As I watched Brad Bergesen jog in from the Orioles bullpen before the start of his major league debut on Tuesday night, I began to imagine what he was thinking and feeling at that very moment.
Was he remembering that time in the backyard when he thought about playing in the big leagues?
Did he ask himself if this was all a dream?
Most of us that avidly follow sports have imagined being in a similar position at some point in our lives. We dreamed of making our major league debut, or throwing the game-winning touchdown pass with two minutes to go, or even sinking both free throws to force overtime.
Though 99.5 percent of us never see these dreams come to fruition–unless including little league, high school, or Saturday mornings at the YMCA–it’s still a blast wondering what it would be like to be that certain athlete at that certain time. It would be astonishing just to walk–or run–a few moments in their shoes.
In this blog, you have the opportunity to choose any Baltimore-centered athlete from the past or present and enjoy a moment in his (or her) shoes.
Whom would you choose, and what moment would it be? It has to be a sports-centered moment, so for those of you thinking about taking Terrell Suggs’ $10.2 million salary in 2009, no such luck.
I have included my personal top five “In Their Shoes” moments and an additional obscure moment. Many of you are bound to share some of my five selections (you could probably name a couple right now), so I’m hoping my bonus choice will spark some ideas for the many forgotten or lesser-known Baltimore moments we’d love to relive.
5. “Hot in Herre”
Anyone who has ever attended a game when the starting defense is introduced at M&T Bank Stadium knows exactly what I’m talking about.
The momentum builds as each member of the defense is announced, the volume climbing in anticipation of what’s to come. The distinctive “Reeeed!” echoes through the edifice before an earsplitting eruption of noise follows–the mere image of No. 52 now appearing on the video board.
Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” sifts through the mayhem as Ray Lewis greets his audience and breaks into the customary dance that we’ve all tried to replicate in the privacy of our own homes–or in a local establishment after enjoying a few beverages.
Whether you love or hate the dance (a subject discussed ad nauseam throughout the years), there isn’t a single football fan in Baltimore that wouldn’t want to be Ray Lewis in those few moments when he is the center of the Baltimore football universe, and 70,000 screaming fans are going berserk for him.
What an intense rush it must be.
Major League Baseball had never faced the adversity it did following the strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series and delayed the start of the 1995 season. The game needed a hero, and Maryland’s favorite son was the man for the job.
There was nothing flashy about the record–the guy simply went to work and did his absolute best every single day. You’ll have a hard time finding a handful of role models that can match the high standards of Cal Ripken, Jr.
Yet, he was often criticized. Detractors claimed he was hurting the team and continuing The Streak for selfish reasons. However, Ripken kept on playing while becoming baseball’s greatest ambassador.
September 6, 1995 was a memorable night on so many levels–the numbers changing on the warehouse, the victory lap, the post-game festivities–but it was Ripken’s feat in the bottom of the fourth inning that epitomized everything the man, and The Streak, represented.
On a 3-0 pitch from Angels pitcher Shawn Boskie, Ripken launched one into the left-field seats, his third-straight game with a home run. Not only was it a giant “Take that!” to all of his critics, but it was an act that reflected what he always intended to accomplish through The Streak–to simply play baseball and help his team win.
On the most historic night of your career, knowing it is going to take place on that particular night with all of the pressure, how special is it to hit a home run? It’s one of the backyard scenarios we all envisioned at some point in our lives. It’s the stuff of a corny movie, but it happened.
3. The Skinny Kid from Baltimore
People continued to tell him that he couldn’t do it, but Juan Dixon just never bothered to listen.
Losing both parents to AIDS as a teenager, the underdog Dixon starred at Calvert Hall before being recruited by Gary Williams and the University of Maryland. Critics balked, saying the skinny guard was too light for the Atlantic Coast Conference, but Dixon just kept on working.
After spending a redshirt season trying to gain bulk and improve his game, Dixon went on to become the Terps’ all-time scoring leader.
Dixon led the Maryland basketball program to heights it had never seen in 2001 and 2002, as he led the Terps to two Final Fours. After losing to Duke in the national semifinals in 2001, Dixon would not be denied in his senior season.
Maryland led Indiana in the National Championship game, 64-52, with just a second left. Dixon received the pass and fired the ball toward the top of the Georgia Dome roof celebrating the school’s first national championship.
With that heave, Maryland and Dixon overcame all of the trials and adversity to reach the pinnacle. It was a great example of the underdog fulfilling his dream in spite of the many who said it couldn’t be done. The emotions exhibited by Dixon and senior teammate Lonny Baxter in the moments following the game are unforgettable images in the minds of Maryland fans.
For everything the Maryland basketball program had endured since the death of Len Bias until that moment at the Georgia Dome, who wouldn’t have wanted to be in Dixon’s shoes at that special moment?
2. King of the Football World Again
The Ravens had dominated the New York Giants for most of Super Bowl XXXV until Giants return man Ron Dixon took a kick 97 yards for a touchdown to narrow the Ravens’ 17-point lead to 10, late in the third quarter.
And that’s when Jermaine Lewis officially cemented Baltimore’s status as King of the Football World in January 2001.
The pint-sized Lewis took the ensuing kickoff and tiptoed 84 yards down the Ravens’ sideline to put any doubt to rest. The Ravens were going to win the Super Bowl.
For the Colts fans who had suffered 12 years without a football team and the new generation of Baltimore fans that had grown up without those memorable Sunday afternoons in the fall, Lewis’ run symbolized the climb back to the top of the mountain that Baltimoreans had gazed upon for years.
Baltimore would still feel the pain of the Colts skipping town, but the Ravens made the city feel damn proud about itself again.
Lewis’ pointing to the heavens as he raced down the sidelines held special meaning as he honored the memory of his stillborn son–and showed the world that Baltimore football was back.
While Johnny Unitas made memories at Memorial Stadium long before my time, the legendary quarterback represented what Baltimore values most–hard work, modesty, and quiet confidence.
For the many touchdown passes and comeback victories he had, it’s one moment in the 1958 NFL Championship game at Yankee Stadium that stands above the rest.
It wasn’t the 349 passing yards or the 12 completions to Raymond Berry. As daring as the 7-yard pass to Jim Mutscheller in overtime was, setting the Colts up at the 1, it still isn’t my moment.
On the next play, as Alan Ameche runs through that gaping hole into the end zone, giving the Colts the NFL Championship, the unassuming Unitas can be seen in the background–simply walking off the field.
No bravado. No jumping up and down.
The definition of cool.
“Talk’s cheap. Let’s go play.”
And after the game had ended and Baltimore and the entire world was at his feet, it was just another day’s work for Unitas, as he trudged off the field.
Many of you would probably choose a few of my moments as your own, so for the purpose of sparking discussion, I give you my lesser-known “In Their Shoes” bonus pick:
Before Adalius Thomas became a Pro Bowl outside linebacker, the 270-lb monster struck fear into the hearts of punt returners throughout the NFL, circa 2003.
A.D. was the biggest gunner in the league and could sprint down the field to blow up the opposition’s return, controlling the field position in the process.
How amazing would it be to be a mammoth of a man with great speed, sprinting down the field to crush the little return man?
Alas, I was a 170-lb defensive back with average speed in high school, but it would have been amazing to step into Thomas’ shoes during one of those punts.
I’d love to hear what your “In Their Shoes” moment would be and why. I’m interested to see the unique choices people across different generations might have.