For Ravens fan Joe Walker, the date of the 24th September is a day he’s been waiting half his life to happen. Finally he will see his beloved birds, the Baltimore Ravens play a live game of American Football and it couldn’t come soon enough.
He’s seen them play loads of time, he’s even influenced the way they play. Well haven’t all Britball fans who’ve played Madden? Because that for Joe, like many other people in the game fell upon a team almost by chance, by being one of the first teams they both encountered, and liked.
As Joe explains; “They were the first team I ever played with on Madden, and it wasn’t even the full game it was a demo disc with around half a game on it, Ravens and Titans were the two teams on the demo, my friend became a Titans fan and I became a Ravens fan.”
The young Joe Walker was sold on the Ravens and also on the game of American Football. Joe lives and breathes American Football every single day, especially as his full-time job is as AFD’s Coach and Education Co-ordinator. But life with the Ravens happened a long time before that. But for him and other Ravens fans, this September will be quite special.
“It’s quite a big deal, not just for me but for the fact that the Ravens are one of those NFL teams that has quite a large British following so there will be a lot of people at the game who will be seeing their heroes play for the first time ever. I’ve never seen them play live before so it is a pretty big deal for me too.”
Ravens will be the away team for this year’s London series and they are up against an almost permanent home team in the Jacksonville Jaguars who have been building their fan base up over the last few years and will have a lot of support in the vast Wembley Stadium. Is that something that bothers Joe, or will he be desperate for a good win so early on in the season?
“I know there will be a lot of fans who might berate me for this but I honestly don’t mind how the game falls. Team success really goes in cycles and the Ravens team of today are a little removed from the side that won the Super Bowl in 2012. The Jags on the other hand are probably hitting the peak of their current team cycle so don’t be surprised if they’re pretty good this year. If we show up then I’ll be happy.”
While they may not be riding the success of recent years, Joe does see a lot of talent on the Ravens side and for those not familiar with the team a lot to excite the neutrals or those on the lookout for a new side. And one that will certainly be familiar with the sights and sounds of London town.
“We picked up a lot of defensive talent this year, and that traditionally has been a Ravens thing to do, and so those kids could be good for us, they could do some great things. However, the big story that week will be Jermaine Eluemunor coming back to London as a man who grew up here. For young people watching the game that is something really big to see a young man drafted into the NFL.
Outside of the young guns I’m also interested in seeing some of the veteran talent we have added on Offense such as Danny Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin who could really contribute for us massively this year. If you want to look at some others then we’ve got some real Ravens all stars on our team such as C.J. Mosely and Terrell Suggs. Suggs has been in the league for 15 years and I can still remember him being drafted.”
There is a lot to like about the Ravens line up for this season but talk of the playoffs is not welcomed. When we asked Joe, he opted to quote Jim Mora -“Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs! Are you kidding me? Playoffs?! I’m just hoping we can win a game, another game!”
But apart from that Madden game many years ago, when the Ravens and Joe fell into place, there would be many people still wanting to know – Why the Ravens? Because while they may have been the first one you fell upon, there could have been others that came along that tempted you away. So why for Joe does the Ravens remain his number one?
“Well as teams go they’re one of the rougher and tougher teams out there in the NFL. There are about three or four teams who play similarly, a sort of no holds barred type of game. They’re a blue-collar football team, a real working mans side but they’re still also able to mix it with the better teams in football.
“They’ve had some great players over the years, for me I can’t pick one, I’m a coach, picking your favourite ever is tough as you value players on so many levels, but I’d put Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Jonathan Ogden up there as for years they were the superstars of the team.
If you want a gritty side who in the past has even been known to scare Bill Belichick with all his success, then you want the Ravens. For tough football, they won’t disappoint.”
Judge for yourself on September 24th.