It’s been a long, long 7½ months since the Baltimore Ravens lost to the Buffalo Bills in the National Football League playoffs in January. Back then the nation’s focus was on the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol 10 days earlier and Donald Trump’s unsupported claims of an election victory. Today, it’s completely different. Sort of. The vaccines aren’t in short supply in the U.S., but people willing to take them are. The Capitol uprising is getting examined by House Democrats (and two GOP members now branded “Pelosi Republicans” by party leadership for daring to put country first), and the former president still claims he won the last election.
But here’s the good news: Lamar Jackson and company are headed back to the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills on Wednesday, officially kicking off their 2021 NFL campaign, and hopes, as usual, are high.
Does Baltimore need this right now or what?
Indeed, it’s been a pretty good week for Maryland sports fans.
First there was the Orioles’ home sweep of the Washington Nationals, the rival from just 38.3 miles down the road, as measured stadium-to-stadium. In a disappointing season, this may prove one of the peak moments of 2021 for the cellar-dwelling Birds.
Next, there’s been the early Olympic success with medals already claimed by Chase Kalisz of Bel Air, who seized the first gold medal for the U.S. team by winning the 400-meter individual medley on Sunday, and Katie Ledecky of Bethesda who added to her extensive medal collection with a silver in the 400-meter freestyle on Monday. Add to that a bronze in the women’s triathlon by Hampstead native Katie Zaferes and more medals expected on the way shortly from such Maryland standouts as Jerami Grant of Bowie (men’s basketball), Abby Gustaitis of White Hall (women’s rugby) and Kyle Snyder of Woodbine (wrestling). It’s not too big a stretch to imagine Maryland making a similar splash as it did in 2016, when athletes from the state took home 18 medals from the Rio Olympics. Had Maryland been a country, it would have ranked sixth in the world for gold medals that year.
The Olympians are amazing, of course; their world-class efforts all the more incredible given the difficulties so many faced in training during the pandemic for the postponed games. But there is something about the return of NFL football to M&T Bank Stadium with an expectation of a full capacity of fans in stands that truly sends hearts atwitter in Charm City. Few things connect Baltimore with its suburban neighbors (and beyond) better than the anticipation of some spectacular performances by Mr. Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews, second-year running back J.K. Dobbins and, fingers crossed, rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman. Part of that is the nature of football. It’s a rough and tumble sport befitting a city with distinctly blue collar roots. And it’s also a tribute to the franchise’s ownership and front office who project professionalism and good judgment, which is quite a stark comparison to what goes on with that other NFL football team that plays in Maryland and shall go nameless (as they essentially are nameless at the moment).
The Ravens are considered to be a serious playoff contender this year. For some of us, it would be enough to best the Pittsburgh Steelers twice in the 2021 regular season as the team did in 2020. Booyah. Even better, it would be great to see the region cheer for a post-pandemic economic comeback in Baltimore on the magnitude of Lamar Jackson scramble or maybe a Michael Phelps last hurrah when the Baltimore Bullet won five gold and one silver to making him the most successful athlete at the Rio games. Not bad for someone who retired in 2012.
Can success on Russell Street translate to the rest of the downtown and to city neighborhoods grappling for their very survival against the ongoing plagues of violence and poverty? Not so much directly, but how great will it be to once again have millions thinking positive thoughts about the city on the Patapsco, to be cheering for its football team, to spend more of the fall talking about offense, defense and special teams and less about the long-odds of a second Baltimore revival, one to surpass the urban renaissance of the 1980s to produce a safer, more equitable, more prosperous community. Go, Ravens. Go, Baltimore. Let’s go for the gold, the Super Bowl ring, and a little regional unity.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.