Ravens heartbreaking Loss: Baltimore will mourn for decades to come

BALTIMORE – Among my generation of football fans, there’s an unwritten rule: Nobody around here brings up the embarrassment of Super Bowl III, when the upstart Joe Namath Jets of New York stunned the marvelous Baltimore Colts.

It’s too soon.

It’s more than half a century later – but for those who were alive back then, and sat there stunned as the Colts went down in football ignominy, the pain hasn’t yet gone away.

That’s how it’s going to be for the next half-century around here. That’s how it’s going to be around 2070 when somebody brings up the shocking night back in 2020 when the Tennessee Titans knocked off the Baltimore Ravens in the National Football League’s division championship game, 28 to 12.

The response 50 years from now will be, “Don’t bring it up. It’s too soon.”

There will be no Super Bowl for this year’s Ravens, not after Saturday night’s loss. If history gives us any clues, there will be only a slow, slow easing of pain and embarrassment for this generation of Baltimore football fans.

Half a century ago, the Colts’ loss to the Jets took on a special sort of pain because it came at the heart of so much additional Baltimore-New York sports agony.

That era’s Orioles lost the World Series to the upstart New York Mets, and the Baltimore Bullets NBA team lost their playoff series to the New York Knicks.

At least the Orioles came back to win the World Series the following year, against the Cincinnati Reds. But nobody’s expecting any championships from next year’s Orioles.

And nobody knows what this newest embarrassment will do to the collective psyche of the Baltimore Ravens.

What we know is that nobody’s psyche needed more of a victory than this city, whose citizens were so hungry for a championship because so much outside the ballpark has lately gone so wrong.

We’ve had two recent mayors leave office under criminal indictment. We’ve just finished another year with more than 300 homicides, and hundreds more shooting victims were kept alive only because our hospitals have gotten so much practice at treating gunshot wounds.

We’ve come under special attack from the president of the U.S., who always knows how to pick on somebody when they’re down. We’ve got downtown businesses that haven’t recovered since the Freddie Gray riots of five years ago. We’re clinging to hope that our Pimlico Race Course can hold onto the historic Preakness Stakes horse race.

We’ve ceased, in so many ways, to think of ourselves as a big league town. A Ravens win would have lifted the gloom off the entire metro area. It would have reminded the whole country that Baltimore is more than the sum of its homicide victims, or its drug trafficking, or its thousands of empty, abandoned houses.

The Ravens looked so good for so long, they were clear favorites to beat Tennessee. They’d won 12 games in a row. They had this year’s best player, Lamar Jackson.

Half a century ago, the Baltimore Colts had Earl Morrall filling in for the injured John Unitas. Morrall was spectacular. He led the Colts to a 13-and-1 regular-season record and two playoff wins. But, in Super Bowl III, the whole team came up flat.

It’s a little reminiscent of the Colts from a few years earlier, when they lost their season opener but then won 11 games in a row. But, in that year’s NFL championship game, those Colts came up flat and lost to the Cleveland Browns, 27 to 0.

But let’s not talk about that 1964 game. It’s too soon.

It’s only 56 years ago.

Like this year’s Ravens, we’ll need some time to heal.

It’ll happen. But, for some of us, not in this lifetime.