Thursday, August 7, 2008

Football is Back!

Football season officially starts for Baltimore tonight as the Ravens play their first preseason game against the New England Patriots tonight at 7:30, and I can't be more excited! Not that preseason games are all that interesting, and we all know that the Patriots will beat the pants off us, but I still love watching football and rooting for the Ravens no matter how bad they play. I tried to settle my burning football itch this summer by watching the Orioles, and when they were winning early on, I have to admit I felt like perhaps I might become a baseball fan. But as the weeks dragged on and the Orioles slipped further and further below .500, the early goodwill faded away and now I can't bring myself to watch a complete game anymore. Plus, I started to remember why I never liked baseball all that much: there's too many games! How can any one game or any one play matter when you have to play 165 freakin' games per season? In football, everything matters because there are only 16 games to prove yourself, and each playoff game has to be a win or you're out.

I know most people discount preseason games. They say they don't mean much and they don't count for anything. I don't subscribe to that mentality. I suppose if your favorite team is the Patriots or the Cowboys or the Colts, the preseason is meaningless because you already know you have a team full of seasoned pros who will sail into the playoffs no matter what. When you're a Ravens fan, these "meaningless" games give us a chance to see if there are any new gems in the mix who might take us to the promised land, because the Ravens always seem a few steps away from being great. That goes double for the offense.

Of course, we long-suffering Ravens fans can never count on the coach or GM to make the correct assessments from these rookie tryouts. I remember the summer of 2005, when we had already suffered through two seasons of the struggling Kyle Boller as starting quarterback, and we had just acquired Derek Anderson. While Boller and Anthony Wright showed that they were both still the bumbling twins, Anderson looked like a real quarterback. I was so excited that we might finally have a true starter in our midsts. Of course, our "offensive guru" Brian Billick saw things differently, cutting Anderson from the team and sticking with his boy Kyle. Last season, while we were still struggling and Anderson was becoming a shining star with the Browns, Billick gave one of his long-winded explanations about why he had to drop Anderson, rambling on incoherently about other priorities and such nonsense. The man could never admit a mistake, regardless of how many he made. We may not have Anderson this season, but thank God we don't have Billick this year either.

We've put our faith in an untested coach with John Harbaugh. I like Harbaugh as intensely as I hated Billick because he is the anti-Billick. He's honest, straight-forward, and not at all flashy or egotistical. His focus is on team-building and tough training camps. He's not going to pamper his veterans and put up with the thuggish attitude issues that have plagued the team in the past. If it costs us some of those high-priced prima donnas in the process, I say so be it. We're building a team for the future, and I don't mind if we lose a bunch of games this season so long as we weed out the dead wood and put together a cohesive team.

Along those lines, I'm encouraged to read about how well some of our draft picks are doing. I would love for running back Ray Rice to play great and give us the chance to dump that flake Willis McGahee. I don't know why Billick and GM Ozzie Newsome were so willing to take on players who were problem cases for other teams. They're just distractions. I hope Harbaugh will kick him to the curb. I also hope that Troy Smith and Joe Flacco give us a reason to have faith in them as our quarterbacks of the future. I like Kyle Boller as a person, but I just don't think he has what it takes to be a starting quarterback. Another Billick mistake we need to correct.

I know I don't have any profound insights on the subject of football, but I've watched enough ESPN to know that those guys don't know any better than I do what's going to happen. They base their opinions on how teams played the previous season, and in the NFL, most teams never look like they did the previous season. Between the draft, free agency, and the salary cap, few teams can maintain any continuity. As much as I hate the Patriots and Bill Belichick, I have to give them credit for having a consistently strong team year after year. I think it all starts with a team mentality, and that no one player is bigger than the team. That's an attitude I think Harbaugh will bring to the Ravens. Billick was all about star making, including for himself. I've had a bellyful of that and look forward to the Ravens becoming a team that Baltimore can be proud of, not just because of wins, but because they play cleanly and professionally. Time will tell, and I'm so glad that time starts tonight.

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