By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
As I watched Justin Tucker’s game-winning 47-yard field goal that put the Baltimore Ravens into this Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, there were plenty of reasons for me as a native Baltimorean to be overjoyed.
Growing up as a fan of Baltimore’s storied sports franchises—the Colts and the Orioles—and now the Ravens, I have a special reverence for the lore and history of those franchises and certainly last Saturday’s thrilling win by the Ravens will be an indelible part of that history when it’s said and done.
For me, the Ravens double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos was eerily similar to the 1977 AFC Divisional Playoff between the Baltimore Colts and the Oakland Raiders. That game, played on Dec. 24, 1977, went into double-overtime with the same plot turns and twists as Saturday’s game. Unfortunately, the Baltimore squad was on the short end of a heart-breaking loss.
At 15-years-old, I was among those fans in Memorial Stadium that watched in stunned silence as Oakland’s Kenny Stabler hit Dave Casper for the winning TD pass in the north endzone facing 36th Street as the evening shadows descended upon a disappointed crowd;
As filled up with joy as I was this past Saturday, I remember the disappointment of seeing the Raiders celebrate on the turf of Memorial Stadium to end a game what was a playoff classic. The Ravens win last Saturday, for me personally, forever exorcised the demons of Christmas Eve 1977.
Both games went back and forth like a Russian novel. The Raiders would jump out to a lead only to have the Colts move back out in front. The Ravens-Broncos this past Saturday was just as hairy, full of big plays, kick returns, and pick sixes. The game was tied five times with four lead changes.
In the game against the Raiders, the Colts got points on a pick-six by Bruce Laird and an 87-yard kickoff return by Marshall Johnson. They also got a pair of touchdowns from a backup running back named Ronnie Lee.
With about four minutes left in the game, Baltimore had a 31-28 lead and appeared ready to put the defending Super Bowl champion Raiders away. But for some reason, Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda got conservative and tried to run the clock out, but it didn’t work. That would be something that Colts running back Lydell Mitchell would question in the years after the game.
The Raiders got the ball back with a little over three minutes left. The big play that put Oakland in position to tie the game was the famed “Ghost to the Post,” play in which Stabler hit Casper for a 44-yard gain to the Baltimore 14 with two minutes left. The Raiders would tie the game on an Erroll Mann field goal and send it into overtime.
Flashing forward to last Saturday, the Baltimore Ravens were down 35-28 with no timeouts and had the ball at their own 30 yard line with under a minute left.
The odds of scoring the game-tying touchdown seemed to be somewhere between slim and none. But Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, facing a fierce rush from the Broncos defense , stepped up and launched a long pass to wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who somehow got behind two Denver defenders, and raced to a 70-yard touchdown that tied the game.In the same way the Ghost to the Post took the air out of Baltimore fans and led to overtime in 1977, Flacco’s miracle fling to Jones deflated Broncos fans while Baltimore fans in bars and taverns throughout central Maryland were no doubt in the throes of euphoria as the game headed to overtime—I wonder how many of those fans were at Memorial Stadium Christmas Eve 1977.
After a defensive stalemate dominated play for much of the first overtime, Baltimore finally got its big break late in the period when Corey Graham intercepted a Peyton Manning pass. It took the Ravens five plays to move within field goal range for Tucker’s game-winning kick.
When the ball sailed through the uprights, I could hear that same deafening, stunned silence from Denver fans that we experienced in Memorial Stadium back in 1977. But this time it was the Baltimore players celebrating a classic playoff victory on enemy turf and even though I was thousands of miles away, I was celebrating the way we were hoping to against the Raiders.
I watched the game at Champs Restaurant in South Philadelphia. I leaped from my seat with my fists pumped in the air when Tucker’s kick was ruled good. I blurted out an old Baltimore battle cry made famous by Colts and Orioles play-by-play announcer Chuck Thompson, “Go to War, Ms Agnes!” “Ain’t the Beer Cold!”
In the storied history of the Baltimore experience in the NFL, the Ravens double overtime win over the Denver Broncos will go down as an all-time great like the Colts famous overtime win over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game that was dubbed, “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
Some in Baltimore are calling the Ravens win over the Broncos, “The Second Greatest Game Ever Played.”
As for Christmas Eve 1977 and the Ghost to the Post, all I need to say is over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, quoth the Ravens, “Nevermore.”