The NFL hasn’t been getting a lot of love lately, what with all the national anthem protests and concussions and general fan discontent, but that’s going to change around Baltimore very soon.
The Ravens open training camp Wednesday, when rookies report for a week before the rest of the team arrives July 18, and we should all be thankful that the league chose the Ravens to be in the Hall of Fame Game.
That extra preseason game, of course, comes with a much earlier start to training camp, which couldn’t come soon enough for sports fans who love both of Baltimore’s major professional teams — one of which is currently breaking their hearts.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. There was a time not so very long ago when Orioles fans annually pined for the start of Ravens training camp, but the Orioles got their act together in 2012 and held our attention for nearly six years until the team fell again on hard times last September.
Since then, the O’s have been in a tailspin so severe that there really is no comparison in their history.
No, not even 1988.
Don’t want to totally depress you with the numbers, but you probably know them already. The Orioles have lost 83 of their past 111 games, dating to Sept. 7 of last season. That’s a .252 winning percentage, which would project to a grand total of 41 wins over a 162-game season.
Thankfully, that’s not how this will be measured. The Orioles have a much better .273 winning percentage this season, which projects to a heady 44 victories by the time this season mercifully ends Sept. 30. They almost have to pick up the pace by then, but if they don’t, they would finish 11 wins worse than the ’88 season that started with a record 21 straight losses.
Don’t mean to rub it in. This is painful for everyone, especially the Orioles players who opened this season feeling pretty good about themselves.
Still, it’s funny how things seem to line up sometimes. If you recall, Sept. 7 was the first day of the 2017 NFL season, and that’s when the Orioles kind of passed the baton to the Ravens. The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, 42-27, in one of the more exciting games in a very controversial season.
The Ravens opened the following Sunday and delivered an uplifting 20-0 road victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. They would go on to a 9-7 season, which would have been respectable if they had not lost the respect of a lot of fans with the decision of some players to stage an anthem protest in London three weeks into the season.
So, the Ravens need a fresh start just like the fans and they’ve been working very hard over the offseason to create a new bond with their fan base. With the completion of the latest improvements at the Under Armour Performance Center, the training camp experience should be easier to access and available to more fans than at any time since the Ravens moved training camp to Owings Mills.
The construction made it impossible to host fans at training camp last year. This year, the capacity will be increased and fans will be able to claim parking passes for specific days on the Baltimore Ravens.com/TrainingCamp Web Site or the team’s mobile app. The Ravens will hold 15 open practices, plus the annual free open workout/fireworks show at M&T Bank Stadium on July 21.
There probably are some drawbacks to the additional practice time and the extra preseason game, but the Hall of Fame Game against the Chicago Bears and the induction of Ray Lewis into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton give the Ravens a great jumping off point for the new season.
Meanwhile, the Orioles organization will be trying to engineer a fresh start by pulling off a series of deals to restock the minor league system. That process could begin any minute now, just as soon as some team realizes that Manny Machado can get it to the promised land.
To their credit, the Orioles also have worked hard to keep the fan experience at Oriole Park upbeat, which cannot be an easy sell. They’ve held several theme nights and delivered another round of high-quality promotional giveaways, hoping to stem a multi-year attendance decline.
There should be better days ahead for both teams, but you have to believe that this year — more than any other — Baltimore fans are ready for some football.