It’s a simple question with a complex answer. What turned you into a fan your team? In my case, that team is the Baltimore Ravens. Many fans will say the team’s vaunted 2000 defense and its Super Bowl XXXV victory.
Others will say the game-breaking stars that have made football the exciting sport it is today. And more often than not, good old fashion home town pride is reason enough to root for a football team.
All good reasons. But for me, it’s deeper.
I was 10 years old when Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to my hometown of Charm City. I was much too young to understand the golden days of the Baltimore Colts or the sins of Bob Irsay, nor could I comprehend the circumstances or the significance Modell’s decision to move the Browns held at the time.
All I knew was that Baltimore had been a football town without a football team, a foul that had now been rectified in the form of the Ravens.
But the squad was essentially an expansion team. And like any expansion team, they started to lose. They could score but couldn’t stop anybody. And thanks to my childhood attention span, I began to lose interest.
Little did I, or anybody else for that matter, know was that this team was laying a foundation that would leave an indomitable mark on its city and its fans, creating in essence one of the classiest and most successful sports franchises of the last decade.
I’m 23 now, as I’ve grown up this with this team. I’ve grown closer to it, learned more about the game and its history, and grown to understand what it is about the National Football League that draws me in.
For 21 weeks in the fall and winter, every Sunday is a holiday. Every Monday night an event (as well as the occasional Thursday). And at any given moment during a game, something incredible could happen to change the fates and the seasons of all involved.
We give these moments names, and occasionally they live on in history. Like "The Drive," "Red Right 88," or "The Immaculate Reception."
But I think what I love about the NFL the most are the stories. The story lines are so much more palpable in football as opposed to every other major sports league. There are only 16 games in a regular season.
That’s only 16 opportunities for teams to make their mark. 16 chapters of what will amount to, for good or ill, the legacy they will have for that year. 2008 will live in the minds of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans forever. But it will also live in infamy for the Detroit Lions.
Each individual season is of course part of a larger story, a more significant legacy that 32 franchises have built and will continue to build. It’s fun and meaningful to watch unfold, and fascinating to reflect on over the years and eventually decades. That’s why I love the National Football League.
And it’s also why I love the Baltimore Ravens.
I’ve been with this team through the good and the bad. I look at what the Baltimore Ravens have become, what they’ve gone through to get here, and I beam with a mix of astonishment and pride.
Astonished at what they’ve accomplished in only 13 seasons. Their story is tied to the heart of the city that has embraced them from the beginning, and oddly enough has ties to half a century ago.
For with football and Baltimore, everything is connected.
The Ravens’ arrival in Baltimore re-sparked a love affair with pigskin that had left on the Mayflower trucks 12 years earlier. Before they were the pride and joy of Indianapolis, the Colts were the lifeblood of Baltimore.
It was a fitting union. Baltimore was a city with a chip on its shoulder, often relegated to a stop between New York and Washington. And before the Colts were the Colts, they were the Dallas Texans, a team that nobody wanted. When city met squad, they adopted the It’s us against the world mentality.
The Baltimore Colts beat the highly regarded New York Giants in the “Greatest Game Ever Played,” the first overtime game in the history of the NFL on December 28, 1958. It would be the first of four NFL championships they would bring to the city, including Super Bowl V 12 years later.
But with this game, they not only solidified the game in the minds and souls of fans across America, they cemented Baltimore at the middle of the NFL universe. Names like Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, Art Donovan, and Gino Marchetti became ingrained in NFL lore.
And Baltimore had its place in the world. The city was part of something bigger than itself, and proud of it. Something that could never be taken away.
Except it almost was, when the team moved to Indianapolis in 1984. A heartbreaking moment for those who grew up with the Colts and woke up that fateful morning without a team. Which brings us back to the Ravens.
Brought to Baltimore under ironically similar circumstances by Art Modell, football had a fresh start, and the team was embraced in a way so powerful it’s hard to believe the city went 12 years without a team.
And the city’s patience paid off in an organization that went on to select two surefire hall-of-famers in the first round of their first draft. Good owners and good men in Art Modell and Steve Bisciotti helped mold an organization that is involved with the surrounding community at the highest degree.
Smart front office men like Ozzie Newsome have drafted quality players year in and year out, in men like Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Joe Flacco. And hard working coaches like Brian Billick and John Harbaugh have instilled character and leadership into this young yet successful franchise.
Baltimore fans everywhere felt vindicated when the Ravens brought the city its fifth NFL championship in only its fifth year in existence. Before Indianapolis even got one.
But for Baltimore, it wasn’t about getting the best of the Colts. It was about bringing out the best in themselves. It was about restoring the pride and validation that an NFL team can bring to a city.
For a city that played a focal point in the surging role professional football plays in our culture, the glory of Sunday afternoons came roaring back stronger than ever thanks to the Ravens.
And that is why I love the Baltimore Ravens.