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Baltimore gets a needed dose of Ravens football | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Ravens' quarterback Lamar Jackson after a game against the Tennessee Titans, in Baltimore, on Jan. 11, 2020. The Ravens' offense was part sandlot and part leather helmet throwback, plus a dash of rugby. It was unique, thrilling and unpredictable, and it worked. Until the playoffs, that is.
Baltimore Ravens' quarterback Lamar Jackson after a game against the Tennessee Titans, in Baltimore, on Jan. 11, 2020. The Ravens' offense was part sandlot and part leather helmet throwback, plus a dash of rugby. It was unique, thrilling and unpredictable, and it worked. Until the playoffs, that is. (Melissa Lyttle/The New York Times)

If a giant infrared thermometer could somehow scan Baltimore’s collective forehead right now, we suspect it might detect a warming trend. Not a fever (at least not yet) and, hopefully, not an early COVID-19 symptom, but perhaps the first sign of a dawning realization. Yes, the National Football League might actually play its 2020-2021 season beginning Thursday night as the Houston Texans battle the Kansas City Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions, in a nationally televised game. And that means the Ravens are just around the corner, opening up their season Sunday at home against the Cleveland Browns.

In a normal year, Ravens fans would be absolutely pumped right now. Many in the football prognostication crowd pick the Ravens as a top-three team with some putting them just behind the Chiefs. Last season’s consensus pick for most valuable player, dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson, is ready to drop some jaws again operating the innovative and run-heavy option offense that last season left defenders guessing and rewrote the NFL record book. Never before had a team averaged 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing a season. Yet the Ravens' brilliant 14-2 regular season mark was marred by an early exit from the playoffs. Fans were left hungry for more, and the dinner bell is about to ring.

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Alas, this is no normal year. Las Vegas casinos could as easily be offering a betting line on the odds of the NFL pulling off a full season as they might who remains standing at the end (a title that might actually go to the team with the most players literally still standing at the end). The year of COVID-19 means this is a season of asterisks and once-in-a-lifetime formulations. M&T Bank Stadium will be as empty of fans this weekend as the Oriole Park at Camden Yards has been during Major League Baseball’s pandemic-shortened season. Throw in socially-distanced team meetings, daily coronavirus testing and other allowances and hardly anything will seem normal. The notion that large, heavily-breathing and sweating men grappling in the trenches will not share a microscopic virus seems unlikely — until you consider the possibility of “bubble” life and frequent testing, which seems to have worked for the National Basketball Association. If no one has the virus then they can presumably grapple all they please as there’s nothing to transmit.

Let’s hope this works. The Orioles have proven a welcome distraction this summer, the team’s flirtation with a winning record, as unlikely as that seemed months ago, has been a godsend (even if fans need a scorecard to keep track of all the new faces) in these dispiriting times. And it should go without saying that Baltimore could use the favorable press. From the recently-announced Under Armour layoffs to small business closings, from gun violence to a hostile president, a little good news couldn’t hurt right about now. And speaking of bad news, what about that Washington Football Team? Those same sports writers who see the Ravens at the top see the other NFL team that plays in Maryland, a franchise formerly known by a disparaging word used to describe Native Americans, as dead last this year even as its ownership copes with the fallout of alleged workplace harassment of female employees. Yikes.

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That leaves Ravens fans who might even now be planning their tailgating or watch parties or at least trips to the local sports bar at a bit of a loss. And there’s also inevitably going to be some lost souls who still whine about Ravens players voicing support for Black Lives Matter. As if standing up for human rights (or even kneeling for them) was verboten once the pads go on. NFL players may be perceived as gladiators, but they are not slaves in ancient Rome.

And if all that leaves fans feeling optimistic but uncertain, cautious and mildly optimistic, wishing that things were more normal and simply living day-to-day, well, isn’t ambivalence just what 2020 is all about? Surely, there is some joy to be had as Baltimore can, at the very least, return to watching the men dressed in purple, white, black and gold and particularly that super-human fellow in the No. 8 jersey. No, it isn’t a normal year. But at least these guys all wear masks (of a sort, anyway) and work together. Are you ready for some pandemic football, as Hank Williams Jr. might croon? Bring it on. Er, hopefully.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels, and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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