There’s a funny thing that we do as sports fans. We become totally and completely obsessed with wins and losses.
Perhaps that doesn’t seem so funny. Sports are all about wins and losses, right? I mean, other than soccer. We probably should be obsessed with wins and losses because ultimately that’s all that really matters.
But what I’m referring to isn’t about on field wins and losses. Our obsession stretches far beyond that. We’re obsessed with every single nugget, every quote, every tweet, every comment from a hack sports bloviator, every minor-league transaction. And we’re obsessed with viewing them in the context of a win or a loss.
We participate in this exercise tediously. A particularly innocuous story this week was the news that John Harbaugh and his staff would coach the AFC in the Pro Bowl. The “Impossible” brand thinks this is a nothing-burger. The highest seeded team to lose in the divisional round sends its staff to the game. It’s half-chore, half-decent working vacation. Someone has to do it.
The only appropriate response to the news is … no response at all. Yet some Ravens fans even still wanted to say something like, “This is great — this could help John Harbaugh recruit free agents in the future!” Certainly participating in a game like the Pro Bowl is unlikely to hurt, but what’s the chance of a specific AFC Pro Bowler this year (remember that like a quarter of the roster is already Ravens) becoming a free agent down the road and deciding to come to Baltimore not because of money or fit or a chance to win but SPECIFICALLY because they forged a relationship with John Harbaugh while preparing for a fake football game next week in Orlando? It can’t be even one in a thousand, right? Maybe closer to one in a million?
But that’s the thing. Everything has to be a win or a loss. Even the utter and completely irrelevant.
The announcement of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class this week provided no such win for Ravens fans. Instead of finally celebrating the overdue recognition of former owner Art Modell, the reality that the super class was perhaps created for the singular purpose of finding a way to backdoor noted museum enthusiast Paul Tagliabue toward enshrinement came to fruition. It wasn’t just a loss, it was a blowout. And it came on the heels of another rather distasteful setback to boot.
Making the loss even more painful for many Ravens fans is that it seemingly came against an actual opponent. The Modell-Hall of Fame situation has developed a “Baltimore vs. Cleveland” subplot that for many has replaced the actual plot. For so many fans, less significant is the debate of Modell’s worthiness for induction in comparison to Tagliabue or Calvert Hall’s own George Young or Steve Sabol or Bud Adams, and more significant is the need to see Modell enshrined in order to claim bragging rights over fans, media members and trolls from Cleveland (at times the group merging into one in the same).
I personally believe that based on the standard set, Art Modell is worthy of Hall of Fame enshrinement. I believe his family deserves to celebrate his induction. I believe the Hall of Fame should reflect everything the man did for the game. But I’m no longer concerned about the win. It doesn’t bother me that folks in Northeast Ohio were jubilant this week. It doesn’t bother me that Modell is at least somewhat likely to never receive enshrinement.
That’s, of course, because we have a far better consolation prize.
We have two and a half decades of inescapable memories. We have two and a half decades of heightened civic pride. We have two and a half decades of unbridled joy. Well, sometimes temporarily bridled joy. We have two decades of unbridled joy and a half a decade of Kyle Boller and Billy Cundiff.
It’s not as if the Ravens have been a perfect organization since their arrival in 1996 — none are. But they’ve provided an unparalleled rallying cry for an entire region with a couple of Super Bowl titles to boot.
I’m not mad at the folks in Cleveland who full-throatedly protest the idea of Modell seeing the Hall of Fame. I truly understand them. They had pro football taken from them in 1996 and it honestly still hasn’t returned. There’s no joy. There are no wins. This is it. I don’t blame them at all. I wish more of the rest of the country cared about our side of the Modell story, but I don’t blame them for being particularly emotional. (Although the threats of violence and particularly nasty comments have no place, you know, anywhere.)
But this is their win. This is what they’ve got. And I’m OK with that.
Because our win is so much better.
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox