“I don’t take any credence in winning ugly; to me it doesn’t mean anything. Look around the league; it’s a tough league. Every team has great players. There are no homecoming opponents. This is the NFL. There is not going to be a lot of ‘pretty.’ There is really not.”
– John Harbaugh (October 2012)
WHEN FOOTBALL IS WORKING AT its best as an entertainment vehicle, it takes its audience away from the real world. The NFL is a pretend world where everyone is given a fresh chance, new players and a new salary cap number each season. If only the real world were that easy.
Despite another strong start on the field, Ravens fans and the players had all been subjected to the real world in the first weeks of the 2012 season, with the loss of Art Modell and Torrey Smith’s brother, Tevin, on the morning of the Patriots game.
On Monday, October 1, everyone in Owings Mills awakened with another gut punch to their hearts as news came from Indianapolis that Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Pagano, just 10 months removed from being in the Ravens’ building every day as the defensive coordinator, had a personal relationship with virtually everyone in the building and some special friendships with coaches and defensive players, who adored him during his four-year stay in Baltimore.
Word was that his form of leukemia was treatable and had an 80-to-90 percent chance of remission, but it was still a rough Monday to be back at work for Harbaugh and his staff in preparing for a trip to Kansas City.
“Chuck’s a fighter in every respect,” Harbaugh said. “Chuck’s got that swagger, and I’m completely confident that Chuck will go to work on this with the same enthusiasm he does everything else in his life, and he’ll be victorious. So, we’ll be pulling for him and praying for him on that.”
Ray Lewis, who knew Pagano from his early days at Miami when he coached Ed Reed in the 1990’s, spoke out about his former coordinator. “He’s a man of men,” Lewis said. “He’s a man that people want to aspire to be like. That when you grow up as a man, that when you’re around Chuck you realize that, you know what, if life offers nothing else it offered me the opportunity to be around a man. A true man.”
“He’s like a dad to me,” said Reed, who originally met Pagano when he recruited him to go to the University of Miami in 1997. “That’s family, which is first before football.”
Defensive tackle Arthur Jones would later shave his head to show his unity with a Twitter and internet movement known simply as #Chuckstrong.
Once the week got started in preparation for the Chiefs, the attention of local sports fans turned away from the Ravens and instead to the Baltimore Orioles, who were in the midst of qualifying for the MLB playoffs for the first time since 1997. On Wednesday, Ravens players sported orange T-shirts that had the team’s October catch phrase, “Buckle Up,” an ode to manager Buck Showalter as the team prepared for a weekend wild card game on Friday in Texas. The entire city was looking forward to the rare road and home doubleheader set to take place on Sunday, October 7th. The Ravens had an afternoon game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and the Orioles would be hosting Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards that evening against the New York Yankees.
And even if you find baseball boring by your tastes, there was no arguing that what would take place on the field in Baltimore that night had much more offense than what took place earlier in the day in Kansas City, where the Chiefs and Ravens played perhaps the ugliest NFL game of the year.
The natives were already restless for better football in Kansas City. Chiefs fans were on the warpath before the game began, but much of their ire was directed toward general manager Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel, and quarterback Matt Cassel, who were all put on watch by an angry fan base that has been accustomed to success over the past three decades. The 7-9 finish in 2011 was bad enough, but the Chiefs were off to a 1-3 start in 2012, and the defense had been trampled over the first month surrendering 136 points in four games.