Fan stories

Why I’m a Raven: George Message

I’m a Baltimore Raven because of three people: Ahmad Bradshaw, Stringer Bell and Ray Lewis.

Back in February 2012, I had no idea about the game of American Football. I was part of the brigade of people who would claim ‘it had too many stoppages’ or that the game should be called ‘handegg’ not football.

But in February 2012 the New York Giants won the Super Bowl. During that game Ahmad Bradshaw took the ball at the 6 yard line and the opponents let him walk through, not even attempting to stop him scoring a touchdown. Upon realising this Bradshaw tried to stop but forward momentum took him into the end zone.

I saw this famous play on the news the next day and it made me think ‘Why did a player not want to score a touchdown? Why would the opposition allow him to score?’ Of course, I now understand the reasoning but as a total novice I was bewildered and confused. However, as someone obsessed with tactics and the mental side of sports I was intrigued.

I spent the next few weeks talking to other fans, researching the game to find out more about this sport. The obsession began.

It was then I needed to pick a team to follow the next season but with no American connections I found this difficult. I first wiped off the West Coast, knowing most games started later in the UK. Next, I drew up a list of teams I had faint connections with and narrowed it down to two: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Baltimore Ravens.

Tampa Bay were owned by the same family as Manchester United and whilst I don’t claim to be the biggest soccer fan or like the owners – the Glazer family – in any way, shape or form it was a small link.

Baltimore is the narrative city in ‘The Wire’ – my favourite TV show of all time, featuring the fantastic Idris Elba as Stringer Bell. Further research was conducted and I was still split. I then clicked on a video on YouTube that changed everything. It was a video of Ray Lewis talking to his team mates, moments after the crushing loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game just a few short weeks before.

In the video Ray tells his team mates that “God has never made a mistake” and that “We fought as a team” and that Joe Flacco should not drop his head “because there’s too much pain outside of this that people are really going through”. He ends by telling his fellow players that they should “make somebody smile when we walk out of here” and that they “should be stronger as a team, as men”.

Why this speech resonated with me, I still don’t know. I am not a religious man but the words touched me. Even reliving that moment now brings back emotions and even a tear to my eye. Ray Lewis was able to think of others, think of life outside of his sport minutes after arguably his most devastating football loss.

Ray Lewis settled the argument for me. For the next few months I spent every waking moment researching Baltimore history, how the salary cap works, the tactics of the game and I have not looked back since.

Of course, Ray was correct. That team did come back stronger and he led them to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII the very next season, my first as a fan. I was called a glory hunter many times after this! As for me, my love for the team and the city has gone from strength to strength, culminating in a pilgrimage to Baltimore in November 2014 with my now fiancée. But that’s another story for another day.

Photo: Keith Allison

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