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What an incredible year to be a Baltimore sports fan

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I haven't been around for too long as a sports fan. I was born in 1991, and though I picked up sports from a very early age, I haven't experienced success as a die hard fan the way someone from Boston has at my age. But with what has happened with Baltimore sports in the past year, it pretty much goes without saying: this is the best sports year I have ever experienced.

First, we do have to acknowledge the past. The best year in Baltimore sports has to be 1970-71, with the Colts and Orioles both reaching the mountain top and the Bullets reaching the finals, 2012-13 probably comes in second, being the only other year when one team won a title and the other made the playoffs.

Let's start with the Orioles, and let's talk about this from the perspective of GTRavens Sr. He has seen all three World Series titles, but has still said that the 2012 season was the most fun he has ever had watching the Orioles. That alone speaks volumes, but for me the story is a bit different. Being born in 1991, the Orioles' previous playoff run (1997) falls just outside my memory as a baseball fan. Their run of ineptitude was all I had ever known.

Entering 2012, there was no reason to expect anything different. Maybe they could break the 70-win barrier for the first time since 2006 (good grief). No major free agent signings were there to boost our confidence, just the same old Orioles. Then they started winning. Not a big deal - they always teased us at the beginning of the year. Then they kept winning in May. Certainly exciting, but I certainly hadn't forgotten about 2005. Then the June and July swoons hit, and the O's found themselves sitting at 46-44 and in the midst of an inevitable collapse. It was still a good year, all things considered, but they still probably would have slipped below .500 and had a mediocre year all around.

I can't use the "Hollywood would reject it for being too unrealistic" cliche, because there were a few early '90s baseball movies involving children that were most likely conceived through an [i]insane[/i] amount of drugs. But what happened next has to be close. The Orioles started winning again. They shifted a few things around, got a few key players back. Things were looking up. It started out modest, with the O's climbing back into the wild card hunt. Then, as the season's conclusion neared, they just kept winning more and more. They nearly caught up with the unreachable Yankees, and somehow found themselves in the playoffs with a 93-69 record. The months of August and Septemeber were a blur. Did this really just happen? Somehow, it did. And the Orioles proved to be a worthy playoff team, shutting down their kryptonite (the Texas Rangers) in the wild card playoff before putting up one heck of an honorable fight against the Yankees. And through it all, O's fans were as excited and passionate as ever. Even after 14 years of suffering, we never gave up.

The Orioles' success distracted us from an increasingly gloomy outlook on the Ravens. Coming off the heartbreaker to end all heartbreakers, it seemed like the Ravens' best chance to win it all had slipped through their fingertips. Soon the team would get old and Joe Flacco would not be good enough to carry the load. And even as the Ravens won, that appeared to be the case. Ugly win after ugly win, critical injury after critical injury. Even when the team hit its regular season peak at 9-2, there was doubt that the Ravens could stack up to the big boys come January. And when the losing streak hit, that doubt turned to certainty - certainty that the Ravens were a shell of their former selves, unfit for Super Bowl contention.

Then, Ray Lewis announced his plan to retire at the end of the season. Something changed that day, and all of a sudden the Ravens changed their course. It started out in a somewhat predictable manner - in Ray's final game in Baltimore, fans got to watch a solid 24-9 victory and two memorable dances. A solid win, but small potatoes compared to the challenge they would face in Denver.

Baltimore's playoff run went from inspiring to miraculous that Saturday evening. A back and forth game for the ages, a ridiculous last second game tying touchdown, an interception in the clutchest of clutch moments, and a field goal to seal one of the most dramatic games in NFL history. The Ravens had pulled off the upset of the year, exorcised themselves of Peyton Manning's curse, and found themselves back where they were before: 60 minutes from the Super Bowl, in Foxboro. This time around, things were a little different - and, perhaps thankfully, much less stressful. The Ravens broke the game open in the second half, shocking the heavily favored Patriots with a 28-13 win.

The feeling of a Super Bowl return was surreal. Less surreal was the perception that, once again, the Ravens were an underdog unworthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as their opponent. Once again, the Ravens had something to prove. Once again they proved it. Through the game of Joe Flacco's life, the clutch defensive stops, and all of the oddities in between, the Ravens somehow won the Super Bowl. The dues have been paid. The suffering has been redeemed. And now, the Baltimore Ravens are on top of the world.

When it comes to my personal preference of the best sports year ever, there are other teams involved...and those teams all suck horribly. The Tennessee Vols are an embarrassment to their tradition, and while I don't care as much about the Wizards and Capitals, they both happen to be pathetic right now as well.

But in the end, the Ravens and Orioles are the two teams I love most. With what has happened in the past year, I couldn't be prouder to be a fan of either team.

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Nobody gave either team a chance. There was no way the O's could win over 75 games last year....No way they make the playoffs.....No way they beat the Rangers..No way Ravens can go on the road and beat Denver & New England. No way we beat the niners, they're "unstoppable".


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