#ColumnNes The real Super Bowl is at 3 p.m. on Sunday in Baltimore, believe that!

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The old themes and not-so-positive narratives all came roaring back to life at halftime.

The score against the upstart Houston Texans was tied 10-10 and only a missed field goal by the un-automatic Ka’imi Fairbairn didn’t have the Baltimore Ravens trailing at home on what started as a brutally raw and gusty, unforgiving day with temperatures starting at 20 and falling (much like ticket prices) through the evening.

And, once again, Lamar Jackson and his postseason legacy was being tried in the halftime court of public opinion. After three weeks off schedule as a unit, the Ravens’ offensive line was getting overmatched by the blitz, the vaunted Harbaugh special teams had already given up a touchdown and palpable concern was building within the frozen building about whether C.J. Stroud was going to pull off a miracle upset and the Texans would be the latest AFC team to give Baltimore a rough ride in the playoffs.

Rest vs. rust – and the long memories of Chargers and Titans and Bills losses in January – suddenly became vividly front and center in all conversations. Meanwhile, Lamar was in the locker room apparently cursing and pacing and showing some leadership fire that sparked a second half Lamarvelous show that illustrated why he’s the best and most dynamic player in the National Football League.

And why this year might be different for the now-two-time MVP quarterback who promised Baltimore a Super Bowl before he’d ever been here.

The fact that the Ravens won by three-plus touchdowns in what the boxscore will show as a 34-10 laugher for the home team en route to hosting its first AFC Championship Game in a mostly pretty solid 28-year history ­ – and the first one for the city since the 1971 version of the Baltimore Colts hosted the Oakland Raiders – speaks to the recurring dominance of this team and its ability to find another gear and meet another challenge on what feels like their purple destiny on the road to Las Vegas.

Lamar Jackson told us to “believe that” he would lead the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl. And when No. 8 goes into the purple phone booth and comes out doing things that only he can do, the Ravens are willed to win football games.

In many ways, you survive these January games more than win them – especially when you give up a special teams mistake to a massive underdog and the kid on the other side at quarterback doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Look at how San Francisco merely survived later on Saturday night against Green Bay. And we remember the Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones pass as a “miracle” because strange things happen in January. The Ravens have been on the wrong side of too many bad beats to list. Just seeing Peyton Manning on the field before the game gave me the 2006 shakes.

Make no mistake about it: Lamar Jackson running the ball is still the Ravens’ best play. And it truly was the difference maker in the third quarter surge but, unlike the 2018 and 2019 days of the Ravens’ offense, it’s far, far from their only play.

The running game awakened in the second half and imposed its will. And a lot of that is because Lamar isn’t just a decoy – he’s a home run threat and that is hard to worry about for four quarters in any down and distance. And as much as he hasn’t so been fast to start the jets during the regular season, offensive coordinator Todd Monken had no problem mixing in a change of pace in a third quarter roar that will be remembered if there is a parade in Baltimore for Valentine’s Day.

The mostly veteran lunchpail, “nut cut” offensive line came out of the awakened halftime locker room to run it and showed its resolve the rest of the day with a dominating performance and a multiple display of backs. Gus Edwards. Justice Hill. Dalvin Cook. All downhill. And, yes, Lamar Jackson running effectively enough early in the second half that he didn’t need to do it later in the game as the score widened, the sticks moved and the pressure eased.

The quarterback only ran for 100 yards in a playoff game. (This is not normal. This is the “revolution” that John Harbaugh speaks of regularly.)

As for the Texans, when you get mauled on the road in the second half of a winnable game and are still committing pre-snap penalties as you board the bus for BWI, you get to go home with a January participation trophy and the pelt of Joe Flacco, who will be my guest on WNST-AM 1570 and Baltimore Positive this week, recapping his Cleveland run.

No doubt the Super Bowl MVP and I will be talking about fans and noise and local passion for football.

It must be noted that Saturday’s game against the Texans marked a really interesting time in the history of Baltimore football where playoff tickets were readily available on the cheap. At some point, I’ll write a book about what’s happened to the Baltimore sports fan base – and pricing “insider the perimeter” after we just gave them another half a billion dollars in free civic handouts for a hiding billionaire and his football team – but for now there were headlines like this:

The ultra cold weather and the nice warm mancaves of the suburbs and high-definition television (plus the Wembley Knee, or Chad Steele’s insolence in my case) have chased many, many “real” OG Baltimore Ravens fans to the couch. The Ravens have been begging folks to buy the PSLs I was chased out of by their shoddy public relations leadership. But my generation of original supporters has been chased away in many ways – from downtown, tailgates, rising costs of parking, gauging of concessions, safety, aging out, moving away, etc. I saw it very vividly in 2017.

Someone else is sitting in my seats now. Different people every week. And, apparently, at least for one Saturday they were yelling and making noise for the home team and having fun – and many of them for well below face value on former PSL holders’ tickets.

This opportunity for folks who never dreamed of seeing Ray Lewis dance back-in-the-day to see a real playoff game on Saturday at an affordable price was previously unthinkable. Tons and tons of tickets were well under $100, which isn’t cheap or free but was a hundy well spent for a memory if you had the right parka and nip for a purple public party. (We never had any problem going to games in cold weather, which made the availability a little shocking to us.)

The depressed ticket prices and awful weather enabled a whole new generation of brave and hearty – and young and full of color and party vibes ­– to take up the seats that had been empty so many weeks in recent years. And they brought an energy that we inspired when Ray Lewis danced. And that I kinda remember from old Baltimore Colts games when it was cold when I was a kid against Pittsburgh and Oakland.

The #RavensFlock second generation of Baltimore Colts great-grandchildren made it into the stadium on Saturday because they could afford it. And were hearty in braving harsh elements (the way we always did back in the day and I’ll spare you the evidence and receipts).

The Baltimore Ravens newbie crowd of 2024 was a huge, huge factor in winning the game at home. That is a big part of the Saturday narrative that shouldn’t be lost. The place was lit!

The Houston Texans offense was never on schedule because they were induced into pre-snap penalties all afternoon because they couldn’t hear to operate. That is how it should be. And from my broken purple heart, it was a beautiful noise – the roar of Baltimore sports fans making a difference in the biggest game of the generation and really the history of the franchise at home given the stakes and the halftime score and peril.

And the Ravens’ defense pinned its ears back late and once Lamar and the offense stepped on the gas of The Gus Bus, the building became an inferno of affection, relief, hope and Baltimore swagger.

The better team won. The Ravens are better than everyone so far. By a lot in many cases but there are two hours of football left on the road to glory.

And if they get Mark Andrews back into the attack, I believe they get to go to Las Vegas next week. And I have the feeling the ticket prices will be saucier next weekend, especially if the Bills Mafia gets involved on the East Coast swing and the weather holds up in the upper 50s. It’ll be a $500 minimum because no one will be able to afford the Super Bowl costs. The crowd might be a lot different this Sunday than it was last Saturday. Finances dictate that. The visiting team and the ticket marketplace will dictate that as well.

Now, two hurdles: the winner of the heavyweight brawl on Sunday night in Buffalo. And then, we’re guessing San Francisco, but who knows?

Either way, the Ravens will be ready to play football.

And Baltimore will be ready to embrace local football history on Sunday for the biggest game ever.

I don’t know what a Super Bowl berth on Baltimore soil would look or feel like because I’ve never seen it. Man, I remember back when we didn’t even have a team here and had no hope of ever having one.

I’ve written two books since then.

And this team appears to be on schedule for a third Purple Reign. And Lamar is poised to write that script.

Believe that.

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