Ravens Ghosts Loomed Over Championship Weekend
The NFL's championship-game doubleheader unfolded on Sunday without the Ravens for the first time since the 2010 season.
But Ravens' presence was felt all day. They were almost like ghosts looming over the proceedings.
The AFC title game pitted a pair of teams Baltimore knocked off on the way to winning the Super Bowl last year. The Denver Broncos, in particular, were fueled throughout 2013 by their determination to right what went wrong when the "Mile High Miracle" denied them a Super Bowl trip they felt was coming.
When the Broncos talked about everything they had "been through" after they methodically took apart New England Sunday, you knew they were imagining Joe Flacco's long toss falling out of the Rocky Mountain air and Jacoby Jones grabbing it.
In Sunday's NFC game, the San Francisco 49ers were trying to make it back to the Super Bowl after losing to the Ravens last February on a last-minute goal-line stand – a defeat that had festered bitterly in their guts for a year.
That's right, three of the four teams that played on Sunday were trying to bounce back from playoff losses to the Ravens a year ago.
The Ravens didn't make it as far this year; they didn't even make the AFC playoffs. A multitude of tangible reasons caused them to fall short – no running game, yadda, yadda. But intangibly, I think they also searched for the kind of intensely burning desire that drives you after, say, your kicker misses an easy field goal to lose the AFC title game.
The memory of what Billy Cundiff's infamous miss wrought certainly drove the Ravens in 2012, just as the 2013 conference finalists were driven by their memories of losing big games to the Ravens.
The Ravens still fought hard in 2013. Their effort was exemplary, one of their best qualities.
But I do think it's easier to work yourself into a collective, hate-the-world lather when you haven't hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy so recently.
I thought the Broncos would prevail on Sunday because they simply were better; lacking playmakers, this New England squad wasn't the best Bill Belichick has produced. I also thought the 49ers would beat Seattle. They reminded me of the Ravens at their postseason best, oozing confidence on the road, hitting hard, giving little away.
I batted .500, it turned out, and now the Broncos and Seahawks will play in this year's Super Bowl on Feb. 2, with the winners getting a confetti bath and the losers relegated to another year of using a big-game defeat as motivation.
The Ravens have experienced the confetti bath and will surely say the joy is worth whatever comes next, even 8-8. The teams using big-game defeats as motivation would trade places any day, even as the fire burning inside them carries them deep into another playoff year.
What I Like, Did Not Like, And Know About Sherman's Rant
Here's what I did NOT like about Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman's already infamous postgame behavior: It was astoundingly ungracious. You just won. Take the high road. Making choke signs and belittling opponents is the lowest of roads.
Here's what I DID like about the rant: It was honest. So much of what today's players say is careful, coached, massaged for effect. Sherman just let fly with what he was feeling. It offended a ton of people, and I get that. But I've heard enough blah-blah. It was exhilarating to see wild emotion spilling out.
Here's what I KNOW about the rant: Sherman is going to have to live with it. He's already backtracking and apologizing, but it's too late. Millions of TV viewers will only remember what he said and did after the game. And hey, he's on top now, so he earned the right to crow. He's a fantastic pass defender and made an incredible play to put his team in the Super Bowl. Good for him. But no one goes undefeated through an NFL career. He will experience the other side of the story one day. As the saying goes, "What goes around, comes around." And when he's no longer on top, someone might dare to call him HIM mediocre, or thrust a choke sign in his face. I'm told Sherman is a bright guy and can handle it. We'll see, won't we?