When my younger son gifted his older brother with a Lamar Jackson Ravens jersey last season, it went unworn until this past August, when I asked to borrow it. My older son warned me not to jump on the bandwagon so quickly, but it was too late. For the last seventeen weeks, a moratorium was imposed on any social invitations for game day so I could take in the pre-game shows, the game, and if we were victorious, all that followed.
Like many fans, I adopted superstitions to help the team get the W. Even when victory seemed certain, I ran out of the room at tense moments during a drive, shouting to my family it was to bring the team luck. I thought it helped at first, after we rebounded from a 2-2 start, but over time I realized our talented players and coaches didn’t need the collective prayers and magic rituals of the large and growing Ravens fan base to win games.
Once our winning streak was underway, sportscaster Gerry Sandusky gleefully telling us “the hay is in the barn,” was the signal to tune in to the post-game press conferences and replays of the highlights, and watch the locker room celebration to see who got the game ball. Texting trash talk to friends who are New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers fans was an added bonus.
The next morning, in an adult sports fan version of endless replays of Frozen, the remote control would freeze on ESPN. I would stop dead while getting ready for work to gawk at the wowing prowess of our players. No matter how many times I’d seen a particular scoring drive, there was always a new camera angle to consider. Watching sportscasters Mike “Greeny” Greenberg and Steven A. Smith in the morning brought back memories of Romper Room, though without Miss Nancy’s good manners and kindness ethos, except for Rex Ryan, our former defensive coordinator. His commentary was so effusively full of praise for our team, I was afraid he was going to get fired for his total lack of objectivity. His adoration of our team defines “bromance.” As the morning schooling on football drew to a close, I fully expected to see him bring out the magic mirror and happily name the Baltimore fans watching the show in television land.
Another enjoyable part of the season was that my newfound fondness for the NFL expanded my vocabulary for work. The phrase “dropping a dime” baffled me at first, since dropping something is not usually associated with anything good in an athletic contest. Once its meaning became clear, I realized I could tell my students “If you want an A in this class, drop the dime on the final exam and you might have a shot at it.” I previously thought “juking” was a 1950s dance move, until I saw and heard about Mr. Jackson’s fancy footwork on the field. An appropriate use of the term at my office might be something like “Hey, you juked me in the copier room and then the paper ran out!” or “Is your ankle in a cast because you got juked by the one of the interns?” As far as using one of the signature phrases of our quarterback, “That’s dope,” I can anticipate its use on a number of occasions, for example, upon learning the university is closed due to snow — “That’s dope!” — or that the candy jar near the mailroom was filled with M&M’s after the Jolly Ranchers ran out. Are we allowed to say that’s super dope?
While my son might criticize me for my effusive fandom, in my defense I’d like to say I have always loved football, even if I didn’t fully understand it. I know I have a lot to learn, but I am enjoying the ride on the bandwagon. And isn’t that the wagon that gets the hay to the barn? But in case that’s not enough to move the hay, it wouldn’t hurt to consult the hometown invented Ouija board for advice on upcoming games. It may be the only thing Patriots coach Bill Belichick hasn’t done to win, so we might gain an additional edge if we have to play the Patriots again. That would be dope. But I trust the team to win, because they trust each other. I think they have a lot of kindness for each other, just not for their opponents. Maybe that is what “truss” really means. And that’s dope, too.
Toby Gordon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate professor at The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and deputy director of the Institute for Clinical Translational Research.