The NFL doesn’t really hate Baltimore.
It just seems that way.
The decision to “flex” the Ravens into a late-afternoon time slot for their regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow on any other Sunday, but announcing it so late for a game on New Year’s Eve certainly was cause for some consternation at team headquarters.
Coach John Harbaugh was quick to point out that the NFL didn’t “do us any favors” with the last-minute schedule change and he made it onto the ESPN crawler with the comment that the league doesn’t “care about us.”
It wasn’t personal and Harbaugh probably didn’t mean for his reaction to sound as if the Ravens have some kind of persecution complex. The NFL moved five East Coast games into the later slot so that playoff-relevant matchups that might affect one another start at the same time.
His reaction was more about the effect the change might have on the holiday plans of Ravens fans, which could affect attendance at M&T Bank Stadium, as well as the sites of the other four East Coast games that were flexed.
The Ravens, as you might have heard, have been experiencing some attendance problems, and we don’t have to give you another instant replay of the reasons for that. Harbaugh is understandably sensitive to anything that might reduce the size of the home crowd for a game the Ravens need to win to assure themselves of their first playoff appearance since 2014.
That’s why he made it a point Saturday night to thank the fans who showed up for the Ravens’ unexpectedly suspenseful victory over the Indianapolis Colts and credited their vocal support for helping his team move one step closer to the postseason. He alluded to the importance of the crowd again during his news conference Tuesday.
Even so, it isn’t hard to understand why a lot of Baltimore football fans might feel as if the NFL doesn’t care about them, since there is plenty of history to support that notion.
They don’t have to go all the way back to the Mayflower vans pulling out on that snowy night in 1984 to find evidence that Baltimore has been repeatedly dissed by the league. There was the expansion fiasco in 1993, when the NFL decided Jacksonville would be a better market than Baltimore, and the famously insulting Paul Tagliabue “museum” quote. And, of course, who can forget how the league handled the opening night scheduling controversy after the Ravens won the Super Bowl five years ago?
Still trying to figure that one out. The Ravens had a scheduling conflict with the Orioles that prevented them from celebrating the traditional season opener on the Thursday before the full Sunday schedule, and the league would not allow the game to be played a night earlier because of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana. So the Ravens ended up playing their opener in Denver, where they suffered a deflating loss to the Broncos, while their original opponent — the New England Patriots — opened with a soft matchup against the Buffalo Bills.
Ravens conspiracy theorists were quick to point out that the NFL had played on Rosh Hashanah previously and often played on Christmas Day. The belief that commissioner Roger Goodell ruled in favor of the Patriots because of his close friendship to owner Robert Kraft certainly wasn’t diminished when the NFL played its full schedule in 2015 — including a Sunday night matchup between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys on Rosh Hashana.
Oh well, none of that matters now. If you’re a Ravens fan and you want to stay to the end of Sunday’s game, you’ll have to move your New Year’s Eve dinner plans back to at least 9 p.m. to account for a 3½-hour game and the time it will take to get out of the parking lot. Might even want to build in extra time to account for all the people coming into town for the big Inner Harbor fireworks show, which begins at 9.