Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Twelve minute flight: Wanting to keep with road game routine, Ravens to fly from Baltimore to D.C. for contest against Redskins

Owing Mills, MD--John Harbaugh, like most N.F.L. head coaches, is a creature of habit and, well, a bit superstitious. For example, the Baltimore Ravens leader always drives on the right side of the road, wears the same shirt on gameday, uses the same plate for every meal (yes, he takes it with him), and only uses the up escalator to go down.

So it really should be no surprise that the former Eagles special teams general wants to fly from Baltimore to next door neighbor Washington, D.C., for this week's game against the 'Skins. The U.S. capital and Charm City are separated by only 30 miles.

Why? Simply to keep with routine and superstition. "Every road game for us involves a bus, an airport, and a flight. This year we flew to Philly and now we're gonna fly to D.C.," said a stone-faced Harbaugh, seemingly oblivious to the absurdity of the air travel. "I want my players to keep with routine. It really boils down to a routine thing." The flight from Baltimore to D.C. will last twelve minutes.

There is a precedent for such short, bizarre air trips in the N.F.L. In 2011, the Giants, who share MetLife Stadium with the Jets, were designated the road team in their contest against their Meadowlands roommates during a week 16 matchup. Tom Coughlin had the club meet at the practice facility, then board a bus to Newark Liberty International Airport, then had the pilot circle the airport for fifteen minutes before landing back at Newark and driving to the stadium for the game against the Jets. (The Giants prevailed 29-14.) That is sticking to routine.

Harbaugh is borrowing Coughlin's approach and hopes for the same result. On Saturday morning, the team will meet at its Owing Mills practice facility north of Baltimore and take a team bus to B.W.I. (Baltimore-Washington International Airport), a ride lasting one half hour. The Ravens will then board a flight to Reagan International Airport in Arlington County, VA, just across the Potomac River from Washington. An additional thirty-minute bus trip will take the squad to the hotel adjacent to FedEx Field in Landover, MD.

To summarize: start in Maryland, drive to Mayrland airport, fly to Virginia airport, and drive back to Maryland for game.

"We're on a roll right now and we want to stick with what we do and what got us here. It would be bad to change things up at this point," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who played his college football at the University of Delaware. "It sounds like a hassle to fly to D.C. on paper but it will pay off. I don't mind it. It is the routine of our road schedule."

The Ravens could very easily bypass flying and drive the one hour from Owing Mills to FedEx Field on Sunday morning, but have elected to keep things complicated, er, normal. The chartered flight will be the first passenger air service between the two airports in decades, as no commercial flights are currently offered for this route.

"When I got a call from the Raven's travel secretary asking for permission to land a charter flight on December 8, originating at B.W.I., I thought she was joking," said Reagan National's director of new flight routes, Michael Lott. "I suggested driving the short distance, but they wanted to fly. I filed the paperwork and granted the Ravens permission to land. Whatever floats your boat, or, rather, makes your plane fly, I guess."

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