The final seconds vanish from the clock and the 49er's ball carrier is stopped in his tracks. I let out a joyous scream. They did it. The Ravens won the Super Bowl. The Baltimore Ravens. My Ravens.
The frenzied, Jim Harbaugh-esque state of insanity that takes over my usually calm personality during Ravens games is hard to explain in Southern California. The general feeling in Los Angeles after a Super Bowl victor is declared is one of apathy. Texts are exchanged about bet results while strategies begin to form for next year's fantasy season, but few share the joy felt by the winning team and their fans. Blame it on LA's lack of an NFL team, but I have always found the overall sports atmosphere here to be a bit off kilter. Fans love the teams when they are successful then abandon them when they lose, apparently deeming them unworthy of further attention. After all, LA has plenty of other worthwhile distractions.
I have never understood this attitude. I'm from Baltimore.
Almost everyone in Baltimore develops a feverish love for the Ravens after enough years of succumbing to their unavoidable presence. Purple banners stream from light-posts in the teenager filled Hunt Valley Towne Center, bird logos adorn the walls of every public place imaginable, and some Baltimoreans' entire wardrobes seem to exclusively consist of Ravens apparel.
Baltimore has long been a football city, and it has been a Ravens city for almost long as I have been alive. I was in elementary school when the Ravens went on their original Super Bowl run in 2000. The vice principal gave a brief synopsis of the previous playoff games during morning announcements, and the school faculty actually encouraged the students to wear purple every day for our scheduled "Ravens Weeks." During the family Super Bowl party we stuffed our faces with Bill Bateman's buffalo wings, a Baltimore classic, and excitedly watched the Ravens rout the New York Giants for their first Lombardi Trophy. The city was ecstatic.
After several years of stagnation the Ravens made some major changes, welcoming new leadership under former special teams coach John Harbaugh and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, a first round draft pick from the University of Delaware. A few Baltimoreans were at first nervous about the new faces, but everyone ultimately rallied behind the team per usual. However, while the Ravens inevitably changed, Baltimore stayed mostly the same.
The inner city was always a place we were told to avoid, with a few exceptions like the tourist heavy Harborplace and M&T Bank Stadium of course. Fans of The Wire probably know as much about the grittier side of Baltimore as do the residents of Baltimore County's surprisingly segregated suburbs. My community was mostly Jewish, while the neighboring suburbs were predominantly composed of one or two ethnic groups - hardly a cultural melting pot.
The suburbs in Baltimore were fairly typical. We found ourselves with little to do on weekends during the football offseason, especially since we couldn't count on the Orioles for entertainment (although I'm sure that changed this year). I was fortunate enough to have a passion for video games and technology to keep myself busy, but boredom spread rampantly among my peers.
This narrative should seem familiar to anyone who grew up in a small American town, but Baltimore's pride in its football team created unusual opportunities for friendship.
My high school was full of the stereotypical cliques and cliches, yet through the Ravens we found common ground. I could discuss football with the artsy students and jocks alike - both wore purple jerseys on a regular basis. It took me some time to find my place in high school, but when I finally found a great group of friends we bonded each weekend over Ravens games. The games became a Sunday ritual that transformed the entire group from casual to diehard fans, and we haven't looked back since. Although we mostly communicate now through Twitter and text messages, The Ravens continue to bring us together today.
Baltimore may lack Los Angeles' endless sources of entertainment or New York's cultural diversity, but its pride in local heroes has infused it with a tremendous amount of heart. While some Baltimoreans happily live there forever and others like myself leave to pursue other ambitions, everyone maintains faith in an unspoken but fundamental idea: great things can come out of this place. Since 1996, the Ravens have been THE great thing. They are more than Baltimore's football team - they are the rallying point and motivational force in a city often deprived of greatness.
I wish I could have celebrated with you at the parade, Baltimore. You deserved this victory.