Top five: books for Baltimore Ravens fans

The story so far: in 1996, Art Modell, who had owned the Cleveland Browns for more than 30 years, moved the team to Baltimore. In 1995, the Raiders had moved from LA to Oakland and the Rams from LA to St Louis without the continuity of the franchise being affected. However, in the face of protests from Browns fans, the NFL decreed that the Baltimore team could not be called the Browns.

The Browns’ records would remain in Cleveland and that city would get a new Browns team as soon as possible. Thus the Browns that reentered the NFL in 1999 are technically the same team as the old one, which is why it’s true to say, for example, that they have gone 55 years without a Championship win. The Ravens, meanwhile, came into existence as a new team in 1996.

Some fans in Baltimore might have felt guilty about getting a franchise from another city, since their original NFL team, the Colts, left for Indianapolis a decade earlier. For most, however, the excitement of having NFL football back outweighed concerns about how it happened.

Since then, the Ravens have won two Super Bowls. In 20-something years, the Ravens haven’t inspired many books, but the ones they have inspired are very good indeed. Fans will enjoy the titles below – and some are recommended for any football fan.

1Football in Baltimore (2nd Edition, 2013) by Ted Patterson and Dean Smith

For fans under the age of about 30, Baltimore football has always meant the Ravens. Only the over 40s will remember the Colts era at all. That’s why this book is recommended. It traces the history of football in Baltimore from the late 19th Century until the Ravens’s second Super Bowl win. (Make sure you pick up the second edition, because the first covers only the first couple of Ravens seasons.) It’s an interesting read but it’s just as good to flick through – filled with great images of program covers, publicity shots and obscure memorabilia.
Buy the book: Amazon US, Amazon UK

2Glory For Sale (1997) by Jon Morgan

A writer who specialises in the business of sport, Jon Morgan studied the Browns’ move to Baltimore as an example of the growing influence of profit on the NFL. He also looks back to the departure of the Colts, and Baltimore’s numerous attempts to regain an NFL team afterwards. Ultimately, Morgan makes a compelling case for his view that it’s fans who get a bad deal. Ravens fans will learn a lot about the foundation of their team, but it’s recommended for any NFL fan.
Buy: Amazon US, Amazon UK

3Next Man Up (2006) by John Feinstein

In 2004, John Feinstein spent a year inside a Ravens team that believed it had the pieces for a deep playoff run. In the end, a series of mistakes and misfortunes led to a 9-7 finish and no playoff spot at all. Feinstein details the troubles as they come – from the failed attempt to sign Terrell Owens in the off-season to the string of injuries that left the team constantly patching-up holes. The frustration of the players and staff is palpable. It’s essential for Ravens fans, who will see the partnership between Ed Reed and Ray Lewis beginning to take shape and the emergence of a young Terrell Suggs. But any fan who’s interested in just how easily a promising NFL season can go off the rails should pick up a copy.
Buy: Amazon US, Amazon UK

4I Feel Like Going On (2015) by Ray Lewis with Daniel Paisner

For anyone who shows up with the “Ray Lewis killed a guy” schtick that is still common on social media, I’ll direct you first to read this post. The short version is this: Lewis certainly didn’t kill anyone, though he did attempt to cover up his involvement in the events of that evening. The positive take on what followed is that it turned him to religion and spurred his charity and mentoring work. The negative spin is that he’s an egomaniac, prone to bombastic and frequently baffling speeches. The two views, in fact, are not mutually exclusive.
If he’s a polarising figure off the field, his greatness was never in question on it. This book sheds plenty of light on his career and personality. Lewis deals with his difficult childhood with honesty, leaves no doubt about his extraordinary drive to be the best and tells a story about his treatment after that 2000 arrest that is all too plausible given recent stories about police brutality. It’s an unexpectedly complex read.
Buy: Amazon US, Amazon UK

5Never Easy, Never Pretty (2013) by Dean Bartoli Smith

Dean Smith wrote the Ravens chapters in the first book on this list, Football in Baltimore. This one is published under his full name, perhaps to avoid confusion with basketball coach Dean Smith. Anyway, Smith is a Baltimore writer and Ravens fan who, in this book, covers the Ravens’ unlikely run to their Super Bowl win in the 2012 season. From 4th and 29 in San Diego to the ‘Mile High Miracle’, there were plenty of opportunities for this to be another ‘nearly’ season and yet somehow it wasn’t. This is a great chance for fans to relive that ride.
Buy: Amazon US, Amazon UK

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