football League team is on a roll. Yet not everyone in Charm City follows pro football like it was a religion (just most of us). Are you one of those feeling left out of the excitement? Maybe more attuned to Jeopardy’s Greatest of All Time tournament than the gridiron? Perhaps you’ve even been invited to a neighbor’s house for Saturday night’s playoff game against the Tennessee Titans but worry you’ll come off as uninformed. Fear not. If the most you know about the Ravens is that they have a young quarterback who is kind of a big deal right now and a placekicker named Justin something-or-other who hawks Royal Farms fried chicken on local TV, you are not hopeless. The Baltimore Ravens Superbowl-Bound Bandwagon always has room for latecomers.
As a public service, we have developed five key phrases that will make even the most casual fan sound like they are auditioning to replace Dan Fouts and Ian Eagle in the CBS broadcast booth. The good news is that it’s easy to fake it. Football jargon is often so obscure that hardcore fans don’t even quite know what they’re talking about (If you doubt this, please outline the difference between the “cover two” and “cover three” defenses. Take your time). When in doubt, just do what John Madden, the former coach and former NFL color commentator always did during a key moment of the game: just add a sound effect like “boom” or “bang” or “pow.” Weirdly, it makes you sound like you appreciate the finer points of the game when you’re really just observing high-speed collisions. Hey, this is not a subtle sport.
1. “Lamar Jackson has reinvented the game.” OK, we never said these would be cliche-free. But it’s crucial you understand that the Ravens starting quarterback, a 23-year-old wunderkind in his second year in the pros, has produced a transformative season. To put it simply, he is the best running quarterback ever. Ever. Teams don’t know whether he’s going to pass, hand the ball off or make one of his patented fake-defenders-out-of-their-cleats lightning fast runs. That’s not how most NFL quarterbacks operate (See New England’s more traditionally statue-like Tom Brady, who has some free time on his hands these days).
2. “Our Heisman winners are better than their Heisman winners.” One thing the Ravens have in abundance are players who won college football’s top award for outstanding player. Lamar Jackson, running back Mark Ingram II and backup QB Robert Griffin III have the Heisman hardware. On Titans, one belongs to RB Derrick Henry and another to backup signal caller Marcus Mariota. Admittedly, they are pretty good, but Lamar is an MVP candidate. Derrick Henry may be the NFL’s leading rusher, but his yard-per-carry average is about the same as Mark Ingram (who averages more receiving yards per game).
3. “I have faith in Greg and Wink.” No, that’s not about flirting. It’s a reference to the Ravens offensive and defensive coordinators Greg Roman and Don “Wink” Martindale. Both men have done such outstanding work this season they’ve been interviewed for head coaching jobs elsewhere. Yet, unless the Browns pull a fast one, they appear likely to stick with the Ravens (whew).
4. “The Ravens have the best secondary in football.” The advantage of this claim is that it might actually be true. The team’s aggressive defense has been a direct result of a deep and talented defensive backfield including Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. They blitz like crazy and when it works (and it usually does) it’s devastating to opposing teams.
5. “If it comes down to a kick, the Ravens are a lock.” Remember that Royal Farms guy? That’s Justin Tucker and he’s the most accurate placekicker in NFL history (and probably the best opera singer in uniform, too, but that’s another story). In close games, he’s the X factor.
Well, that should help. If the conversation ever gets strained, just mention the Ravens have an NFL record-tying 12 Pro Bowlers on the roster. Drop names like Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda, offensive lineman who have been key to Lamar’s amazing season. And, most of all, put a little swagger in your talk, a little pride in your step. Baltimoreans had a pretty tough 2019 by any measure. We deserve to start the new year cheering for a cause we can all (white, black, young, old, rich, poor, suburbanite or city dweller) get behind. Go, Ravens.