"How could it be any other way?" he said. "It's never pretty, it's never perfect. But it is us."
In fact, after winning the NFL championship, a lot of the Ravens seemed to embrace the idea of winning ugly, the ethos I championed in a recent story for City Paper ("Winning Ugly," Feature, Jan. 9), an ethos that seems a perfect match for this hardscrabble city that has survived and thrived despite seemingly endless challenges.
"We don't make it easy-that's the way the city of Baltimore is, that's the way we are," Joe Flacco said in his own post-game comments. "It was fitting that we won that way. . . We're a tough, blue-collar city, and that's the way our games sometimes go."
As radio host Rob Long said during the season, "The season is in an identity crisis. You're winning, but you don't know what your identity is."
For much of the season, there was a palpable pale over the city, a kind of mopey, collective Eeyore moan. What was the point of rooting this team into the playoffs when all they were going to do was get put in their place by one of the elite teams? The Ravens would be outed once and for all as the kings of mediocrity. So the only way to continue on was to embrace winning ugly. We just had to accept that we were going to win ugly by Joe Flacco dumping off to Ray Rice and he would somehow get the 29 yards for the first down, a feat that would take 20 excruciating minutes of official review. Embrace the winning ugly, and beautiful things would happen. It was a hard sell even to myself. During the last quarter of the regular season, nobody could envision the Ravens doing snow angels in confetti.
But that spectacle up in Denver was an ugly win disguised as one of the greatest games in playoff history. (Two run-backs for touchdowns in one game? Who wins those games? Only a team that has taken winning ugly to another level.) But seriously, it seemed the Ravens emerged out of that game morphed: a team of destiny. Flacco was all but anointed elite. Hindsight looks so defined now, but we were 5 yards and perhaps an official's flag away from an entirely different story line.
Because we are Ravens Nation, when we were up 21 to 6, we were waiting for the big slap-back from the 49ers, wringing our happy universe with angst and dread. Even after human lightning bolt Jacoby Jones opened up the second half with a kickoff return for a touchdown, making it 28 to 6-no way the Baltimore Ravens were going to be allowed to cruise easy to a Super Bowl win. We even had them pinned, third down and 13, but the seasoned Ravens fan was the one with his gut churning. Would 49ers fans be that tortured if the roles were reversed? No. They would be gloating, making parade plans. And-BAM-the lights went down. The whole event took on that eerie Katrina patina of indoor dusk, casting the Ravens in confused, lost refugee light. We of Baltimore knew, even before the announcers could paint the drama, of what the 34-minute delay could do to the teams. Hell, we saw the Ravens fall to pieces two years ago in the post-season against Pittsburgh after being up 21 to 7-and the lights stayed on for that one.
But we held on. We won. Ugly. The Super Bowl win will forever define this team, a team that could produce a quarterback that can throw three touchdown passes and a defense that gets bashed around in the second half but manages to muster a goal-line stand and then a self-inflicted safety. It was all said in Ed Reed's face as he collapsed to his knees like all the crazed fans watching on TV. He may have said it best.
"The game was a replay of the whole year. Started good, got ugly, but ended great. It ended great."