There is something special about football under the bright lights of a dome. For the first Super Bowl I ever saw, the New Orleans Superdome was bathed in a glow that intensified every colour.
I’m not talking about that New Orleans Super Bowl – the one years later where the lights would attract attention for a different reason and the Baltimore Ravens would eventually emerge with their second Lombardi trophy. This one was earlier – January 1986, in fact – and it featured the Chicago Bears crushing the New England Patriots 46-10.
It took me about a week to watch it. Aged 11, I was too young to stay up and watch the game live. I watched it on video after school – managing about an hour at a time before my parents reclaimed the TV.
Every evening I watched the Bears’ 46 defense beat the hapless Patriots on play after play and I couldn’t help becoming a convert to defensive football. Over the next few years, football was dominated by the pass-happy antics of the 49ers and I wasn’t pleased. I was more interested in how defenses might stop them.
In the winter of 2000, I was in Maryland, just outside Washington DC, for my first Thanksgiving with my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and her family. They asked what I wanted to do on my trip and I had one answer: get to an NFL game. I’d been to the American Bowl exhibition games at Wembley and to World League games but never to a regular season game and never to any game in the US.
The family were Washington fans so they asked around for tickets but that weekend’s game was a big division match-up against the Eagles. There were no spare tickets. “Is Baltimore far?” I asked.
It wasn’t. We got tickets to watch the Ravens face the Browns for just the fourth time. We had great seats – down low, near midfield and behind the Ravens sideline. The atmosphere was electric. There really is nothing like an NFL game in the US.
This was the Browns’ second season back after the franchise was restored. I’m trying to remember what happened to the old Cleveland Browns… No, it’s gone.
My memory is faulty in other ways too, I now realise. In my head, the game snapped a Ravens losing streak, putting them on a run of wins that would last until the end of the season. In fact, that isn’t true. The Ravens had won their last three, following a three-game losing streak in October.
I’d been warned that the Ravens were a bad team and when, on the game’s second play, a 67-yard pass completion took the Browns into the red zone, I started to think that maybe they were. Two plays later, Cleveland led 7-0.
All that did was make the Ravens defence angry. You remember that defence, right? The one that recorded four shut-outs in the regular season, allowed just 23 points in four post-season games and ended as Super Bowl XXXV champions. The one that earned a place as one of the best, if not the best, defences ever to play the game. That one.
Well, they went to work and bullied the Browns. Six sacks, one interception and two fumble recoveries tells quite a story but the most telling stat is one that was announced as I left the stadium: the Browns gained 86 yards on their opening drive. In the rest of the game they gained 26.
It was astonishing. I hadn’t seen anything like it since those 1985 Bears but this defence was playing live in front of me. I followed them for the rest of the season and as they piled up one win after another until eventually they reached the Super Bowl.
Then, in a ritual familiar to any British fan, I stayed up into the early hours watching another Super Bowl, another awesome defence and another win just like that first one I’d seen as a kid.
- My first time is one strand of Ravens fans stories. It’s for stories about the first Ravens game you went to, though it could be for the first Ravens game you saw on TV if it’s a particularly interesting story. Share your story.
Photo: Austin Kirk