Baltimore is for streakers

Baltimore professional sports has long been known for streaks – both good and bad.

For instance, it all started in 1956, when John Unitas, of the Baltimore Colts, who remains the prototype for the modern-day NFL quarterback, passed for a touchdown in 47 consecutive games.

That likely doesn’t sound like a big deal to many of the younger fans right now during this absurd flag-football, pass-happy era of #NFLTheTVShow, but that streak lasted through 1960, and it stood as the all-time record for … 52 years.

It was the era that made professional football what it would become. It was when the game was a run-first game and it was when quarterbacks, who called their own plays on the field, were held accountable … by opposing defensive players, who had a free rein to hit the quarterback, essentially, whenever and however he wanted to.

Around that time, Baltimore created the then-NFL record sellouts streak – 56 (just like Joe DiMaggio).

College football was king in this day, so this was a rare thing for an NFL team, particularly outside of the New York Giants, to sell out 56 straight games. The NFL was viewed at the time in the same eye as was professional wrasslin’ (and, given how it has evolved, still should be now more than ever).

On top of that, the NFL schedule consisted of 12 games, and then 14 games, in those days. Baltimore’s love affair with professional football was on, and tickets were so hard to get that fans combed the obituary pages and made random calls to relatives of the deceased to see if they had tickets to sell.

Next we come to the Baltimore Orioles, the city’s professional baseball team, that, from 1968 through 1985, put together 18 consecutive winning seasons, and 22 out of 23, in establishing itself as (Sports Illustrated’s words) “The Best Damn Team in Baseball.”

That soon went out the window, as the 1988 Orioles opened the season by losing a Major-League record 21 games to roll back home for a weekend homestand against the Texas Rangers with a record of 1-22 – and immediately played to a sellout crowd of over 52,000 fans on “On Fantastic Fans Night,” when then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced state funding for the Camden Yards facility.

Not long after that, Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. capped off two rather historic streaks by playing in 8,243 consecutive innings – a streak that was stopped by his father, manager Cal Ripken Sr., because he didn’t see the sense in it, particularly in a 17-3 game, which the Orioles were losing; and then, of course, the consecutive-games played streak of 2,632 that Junior put together to shatter Lou Gehrig’s “record that will never be broken” by over 500 games.

Next, the Orioles reeled off 14 consecutive losing seasons, from 1998 through 2011.

Now, the good folk of Bawlmer find themselves in the midst of two major streaks – one not good at all, and one not bad, but what does it mean?

The Orioles just completed their most recent homestand by being swept by the Atlanta Braves to stretch their current losing streak to 18 games.

During the same weekend, the NFL Baltimore Ravens defeated the Carolina Panthers, 20-3, to stretch their preseason games winning streak to 19, tying the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers of 1959-62 for the longest NFL preseason winning streak in NFL history.

Sure, it’s preseason, but it ties an NFL record held by Vince Lombardi’s Packers. And it’s not as though this is Steve Spurrier’s old Washington Football Team running up the score on teams to go undefeated in the preseason (which I loved and thought was hilarious) and then turn in a 4-12 or 6-10 in the regular season. The Ravens are a Super Bowl contender every season.

“So, I guess you can take two things;” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said, “nothing has meaning, and everything has meaning. So, if we’re doing it, it’s worth doing, it matters and it’s worth doing well.”

Quarterback Todd Huntley said, “It’s a good feeling, just because you could see the type of culture that we have as a team, as an organization. We strive to win every time we step on the field, and it just shows you how much depth, as a team, that we have – just to keep rolling out wins in the preseason.”

Winning is contagious, and this winning streak is indicative of how Harbaugh prepares his team. Witness the Ravens’ 10-3 record in Week 1 of the regular season (those games count) since he took over as head coach in 2008, including a streak of five in a row.

Teams don’t give back regular-season wins no matter when on the schedule they come. Each one helps a team get a step closer to the playoffs.

“All those guys who were part of (the streak) over the years should be proud about that tonight,” Harbaugh said after the game, “because it’s something that only one other team has ever done – the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers.

“I’d say that’s notable.”

As for Baltimore’s other current professional sports streak – the Orioles’ 18-game losing streak – it’s notable as well. We will discuss just how notable, how big picture, it is later in the week.

In the meantime, how ‘bout ‘dem Ravens! Ain’t the beer cold!

It’s Bawlmer, hon.

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@wvradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT