Coping with the pain

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After all of the hours of mulling over Saturday night’s biblical steamer at M&T Bank Stadium, I have come to one conclusion: when it comes down to “getting over it,” either your glass is half full or it’s half empty.

And in some cases over the first two nights of my personal elimination from any more fun this NFL postseason, it depended on which hour you actually ask me.

The emails started late Saturday night — actually more like Sunday morning, once the bars closed I got a curiously large pile of emails — mostly knee-jerk, rambling jibberish, the rumblings of a discontented and heartbroken public.

I know how that feels because I’m ONE OF YOU!

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I came home, I wanted to cry, I watched the Philadelphia-New Orleans game and sulked and shouted random “F-bombs” and “Damns!,” mumbling out loud to no one in particular.

Then I received a couple of my favorite emails (paraphrasing): “So, Nasty, you Dundalk jerk, are you going to go soft and talk about what a great season it was, blah, blah, blah or are you gonna tell the truth. That Billick is a horrible coach, Rex Ryan’s defense proved to be soft in the 4th quarter, Ray Lewis is washed up, Derrick Mason has a big mouth and Steve McNair is a joke as a big game quarterback.”

The truth here today is both: I’m the insane, screaming idiot fan who is pissed, heartbroken, disappointed, inconsolable and out of synch with the reality of postseason elimination.

But I’m also trying to be the guy who says, “Man, we had a helluva run in 2006. That was a FUN season, even though it really sucks right now!”

The truth is: I thought I was prepared to handle losing, but I wasn’t. Not even close.
I was too busy planning the biggest purple party in the history of South Florida two weeks from now to consider any derailment. I had my bags packed for San Diego. I was all set to be sipping champagne poolside at the hotel del Coronado next Sunday, watching the sunset over the Pacfic after watching the Ravens hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy at the Murph. There’d be the taste of fish tacos on my breath and that picture my wife was going to take of me wearing my “AFC Champions hat” with scores of disheartened beautiful blonde women wearing lightning bolt hats in the background?

Ahhh, speaking of San Diego, guess who ELSE isn’t feeling so hot this morning — the fans in Philadelphia, Seattle and San Diego — three cities that have NEVER, EVER won a Super Bowl and EVERY SINGLE MEMORY in their collective NFL souls has ended with a day like ours on Saturday. EVERY ONE OF THEM!
Over the years, Pittsburgh has also gotten really good at losing games like this at home. They lost to San Diego, Denver and New England routinely at the Confluence, all in AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES in fact!

And how about Cleveland? Once upon a time, Cleveland lost every January, and usually in a fashion so painful that they gave the lost battles names, like wars: The Drive, The Fumble — even I have a tad bit of a soft spot for what those poor bastards have been through even before you get to their weather and ugly women. And they still NEVER win! The last time they were any good, the Orioles owned Baltimore, Bill Bellichick was their coach and Herb Belgrad was feeding Bob Irsay and Jack Kent Cooke crabcakes trying to figure out how we could get Baltimore back in the league!

And Cincinnati — well, we all know their deal. Just check the winning percentage since 1990. Ouch!

So, this year I arrogantly thought that we were the best team, a team built for January football. I STILL think we were the best team, and like the 1979 Orioles or the 1973 Terps, it’s a flame that might never be extinguished, how much I really LIKED this team and BELIEVED in this team.

I thought that with the veteran leadership we had and the 10 chapters of “Purple Reign II” that were already written in my head that there was just no way Ray Lewis was going to allow the Colts to beat Baltimore again! I honestly sometimes think of No. 52 as some sort of Superman with a cape, like he was just going to deny the infidels of Tony Dungy the right to leave Charm City with their season in tact.

And there was no way we were going to lose to a lifetime, big-game bed-wetter like Peyton Manning in our house.

But, alas, the Ravens didn’t just lose to the Colts here on Saturday night — it was almost shameful how poorly they played. Where were our beloved 13-3 fighters? Where was the offense? Where were the rested legs of the bye week? Where was the heart of Steve McNair? Where was Derrick Mason in the offense? Where was the comeback?

We scored six points!

How could this happen?

When history writes this chapter of Baltimore sports, it’ll say that the 2006 Ravens dropped the biggest steamer of our generation at midfield on Saturday evening against the hated Irsay family, of all people.

There were the poor throws by McNair, the fumble by Heap, the decision by Billick to walk off the field with a minute left in the first half, the three times Ray Lewis actually inadvertently interfered with his own players getting turnovers, and then of course the final drive when Rex Ryan’s unit just couldn’t get Manning off the field.
There was no precedent for this, a performance so wholly uninspired, disappointing and smelly that it leaves me speechless. Well, there was that Cincinnati meltdown in November, but that was a road game on a messy Thursday night when the team didn’t even manage a practice before the game.

But then, I realize — just like in 28 other cities this morning — it’s really over.
Two field goals, one devastating loss and a long offseason of “what ifs”: all of the fun is over.

The purple lights will be coming down soon, the second dose of Festivus will be a distant and sour memory by the time the Patriots travel to Indiana and take the field next Sunday in the palace-turned-dump that was built and given to Bob Irsay, a building where his name is proudly in the ring of “honor”!

It’s just like the pin in giant purple balloon I was telling young Adam, our morning show producer, about on Friday night. We made the balloon bigger every day here at WNST leading up to the next game, but when it pops, it does so abruptly, painfully and leaves incredible emptiness. All of the energy just evaporates before your eyes.

I went on an impromptu walking tour of downtown Baltimore on Friday night, which ended up as more of an old-school drunken bender. It was one of those nights when I felt like a man half my age. We started early and went all night and I downed frosted mugs of beer at the bar at Burke’s downtown, and talked about the old times in Baltimore, all the nights of eating onion rings and talking sports with real sportswriters like Bernie Miklasz and Kevin Cowherd and John Steadman back in the 1980’s.

I wanted to go out in the purple city the night before the biggest game of my generation and drink it all in, and yet remember what Baltimore was like WITHOUT football and purple lights, like the first four seasons at Camden Yards when the Orioles were on the tip of everyone’s tongues. I wanted to appreciate what all of this positive civic energy meant and how blessed and lucky we are to even have this football team here.

I’d like to say the hangover was worth it — it wasn’t — but I can say that I milked this playoff run and had massive fun with it every step of the way, even the drunken debauchery. Between the games, the wins and all of the rallies over the last few weeks — seeing so many fans reach out and touch the players and seeing the joy and smiles with families and friends — it really was a helluva lot of fun there for a while.

Every day was like Christmas the past two weeks leading up to the game.

I want to remember 2006 as this great five months of fun, laughs, high fives and civic pride and joy.

But right now, it just hurts like hell and I don’t know what to do with myself for the next six months.
It’s almost better when you go 6-10 and don’t get your hopes up, like the Redskins’ fans do most seasons. I kinda forgot how crappy it feels, having a magical season with an abrupt, painful and hollow ending. I remember when I was a Houston Oilers fan all those years that this was an annual ritual of mine — stark, deep depression in early January.

Today I have that same emptiness, that hole in the pit of my stomach that feels so empty and hopeless and sad.

But instead of the memories that won’t be made now — another weekend of football, the parties in Miami, Prince signing “Purple Rain” at halftime, the trophy presentation, the parade, the rings, the hats that say “World Champions” and the taunting we get to lay on everyone in every airport, mall and well, anywhere we want to go for a whole year — we’re left to remember the 17 games we did play and the foul stench of a beatdown by the Irsay family.

Remember this: It’s better to have a team that went 13-3 than virtually every other alternative so I’m going to attempt to savor the good stuff.

Saturday night was just a loss, another bloody nose that one day we’ll avenge. And when we do, it’ll be even sweeter. Kind of like NEXT Sunday when the Colts play the Patriots. We’ll ALL be MAJOR Tom Brady fans next weekend for sure!

But the Ravens will rally again. Only one team wins. And I know we ALL thought this year was our year, but it wasn’t.

But that won’t dim the glory of the fun we had this season: the Tampa shutout in the oppressive heat, the fourth-quarter comebacks against Cleveland and San Diego and Tennessee, Kelly Gregg chasing Michael Vick down, the road wins in New Orleans and Kansas City, or my personal favorite — the vicious hit Bart Scott put on Ben Roethlisberger here.

And, speaking of that, what will CERTAINLY be the high point of this or any season as a Ravens fan: the complete and total annihilation of our mortal enemy, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here’s something that’s sure to cheer you up today and bring a smile to your face: Bill Cowher retired last week with the same amount of world championships as us (and Brian Billick by the way) and he went out the door with his tail between his legs because we kicked their ass by a combined score of 58-7 this year!

You can even stretch it out and say that we made Bill Cowher quit, if you wanted to!

Go ahead — smile, you’re allowed!

No, it wasn’t a championship season, but it was a helluva lot of fun and I’ll take five more just like it and take my chances every January of getting my heart broken all over again.

Like everything else of value in this life: it’s high risk, high reward, this NFL fan thing.

It didn’t kill us so let’s hope it makes us stronger!

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