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The Beautiful Senselessness of the Ravens-Broncos Feud

An obscure record. A salty losing coach. A confused quarterback. It’s all incredibly dumb, and we need more of it.
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The NFL has been heavy of late, especially the morning after a Tom Brady and Bill Belichick matchup that, throughout its week of hype, felt more like a thorough assessment of a divorce than the preamble to a football game.

The best stories take us there, of course. We long to understand what is happening behind the curtain, which coach didn’t show up to the player’s birthday party, whose feelings were hurt, who cattily talks behind the others’ back; in short, who hates whom. We like it because it levels the playing field and reminds us that we’re all human. Beyond the wall of wealth, stardom, coachspeak and slogans, there are imperfect people plotting and scheming like the lot of us.

But from time to time we all miss a completely absurd and pedantic feud, the kind that boils deep in the blood of NFL coaches and has little to do with legacy politicking or truth-obscuring; the kind that touches the nerve of our inner Phil Weston and mirrors the happenings of our town beer softball league. And boy, did the Ravens and Broncos come through for us this weekend.

For those who missed it, John Harbaugh and the Ravens were one 100-yard rushing game away from tying the record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games (43) set by the Steelers back in 1977. So after the game was decided and the Ravens led comfortably, Harbaugh eschewed victory formation and ran a quarterback keeper to push the Ravens over the triple-digit mark.

Video emerged Monday morning of Broncos coach Vic Fangio dropping a few choice, beeped words and spiking his headset on the sideline during the play. When he realized what was happening, he started hollering for his defenders to push back up in the box to defend the play.

It was an incredible display from start to finish, with Harbaugh clearly itching to have his name attached to one of the true Footbaw Guy records of our time. When it comes to perceived tough-guy records, the most consecutive 100-yard game rushing record is among the elite; a record that, if it could, would wear its “Salute to Service” hat all year long, openly pining for the days when we used to recover from water-free, two-a-days in the searing heat with a lukewarm cola under an oak tree.

After the game Harbaugh told reporters that it was his decision, and that it was an acknowledgment for all the hard work his coaches and players had put in throughout the streak. He wanted them all to have their name attached to it. Here was Lamar Jackson’s take:

“I don’t know what he was thinking. I’m like, ‘Are we going to take a knee right here?’ and he’s like, ‘Nah we’re going to go for it.’ We pretty much had the game sealed. Double-A (Anthony Averett) caught that pick in the back of the end zone. Congratulations to him. But I don’t know what coach was thinking.”

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He added: “I’m happy we got the dub, I’m not gonna like, I didn’t care about the record.”

So we’re not accused of stirring the pot, most of what Jackson said appeared to be in a playful tone. The nature of the conversation he had at the podium was light. He was not siding with Fangio. There is no internal discord over the decision. It was simply amusing to juxtapose the complete straight face with which Harbaugh wielded the record against that of Jackson, who couldn’t seem to care less.

Throughout the morning hours Monday, the quarterback run has turned into the football world’s What color is this dress? moment. Some people have turned it into a health and safety issue. Some are lauding Harbaugh for thinking of his players. Many of us can identify with the cantankerous Fangio, having turfed our fair share of golf clubs, clipboards and softball bats over the years.

The overarching point, of course, is that it’s beautiful simply because it’s senseless. Everyone in the fight is right and wrong. Everyone is being both completely serious and utterly ridiculous. Imagine if, for example, Jackson had gotten hurt on this play. The Ravens sent the life force of their football team out to run a play against one of the best defenses in football so that they, at some point in the nebulous future, could tell their grandchildren that no one rushed for 100 yards in more consecutive games than them (and Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris). Harbaugh has now ensured that their next opponent (Colts) will do everything in their power to stop them from becoming the sole owners of this obscure record that, before this weekend—much like the Ravens’ preseason winning streak—was not important to those who don’t call the clear liquid in their glass wooter. Harbaugh has also tipped his hand on just how important these records are to him (a stance we’re not criticizing, to be clear), which places a gigantic target on the back of every small milestone the Ravens will hit throughout his career and, last but not least, allowed his grip on the victory formation pact to loosen. Greg Schiano, who famously spiked the victory formation and upended the end-of-game gentleman’s agreement, also found himself similarly twisting in the wind.

And Fangio, on Monday, did not yield the floor either, telling reporters that, “I thought it was kind of bulls---, but I expected it from them. Thirty-seven years in pro ball and I’ve never seen anything like that. But it was to be expected and we expected it.’’

He added: “I just know how they operate. That’s just their mode of operation there. Player safety is secondary.”

It was the perfect retort, down to the listing of the exact number of years Fangio had been coaching in the NFL. A chef’s kiss to end a perfect Monday spent remembering that the billion-dollar sport we fight over can accumulate seriousness by the gallon but still never completely shake the energy of a child losing a game of two-hand touch and then punting the ball over the fence. Let us hope that never changes. We need it.

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