WRITTEN ON January 23rd, 2012 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Avocado, Beans, Beef, Chocolate, Dinner, Mexican, Soups, The Big Game, Tomatoes

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a purple-bleeding, jersey wearing, never-miss-a-game-watching, die hard Ravens fan. But it wasn’t always thus.

Growing up, Baltimore was a town without a team. Sure, we had the Orioles, but we were a football town at heart, and in the fall we had nothing but the Redskins and the shadow that the Colts had left behind. The stadium and training facilities were filled only with the ghosts of seasons past. Most of our parents and grandparents were still getting over the loss of said Colts, who up and left in the middle of the night in ’84, leaving a town brokenhearted and confused. Indeed, I grew up regaled with stories of the good ‘ole days at Memorial Stadium. My grandfather had two season tickets. He never missed a game. He’d take with him my grandmother, mom or uncle for company, along with wool blankets to spread out on the bleachers, where they’d sit eating hot dogs and peanuts, and spend the day rooting for Johnny U and company. Father knew best, the Colts always won, and my mom, a daddy’s girl if there ever was one, basked in the glow of an afternoon spent watching her hero watch his heroes. It was a simpler time.

In high school, football was the sport that the guys played to keep in shape for lacrosse (soccer was a distant third). Sure, I went to the games and cheered on the current crush’s team, but I paid less attention to what was happening on the field and more to what the wind was doing to my hair. I have a distinct memory of David Freedlander (a childhood friend who was not on the team) trying to explain a fourth down to me at a Gilman/McDonough game. Let’s just say it took fifteen minutes and I still didn’t get it (nor was I listening.)

True, I did attend one of the Ravens first ever pre-season home games. It was August of 1996, at good old Memorial Stadium. They played the Packers, I lusted after Favre (my how the mighty fall), we all drank too many beers and payed little attention to what was actually happening on the field. I headed for college a couple weeks later, where I happily left behind the “all sports, all the time” mentality that I had grown up around in suburban Baltimore. I majored in Art History, got a weird haircut, smoked a lot of cigarettes, and skipped a lot of class.

The next Ravens game I attended was during my senior year of college, on Christmas Eve, dragged by my parents. It was a 1:00 game, freezing cold, and like most college aged girls I was not in the least bit prepared for it (what, like, wear a parka and snow boots? Please. What if I saw someone I knew?) In the first quarter I got a cold beer spilled on my head and nacho cheese on my coat. I left in a cab at halftime vowing never again to spend a second with these violent, boorish red-necks who were swathed in purple camo fatigues, flapping their arms like angry birds and yelling at the ref to “move those chains.”

So imagine my surprise when, upon moving to New York City the following fall, I found myself “watching” (or should I say ignoring) football on several Sundays, mostly as an excuse to swill beer and down wings at The Park Avenue Country Club or Mad River Bar and Grille.

It began in the fall of 2000 as an entirely social endeavor, a way to stay connected with those Baltimore-ons who were living in the city and an excuse to deter the Sunday blues (or drown them in Bud Light). Then, when I was least expecting it, the Ravens got good.  So good, in fact, that we played in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. All of a sudden, it was fun. I found myself organizing a group table at Brother Jimmy’s on the Upper West Side for the Baltimore crew to watch the Ravens hand it to the G-men. Damn, that felt good. We swarmed out into the night, caw-cawing our way through hordes of bitter Giants fans, bar hopping down Amsterdam dressed in purple and black. At that point, I’d only been living in New York City for four months.

I met my now husband that following summer and quickly realized that the fastest way to this man’s heart was not in fact through his stomach (damn, I totally had that one covered!) but through his sports addiction.  Sure, I’d watched a few games and knew the difference between Ray Lewis and Jamal Lewis, but really, I was a strange girl in a strange land and completely, utterly screwed. Since I pretty much decided after our first date that this was the man I was going to marry, I knew I had to get this right.

For the first couple years, we watched football every Sunday, religiously, at The Firehouse on 85th and Columbus. We had a raucous bunch of stalwarts, fans from all over the map, from the Ravens (woot, woot!) to the Bucs, the Niners, the Packers, the Eagles and the local Jets and Giants.  We met every week, dragging ourselves in from a late Saturday night, noshing on wings and nachos washed down with pitchers of beers and spicy Bloody Mary’s. This was my first real NYC “crew,” and I came to know and love them while watching hours of NFL games.

Over the years, people went their separate ways. Many of my Baltimore friends left the city to move back home.  All of a sudden I found that I was the last man standing, a lone Raven among a sea of blue and green. I think this is when it really clicked. My devotion to my team was solidified not because I was immersed in hometown antics, going to every game, participating in purple Fridays and listening to the local Baltimore sportscasters. I fell in love with my Ravens because they provided a weekly link to a place that’s in my blood. I may live in New York, but my own personal roots will always furrow a little further south, and they are tinged with purple and gold.

It’s been eleven years since I started really watching the Ravens play every week. A lot has changed. I’m no longer a twenty-something boozing it up on Sundays in the city (these days I do my boozing in the ‘burbs.) My life is a lot more settled, and probably a lot more predictable than it was a decade ago, and I’m ok with that. Turns out my plan worked – all that football watching helped me snag the guy I knew I was going to marry. Sundays have become our favorite day of the week, and watching football is our “thing” that we do together, as a package deal, rooting for each others teams even when no one else will (he’s a Niner’s fan.  Yeah. Bad day in the Shanley household.) I fell in love with my husband over a decade of football Sundays, and he supports me and my team and my right to watch, even when I’m the only girl in the room.

But I got a lot more than that. I also became a card carrying member of Ravens Nation, and it turns out I’m a particularly passionate one. I have had my heart broken more times than I can count over the last several years. I am a shameless Steelers hater, on principle alone (it has nothing to do with the fact that Rothlisberger is a dirty bum and Hines Ward smiles like the clown from a certain Steven King movie). I have more purple in my wardrobe than I care to admit. I have, on several occasions, worn my pajamas out of the house purely because they are covered in Ravens logos. I am proud to say that I wake up on many Sundays and reach for a Todd Heap jersey that I wear all day long, much to my husbands chagrin. I actually know how the game works. I know the players. I’ve learned about the league and about the other teams. I’ve had my own fantasy teams and done pretty well with them without help from a guy. I actually watch the games by myself when the hubster is away. In every single neighborhood I’ve haunted for the past decade I have found a watering hole where I show up every single Sunday to cheer on my team from afar, because they don’t show my game at home.

I do not miss a week. I do not like it when the other wives and girlfriends show up and try to talk to me while I’m watching my team, assuming I’m like all the other girls and just there to hang out. I do not like it when they aren’t showing my game on an acceptable screen in the bar. I do not like it when the Steelers beat us, and I often stalk out and go home alone to get in bed or stress eat.

And (ok, here goes) I cry when we lose in heartbreaking fashion.

Last night, through a flurry of sobs that lasted well into the second game, my love for my Ravens was reaffirmed. We outplayed the Patriots and should have won that game, God dammit. We played with the heart that we have always been known for. We are not a pretty team to watch. We do not have legions of supporters outside of the people of Baltimore. We don’t have GQ cover boys as our quarterbacks. We do not have an army of bandwagoners or fake “fans” who tune in a couple times a year or for championship games only. The commentators don’t ever wax poetic about our team, salivating like underfed dogs over the legacy or the dynasty or some such nonsense. We win ugly and we lose ugly. But we play with an uncrushable spirit. This has always been the Ravens style. It’s maddening, it’s hard to watch, it’s nail biting, and its infectious. To be a Ravens fan is to know that the calls don’t always go your way. That football, like life, is sloppy and can’t always be tied up with a neat little (purple!) bow. There aren’t always Hollywood agents and super models waiting for you when you get home.

Our team, like our city, is gritty and imperfect, and we love it that way. I’d rather be a Ravens fan than any other kind of fan in the world, today more than ever. They have allowed me, for over a decade, to tune into my hometown every Sunday from afar, to show my stripes and cheer for a place that I love and have not left behind, but where I probably will never live again. They have taught me the love of the game. They have taught me to Believe.

I’ll take my football, like my life, with a little dirt in the eye, and I’ll do it (mostly) without whining. Thanks for another great season, Ravens. I can’t wait for next year.

Chill-free Sunday

Sore loser, I mean,  Slow Cooker Beef Chuck Chili (serves 6)

2 lbs beef chuck, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 cups unsalted beef stock

1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh, canned or from a box such as Pomi)

1 dark lager beer

1 red onion, diced

1 fresh jalapeno, diced

2 cans chopped green chilies

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp chili powder

2 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup freshly brewed coffee

1 small handful bittersweet chocolate chips

2 tbsp finely ground cornmeal or masa harina

1 can each pinto, black and kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Add all ingredients except for cornmeal and beans to slow cooker. Turn to high and cook 4 hours. Remove beef chunks to a large bowl, shred with two forks. Add shredded beef, beans and cornmeal to slow cooker, cook on low for another hour. Serve with sour cream, cilantro and diced avocado.

Stress eating, with avocado on top

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