Nor have I ever procured the "alternative" black uni, a pro-bowl jersey, a college "throw-back", or one of those God-awful white jerseys with the gold shoulders that were being sold around SBXXXV.
As fans, we need to save our "fashion statements" for the bar afterwards.
(Which reminds me: ladies; please stop wearing those revolting pink jerseys!).
When we are at the game each of us must be a brick in an ominous and oppressive
wall of uniformly rabid humanity. Unfortunately, NFL fans are not college fans
so this vision will most likely never be. The closer we can get, however, the
more we add to the home field advantage for our side.
I certainly want to do my part but this desire has led to a big dilemma for me.
In 1996, I wore Michael Jackson's #81. In 1997 and 1998, I alternated with
#81 and Ray Lewis's #52. But from 1999 on, I have exclusively worn my Ray Lewis
jersey. How can I in good conscience wear his number now after I have been so
critical of him? Well…I am wearing my #52 jersey to games once again this year.
My justifications (in reverse order of importance) appear below.
Justification 01: Cost
While the Jackson jersey was of the fake or "replica" variety, my Ray Lewis jersey is an "authentic". I paid close to two c-notes for it and want to squeeze every last drop of my money's worth out of it. When I get my next jersey, I want it to be authentic as well. But given the expense, said purchase will no doubt incur the wrath of my significant other. My darling, beautiful wife will be pissed whether I buy it this year or 5 years from now, but the longer I can postpone the "little chat about finances", the better.
Justification 02: "Fantasy League Factor"
I have, out of superstition, made a point of only wearing Ravens jerseys of players that also play for my Fantasy League team. Michael Jackson and Ray Lewis were both on my team in 1996, but when Jackson got cut and subsequently retired after the 1998 season, that left only Ray. If I get a new jersey, it needs to be someone currently on my Fantasy League team.
This means the only other possible options are Jamal Lewis or Mark Clayton. With Jamal, I question his longevity and therefore, am unwilling to commit a significant expenditure towards his representation. I picked up Clayton as a rookie last year and I think he is the "real deal". Plus from what I have heard of him, he is one of those players that I want to root for, that I am proud to root for. And there is the added bonus that if I wear #89 on road trips it will end other teams' fans spitting "CRIMINAL" in my face.
It seems NFL Products does not produce an authentic version of Mark Clayton's
Justification 03: The Sleeve Emblem
Because it was produced prior to our Super Bowl season, my Ray Lewis jersey has the bird as its sleeve emblem. The next jersey that I get will have the "Ravens Shield" on the sleeve.
There is nothing wrong with that emblem. As a matter of fact I really appreciate the symbolism. The only issue I have is that we started using it in 2000. I have always considered it a "badge" of honor to wear a jersey that was purchased before we were a success. I take it as a matter of pride that I support the team, not because they won a championship, but because they were my team.
They were my team when they won only 4 games. They were my team when they
wore black pants. They were MY TEAM when they had a starting defensive back
named DeRon Cherry. For me, wearing a jersey with the bird sleeve emblem
emphatically declares to the world that I am not a fair weather fan.
This is by no means implying that if you wear a jersey with a badge sleeve emblem that you are a fair weather fan. Eventually all of us, regardless of the weather conditions, will be wearing badge sleeved jerseys. But just as I want to put off a verbal assault by my better half concerning my lack of fiscal responsibility, I also want to continue to show this subtle icon of my ubiquitous fealty for as long as possible.
Justification 04: The Mulligan
Ultimately all the above reasons would not matter if I cannot, in good conscience, put #52 on my back.
I called my buddy, the Snackman, to ask his advice. I listed all the above
reasons why I do not want to get a new jersey. Yet, how can I wear "R. Lewis"
across the back of my shoulders after he appeared to abandon my team last year?
How can I wear my #52 jersey after Ray Lewis asked to be traded away from my
Would I not be a hypocrite, after I have been so openly critical of him?
The Snackman, being wise and sage and documented correct 97.5% of the time,
offered this simple solution, "Give him a mulligan."
Not only is this man, astute, he is not without a sense of irony. This was exactly one of my responses to him when we were arguing about getting rid of Brian Billick during his disastrous 2005 season. How could I not accept my own logic being thrown back in my face?
Besides that, it makes sense. If we accept that Ray Lewis has been an A-hole
in 2005-6, we also have to acknowledge that he has been, for the most part, a
model citizen (outside the state of Georgia at least) in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999,
2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. His performance on the field truly put
Baltimore permanently back on the football map and was a major factor in the
restoration of our community's honor. He has always been active in the community
and is one of the few players who maintains permanent residence here.
If he meant everything that he said recently, if he is truly a cancer in the clubhouse now, then I still think keeping him on the team is a mistake. But we are keeping him and there is nothing we can do about that now.
And he did imply most recently, that what was said in the media was not how he feels now and is ready to give 100% to make this team a winner. Therefore, until he proves otherwise, per the advice of my friend, and because I really don't have much of a choice, I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. Ray, for what it is worth, take a mulligan.
So, for at least one more year, I will stay the fury of my beloved spousal unit. I will, for at least one more season, show anyone who feels like looking at my arm that I have supported this team since day one. I will not add Ray Lewis to the list of cut players on my fantasy football team and I will continue to represent this man who, for almost 10 years, has been the face of the Baltimore Ravens.
I will sit faithfully in the stands with my purple beard, faded purple camo pants, and my #52 jersey as I do my part to be just another loyal brick in our purple wall. Maybe someday I will stop wearing individual players' jerseys altogether, fork out 3 bills, and create a custom jersey with some cryptic message. (Maybe what's on my license plate: BOP (Birds of Prey - Ravens Nest tags) for the name and 0132 for the jersey number.) It's something to think about for…next year?
"Sy Saulynas is an Information Systems instructor at a local college and a long-time member of Ravens Nest 1 where he runs rampant, forcing football pools and pickems on the unsuspecting membership. He hails from Bel Air via Catonsville and has a lifelong devotion to all Baltimore sports teams with an almost spiritual zeal for Baltimore NFL football. If you would like to comment on this edition of 'Thoughts from the Sy'd Line', email him at: email@example.com .