Archive for April, 2008

First Impressions
April 28, 2008

First impressions are in the book for Ravens 1st round draft pick Joe Flacco, and there was little in the way of surprise from the Delaware Blue Hen. 

His press conference Sunday afternoon at Ravens Headquarters showed a lighter side.  When asked about his height and from where it came considering his parents are hardly giants, Flacco said his Dad always told him it was the milk man.

Probably not a joke Mom wanted to hear during his first official Ravens media gathering, but hey, he’s not going to change just because Ozzie Newsome thinks he is the offensive savior for Baltimore. 

But what struck me most in Owings Mills about Flacco was a quiet confidence he displayed.  A chip on his shoulder exists because he had to prove his wares at the “minor leagues” of college football (his words).  He can’t wait to show that the 18th overall selection was justified, and not a wild reach as many pundits have proclaimed.

What proved more revealing was Flacco’s visit to our TV-11 studios Sunday evening.  He made it in time for a live interview during our 6:00 PM broadcast, bringing his entire family plus girlfriend along.  Interestingly, there was no handler or chaperon from the Ravens, but he didn’t need one.  And Flacco had no extraneous entourage of friends – slash – agents – slash – hangers on. 

This kid is terribly unassuming, not interested in the publicity, but not intimidated by it either.  He had virtually no media attention through high school and college so this is something completely new.  And while nobody is ready to book him on Leno for comic relief, he handled all questions with aplomb. 

What was hard to imagine was Flacco taking command of the Ravens huddle.  He doesn’t have that charismatic presence to which people gravitate.  He is somewhat soft spoken and if he truly grasps the gravity of trying to become a star quarterback, he doesn’t show it.

Of course, reading the right defenses and then throwing strikes for touchdowns will make everyone gravitate towards Joe Flacco. 

Ryan’s Hope-less
April 25, 2008

It’s a bad year to need a quarterback.

 

This whole draft lacks in star power.  Only Darren McFadden from Arkansas has the highlight reel to make us all a twitter.  The problem with D-Mac, he’s already made NFL Security services all a twitter with his nightclub fights and possible paternity problems.

 

There are no superstar quarterbacks. 

 

There is Matt Ryan.

 

Hmmmm….

 

Like I said, no superstar qb’s, but Ryan owns the only top 10 potential.  He has the size and the arm.  He played in a major conference (but the ACC isn’t quite as major as we thought is it?).  And his greatest asset on the pro side of the ledger comes from his brain.  The kid is flat out smart.  GM’s compare his preparation for interviews and workouts to that of Peyton Manning.  One team official saying he felt like Ryan interviewed him, not the other way around.

 

The con side though offers a pretty good case.  Ryan makes Kerry Collins look like a mobile quarterback.  Eminem had it wrong,  this ain’t a turtle race.  But what disturbs me most about Ryan, the lack of coming through in the clutch. 

 

The stars aligned perfectly in 2007 for Boston College to battle for the National Championship.  The Eagles started the season 8-0, much of that thanks to Ryan.  But with four games left in the regular season, none of them against ranked teams, BC lost two of them.  First to a Florida State team, at home in which Ryan completed less than 50 percent of his passes and had 3 picks.  Then at Maryland, he came up short again.  Two interceptions and sacked four times are not the kind of numbers that scream “I am your franchise”. 

 

I know if you look hard enough you can find stats to back up criticisms of anyone.  But I just don’t get the feel that he’s a big time, must have player.  And if you take him at number eight, or (gasp!) move up to get Ryan, the investment price is just too high.

 

Solutions then genius?  Fair question, and unfortunately for the Ravens there don’t appear to be any simple answers.  Nothing close to a sure thing in the draft, nothing steady left in the free agent pool, and the current roster since the retirement of Steve McNair.. umm, well, there wouldn’t be four paragraphs on Matt Ryan if the solution resides in Baltimore.

 

The Ravens most clear path back to the playoffs is a familiar one.  Win with defense, and don’t turn the ball over.  It can work.  The blue print lives in the Owings Mills Castle and the talent remains on staff.   But long term success requires a leader behind center and the search for that steady hand has no end in sight.

 

Nine Lives
April 17, 2008

During his brief tenure in Baltimore, Steve McNair never really showed us what made him great. True he was a Pro Bowler (as an alternate) in 2006, a testament to his greatness given that his arm strength had long left him. McNair instead relied on guts, grit, and guile in leading the Ravens to a 13-3 regular season record.

But while we celebrate his career today in Baltimore, McNair was, and will be remembered as a Titan. His toughness and determination defined that franchise for a decade. He was the ultimate rival for the Ravens, famous for his battles with Ray Lewis, but always one you respected.

His brutal style of play cut short his career. Granted, 13 years far surpasses the average for a quarterback in this league, but there was nothing average about Steve McNair. His ability to shake off a bad throw as easily as shed a tackler was remarkable. But when you watch the tape of his highlights, of his amazing escapes, and vicious hits, the fact he lasted this long marks the last of his amazing escapes.

He walks away from the game today, able to walk away. No noticeable limps for number nine. He still has enough physical ability to for what he really wants, to simply be dad. To play catch in the back yard, to wrestle a little, to enjoy the good life.

He got out in time, maybe using the last of his nine lives, but out none the less.

Reality TV: I miss the scripts
April 14, 2008

Tiger Woods was supposed to charge up the leader board as never before, lay claim to his 5th Green Jacket, setting up two months of Grand Slam chatter as we ready for the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

That was script A.

Script B would have been fine too.

Trevor Immelman, just four months following surgery to remove a tumor (he learned it was benign only after the surgery) from his back, holds off said charging Tiger with steely nerves and a birdie at the last for his first major championship.

Instead, it was like the writers strike never ended.

Script C stunk.

Tiger never challenges in the chilly, swirling winds of Augusta National. He turns illiterate in reading Augusta’s fabled greens. He cards a pedestrian final round 72, never challenging Immelman for the lead.

And Trevor, congrats on the physical recovery and lifetime exemption to the Masters, but limping home with a 75 that included a double at 16 hardly invokes comparisons to Jack’s back nine 30 in 1986. Or Tiger’s record setting supremacy in 1997. Or even Phil Mickelson’s birdie at the last in 2004.

I kept waiting for something dramatic to happen. Jim Nantz really kept waiting for something dramatic to happen. He finally mailed it in with his uninspired call of “Golf has a new major champion.”

After Immelman inexplicably dunked it in the water on 16, I found myself rooting for a Van de Veldian implosian. And really, is that something that anyone without a core of pure evil should root for?

So often, Sunday at the Masters delivered with spectacular theater that we have come to expect it. But the course changes of added length and rough no longer allow, outside of perfect scoring weather conditions, thunderous roars through the magnolias. The course is just too hard if the winds pick up at all, or if the temperatures dip below 70. And despite what Al Gore will tell you, there still remains a good chance of a chilly April weekend in Georgia.

The 2008 Masters reminds us, that as much as we want them to, sports may not follow our scripts. Maybe enduring the occasional snooze fest really isn’t that heavy a price to pay for the sheer joy of when talent, drama, and timing collide. Just right now, I feel a little case of buyers remorse.

Something Magic Happens
April 7, 2008

e-mail Pete

One week in the books and the Orioles sit in first place. They have offered a surprisingly pleasant start to the season, riding a four game win streak and collecting contributions from so many places.

Just a word of caution though, the O’s had four game win streaks twice last April. They even rode a six game streak last May. I think we all remember how that turned out. I share this because a few delusional fans think this team will actually battle for first throughout the season.

That said, you can’t help but notice a different feeling about this team. Many malcontents are gone and those that remained seem genuinely changed.

Melvin Mora brooded like a prom queen runner up the last two seasons, griping about managers and teammates alike. That from a guy who signed a nice fat contract extension.

Now he embraces the role of elder statesman and teacher, working with the Orioles kiddie corps with a smile on his face.

In laugh out loud fashion, after the Birds 4th consecutive win on Sunday, Kevin Millar cranked up the song Orioles Magic in the clubhouse.

Reports say the players all chimed in, somewhat mocking the hackneyed but catchy tune, and somewhat mocking themselves.

That’s where we see the difference. For a decade, this team took itself too seriously. They weren’t a player or two away from contending with New York and Boston. They just acted like it.

Sunday they displayed humility through self deprecation. And that’s the most refreshing act at Camden Yards since Cal Ripken Jr. signed autographs into the wee hours of the night, night after night.

These guys know they’re still a few years out, that some of their key components are playing in Frederick and Bowie. But they also believe they will compete right now, that the days of embarrassing themselves like last August are behind them.