NFL Bookshelf

Flying High by Jamison Hensley

Flying High, Stories of the Baltimore Ravens, is essential reading for fans, new and old.

The Ravens game at Wembley is likely to attract plenty of new fans. Perhaps you will be taking some newbies to the game, in the hope of converting them. If you succeed, then get them a copy of this book. It’s an ideal introduction to the team for any new fan.

Jamison Hensley has been covering the Ravens for years, first with the Baltimore Sun and now with ESPN. His deep connections with the team show in this book, which tells the story of the team from its 1996 foundation to the victory in Super Bowl XLVII. (A short epilogue sums up the disappointing 2013 season but it isn’t covered in detail.)

Drawing on interviews with, well, pretty much everyone important, Hensley sheds light on some of the team’s key stories. It’s a quick read, and it’s also easy to dip into because each chapter is broken down into sections that focus on a key figure – whether a player, coach or owner.

For example, Chapter 3, A Dominant Defense Emerges, has sections on Marvin Lewis, Rod Woodson, Michael McCrary, Tony Siragusa, Rob Burnett, Peter Boulware, Duane Starks and Jamie Sharper.

Sports fans love stories. That’s one of the reasons that this website exists, in fact. In many ways, being a fan is about creating narratives out of unplanned events – the bounce of a ball here, a few prescient words in a press conference there.

The fact that the Ravens lost a Championship Game to New England by the narrowest of margins in the 2011 season, only to beat them in the Divisional round a year later, on their way to the Super Bowl, feels like it was written. Ravens fans certainly have no problem with building a redemption narrative around that Super Bowl run.

Long-time fans will have heard many of these stories before, though that doesn’t mean there’s no pleasure in hearing them again. For example, the story of Steve McNair’s ad-libbed touchdown against the Saints in New Orleans remains a classic however many times you hear it.

As Hensley explains, head coach Brian Billick grabbed receiver Derrick Mason as he came of the field and asked “What formation was that?”

Mason: “Steve didn’t call a formation. He just said Toss Right.”
Billick: “We don’t have a play called Toss Right.”
Mason: “Coach, that’s all I can tell you. He got us in a huddle and just said, Toss Right. We just lined up and made it work.”

There’s another delightful nugget in the section about Joe Flacco’s Super Bowl performance. Remember that fourth quarter 3rd-and-inches, where Flacco audibled out of a run and through an inch-perfect back shoulder throw to Anquan Boldin? Harbaugh, writes Hensley, later said that play showed that Flacco has “the guts of a burglar”.

As I said at the beginning, this is essential reading for newcomers to the Ravens. It’s also a great trip into the past for long-time fans.

Photo: Constellation Energy

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