Despite a 9-5 record at the time, the Ravens were teetering a little the last time we traveled to Dallas for a game.
That game was played on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008. It was the final time the Cowboys played at Texas Stadium.
Like Dallas, which was also 9-5 entering the contest, we were fighting to make the playoffs in John Harbaugh's first season as our head coach. What an accomplishment that would be after going just 5-11 the year before.
The Ravens were recovering from a brutal 13-9 decision to the Steelers the previous Sunday. That loss gave Pittsburgh the AFC North title, and we were left fighting and scratching for a wild card playoff spot.
*(Some of you will remember that loss to the Steelers. They scored the game's only touchdown with 43 seconds remaining when Big Ben [Roethlisberger] hit WR Santonio Holmes with a4-yard scoring pass. *
Holmes' feet made it to the end zone, but our Ravens' eyes showed us that the ball never reached the goal line – not that we're bitter.)
Back to Dallas. The Cowboys had planned a big celebration that night, and we viewed ourselves as the
Homecoming game opponent.
Some of us were convinced that Jerry Jones had asked the NFL for an easy opponent for this final regular-season game at Texas Stadium. I remember Terrell Suggs yelling in the locker room before the game: "They thought they were getting the 5-11 Ravens, and now they have to deal with us. They asked for us, and now they'll get us."
We love to do that in sports. We look for reasons to be slighted. Knowingly – or unknowingly – the Cowboys were helping.
Passed John Harbaugh in the weight room yesterday and asked: "What's the first thing you remember from the 2008 game at Dallas – the last game at Texas Stadium?" Harbs didn't hesitate: "We won and the bus ride in. They didn't let us through. They made us get in line with the other traffic, and we had [a police] escort. I wanted to jump off the bus and say, 'Hey, we've got the team here. You can't start the game without us.'"
Let's consider where we were at that point:
- Fighting for our playoff lives
- Irritated from the loss six days earlier to the Steelers
- Believed that we were handpicked for a loss
- And, they made us wait on buses outside the stadium parking lots. We could see Texas Stadium. We just couldn't get there.
We finally took the field for pre-game warmups. It was a circus. There were former Cowboys and celebrities everywhere with barely room for us to do our pre-game drills.
We were seething. The idea that we were considered an afterthought fueled an already passionate team. We were ready to kick some Cowboy butt.
Maybe we were too amped.
Joe Flacco fumbled on our first drive, and the Cowboys quickly built a 7-0 lead. Our defense was stout, but Joe was sacked five times in the first half. The crowd was loud, making getting off on the snap difficult for our offense.
Each timeout, the Cowboys would introduce one of their all-time greats. There was Roger Staubach. Next was Emmitt Smith, leading rusher of all time. After that was Tony Dorsett … and on and on.
Afterthought? Maybe not. Despite scuffling on offense, we took a 9-7 halftime lead on three Matt Stover field goals.
Near the end of the third quarter, Joe found Derrick Mason for a 13-yard touchdown and a 16-7 advantage. And how about Derrick? "Mase" snatched that Flacco missile while playing with a dislocated shoulder; he wore a harness that would not let him reach his arm above his head, but he somehow fought through the pain.
Homecoming opponent, my __ _!
After an exchange of field goals (19-10), Dallas climbed within two on a Tony Romo-to-Terrell Owens touchdown throw. On the next play from scrimmage – and I can see this vividly in my memory – Willis McGahee took a Flacco handoff and raced 77 yards for a touchdown and a 26-17 lead with 3:30 left in the game.
The Cowboys, however, didn't go quietly.
With 1:36 left in the contest, Romo hit Jason Witten with a 21-yard touchdown dart. Dallas was within two again (26-24).
Less than 20 seconds later –
– fullback Le'Ron McClain grabbed the ball from Joe, and the rest, as they say, is history. … 82 yards for a touchdown. McClain tied Jamal Lewis for the longest run in team annals, and the celebration was on.
The locker room was fun. Steve Bisciotti made a rare post-game appearance with the team. Harbs was beaming. The players celebrated. We were a game away from the playoffs and enjoying one of the biggest turnarounds from one season to another in NFL history.
As former Cowboy Don Meredith used to sing on Monday Night Football: "Turn out the lights, the party's over." So long, Texas Stadium.
Won't be the same tomorrow night at the Cowboys' AT&T Stadium. Wondering how the traffic getting into the stadium will be.
It was pretty neat to have another football team in our facility for three days last weekend. We practiced against the 49ers, and our coaches and players are unanimous in proclaiming that we are a better team for it.
After the last practice against San Fran on Monday, I saw something I'd never seen. Two teams, each with 90 players, gathered in one big huddle around the brothers Harbaugh. With their mom and dad watching from our balcony, Jim and John spoke to the mass of football elite.
Jim spoke first: "The Ravens are class all the way. A-plus-plus is what I'd give you players and the rest of your organization. Thanks for making us better and treating us well. You're a very good team. Let's do this, you beat the NFC teams you play for us, and we'll beat the AFC ones for you."
John thanked the 49ers for the way they practiced. "We knew you were good, and we know even better why now. You are first class. We agree. You made us better, too."
With that, Suggs yelled out: "See you in February!" Hope so.
Talk with you next week,