Ravens are just birds in Montana: a football fan’s lament | OPINION

Baltimore Ravens fans celebrate after Lamar Jackson kept the ball for a first down in the 4th quarter in a recent game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Baltimore Ravens fans celebrate after Lamar Jackson kept the ball for a first down in the 4th quarter in a recent game against the San Francisco 49ers. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

It’s hard to be a Ravens fan west of the Mississippi.

In Montana, where the vistas are vast, Ravens fans are not an endangered species because they don’t exist in the Last Best Place, the fourth-largest state by area.


Cattle, ranches, dryland farms, mountains, high prairie and wildlife dominate the rural expanse, and pigskin fans are of the National Football Conference ilk — Niners, Seahawks, Packers, Vikings.

But I believe. Games find me glued to the TV, laptop or smartphone to check on these puzzling Ravens, who, like the city of Baltimore, are little understood outside of The Beltway. Why, friends ask, is the city so murderous and corrupt?


I watch games on Facebook, through which Ravens fans stream contests. These experiences can be random: Cockeyed, interrupted by a baby’s cry, clanks from the streamer’s kitchen, the ring of a phone or chatter during ads. Still, they provide a connectedness that is not realized by radio, network television, cable TV or Reddit.

Out here, where ravens circling in the sky can signal a wolf kill, there are no Ravens fans to commiserate with, no radio stations whose “analysts” blather about play calling and whose rants sound like a neighbor’s leaf blower.

It’s hard to tip a Natty Boh or turn a Polock Johnny’s sausage with a Ravens fan in the wilderness because they usually don’t show themselves. One neighbor flies a Maryland flag. Yet when I stopped to chat with him, he reflected the sentiments of some residents of counties that border the District of Columbia — he turned up his nose at the mention of the streets of Baltimore.

Disappointed, I moved on.

But Lamar Jackson has changed that. His improvisational play, like a jazz virtuoso, has energized not only Baltimore but a league that needs to be brought into the hip-hop era and beyond the classic rock of New England’s Tom Brady — i.e., stay in the pocket or move up in the pocket. No more Stairway to Heaven!

Mr. Jackson runs with spontaneity and youthful abandon. While his knees are the target of defenders, they really are illusory objects that move sideways so fast that they leave opponents grasping at air and audiences gasping for more.

I root for the Ravens aware that few here know it had a proud tradition of working-class Colts heroes who once brought mayhem to 33rd Street.

The names Unitas, Berry, Moore, Mackey, Parker, Matte, Marchetti, Ameche, and Donovan are extra points for old-timers’ ears and reflected the grit of a burg tucked between the political crassness of D.C., Tastykakes of Philly, and urbanity of New York.

Sports teams can rally a city and make it feel united. No other entity can do that. You simply can’t root for your symphony like you can for the rangy Mr. Jackson and his implacable teammates.

When you enter a Montana saloon, you’re more likely to see posters for ice-fishing derbies and elk antlers festooned with Christmas lights than you are posters for a professional team. In 1993, the town of Ismay, population 20, as a publicity stunt temporarily changed its name to Joe in honor of Joe Montana, the legendary San Francisco 49ers gunslinger.

That was a one-off. Pigskin rivalries here are limited to college: MSU Bobcats vs. UM Grizzlies. NFL rivalries exist if you take it to the micro-level — personal rather than regional tilts between two old steel towns, like say the Ravens vs. Steelers.

At Thanksgiving, before the Ravens were to host the 49ers, my native San Franciscan friend’s daughter posted on their door a Ravens logo with a slash through it. I wore my 2013 Super Bowl champions hat. I bet my friend’s son $20 on the game.


The contest came down to the final seconds and a 49-yard field-goal attempt. Justin Tucker, of course, nailed it. Elated, I dialed my friend. Her son answered. Before I could claim victory, he quintupled his bet predicated on Mr. Tucker botching the kick. They were watching the game on a delayed feed.

I seized the odds, and spoiled their expectations, telling them that Mr. Tucker’s boot had split the uprights. They screamed in anguish, deflated as a Patriots’ football.

I remind my friend, who attended Frisco Catholic schools, that Pope Francis has a signed Jackson jersey, not a Jimmy Garoppolo shirt like the one she got for Christmas.

That’s an example of the wins that you relish here, where, despite the loneliness, you always bet on your home team.

Go, Lamar! The pope’s got your (jersey) number.

And Niners friends — may we meet again. Double or nothing?

Bill Lombardi (bebomontana@gmail.com) is a Baltimore native who moved to Montana in 1988, is retired and formerly worked in journalism and politics in the Old Line and Big Sky states.

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