These postseason losses are getting harder and harder for Baltimore to shake off. Like you, I awakened on Sunday to the sounds of silence. Like you, I spent the better part of Saturday night and all day Sunday and parts of the last two days trying to figure out and process just what the hell happened after 6 p.m. at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Drew, Glenn and I have a little tradition going now where we shoot the postgame “gut reactions” as we cross the Fort Pittsburgh Bridge back into the city and as we chatted that same sick, sinking feeling grabbed me as I saw the city and the bridges behind me as we pulled out of the city – we lost to Pittsburgh again and we have to wait another year (at least) and wait for the stars to align yet again to have a chance to vanquish our oppressors.
No matter the opponent, all of these postseason wins and losses take on memorable twists and turns but this recent vomiting of a 14-point, halftime lead to the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers after blowing the home field advantage six weeks earlier on a blown assignment on Troy Polamalu and what amounted to a legal assault on Joe Flacco here in Baltimore has our community scratching our heads and clenching our throats in a collective choke.
We’ve now lost to the City of Pittsburgh in the postseason seven times in the last forty years. We’re 0-for-7 vs. our “rival” civic community and have NEVER beaten them in a game that has mattered. We’ve also now been ousted by Indianapolis twice in the last four years – home and away – and we can’t seem to get even with the people and franchise and The Irsays who stole our football team 27 years ago.
To put this into perspective, we’re 0-and-9 vs. the two cities that the educated, modern Baltimore sports fan should hate far more than any rival this side of Duke. And certainly, more than any “grudge” against New York (who we beat in 1958 and 1959, lost badly to in 1969 and 1996, but succinctly and thoroughly ravaged in 2001) or Boston, where we’re 1-0 lifetime in elimination tournaments thanks to the run of Ray Rice last January.
Our community is a little different than most places that love the NFL and sports. It’s really personal here in a way that only a community that ever loved and lost a team can feel. And everyone here over the age of 40 really “gets it.” And the younger people sorta get it because people like me have told the stories and guys like Johnny Unitas and Cal Ripken are larger than life. And that’s in a way that people who celebrated a Diamondbacks title in Phoenix or a Lightning title in Tampa could never, ever understand.
Our football community is a cross section of all people in Baltimore and Maryland. That’s the beauty of the NFL. Black people, white people, young people, rich people, poor people, men and women in Baltimore are all brought together in communion by this football team. Nothing else binds us like the color purple. (The baseball team previously held this delicate civic grip from 1966 through 1998, when Peter G. Angelos began to systematically destroy the franchise and somehow render World Titles in 1966, 1970 and 1983 meaningless in the modern era.)
And when you have what the Ravens have earned in our town – that “lovemark” — and the community truly feels like a passionate stakeholder, like they OWN the team, many good civic things and bonds and goodwill come from that. But in the days after we lose in the playoffs to the Steelers again not only to realize that we’ll have to watch the AFC Championship Game on television from Pittsburgh yet again – instead of going downtown for a purple Super Bowl celebration possibility vs. the Jets — the amount of pain we feel not only 48 hours after the game but for another month is impossible to avoid because it’s impossible for us to stop watching football. It’s exponential and heartbreaking and like reliving the same nightmare.
The stinging needles you felt Saturday night when you finally took your bloodshot eyes off the television after the post-game disbelief set in, will be alive and well in your living room this Sunday at 6:30 p.m.