Let's face it, life in America was a big fat bummer this year. Businesses closed, hard-working people got laid off, parties were cancelled—no one was in the mood to celebrate. And Baltimore was no different—even if we were a heck of a lot better off than some other cities. (We feel you, Detroit.)
That being said, some actual good stuff happened in this region, too. So in this, our second annual editor's picks for the five most noteworthy moments of the year in sports, food, arts, news, retail, and the social scene, we paint the whole picture. There's some good stuff (Station North on the rise!), some freaky stuff (Samurai boy, anyone?), and a whole lot of crummy stuff, too (RIP The Brass Elephant). We're thinking (hoping?) this list is going to be a lot cheerier next year. And remember, don't blame the messenger.
Arts & Culture
By John Lewis
Grace Hartigan passes away, leaves $1 million in paintings to MICA and MAP. When Grace Hartigan passed away last November, Baltimore lost more than its most celebrated artist. We lost an educator and arts advocate who consistently looked toward the future. Hartigan, who made her name in the 1950s as an abstract expressionist and friend of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, contributed mightily to Baltimore's art scene as the director of MICA's Hoffberger School of Painting (for more than 40 years!) and as a champion of up-and-coming artists. And her legacy figures to continue.
In September, it was announced that Hartigan had left more than $1 million in paintings to MICA and Maryland Art Place (MAP), the contemporary art center in Market Place. Hartigan bequeathed a dozen pieces to MICA, and five to MAP, to benefit young artists and help fund future projects. In an announcement posted on MICA's website, President Fred Lazarus noted the significance and spirit of the endowment. "Grace mentored generations of artists during her lifetime," he said. "Her teaching legacy continues with this extraordinary gift."
Baltimore Opera Company closes, as recession takes toll on cultural community. The recession took its toll on the cultural community, forcing the Baltimore Opera Company to close in March and triggering layoffs, furloughs, and/or programming cuts at various other institutions. BSO Music Director Marin Alsop told Baltimore that "no one is immune," as cost-cutting measures were initiated at the BSO, Walters, Centerstage, and Baltimore Museum of Art.
Despite the doom and gloom, it was encouraging to see the community rally in support of the arts, as WYPR offered free airtime to local arts organizations and Maryland Citizens for the Arts, a nonprofit advocacy group, helped ease cuts to the Maryland State Arts Council's budget.
By year's end, some federal stimulus dollars had trickled in—so here's hoping the outlook is brighter for 2010.
Animal Collective releases Merri-weather Post Pavilion, ascends to top of indie heap. The most highly anticipated indie rock CD of the year was released by a group of Park School grads from Baltimore County. Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion caused quite a stir upon its release in January, garnering hosannas from press and fans alike. It landed the band on David Letterman—where they played an ecstatic version of "Summertime Clothes"—and on the roster of premier festivals around the world, including Bonnaroo and All Tomorrow's Parties.
But the band didn't forget where it came from—Animal Collective played to a packed house at the Ottobar, a local club co-owned by their manager, in May. Unfortunately, a rumored show at Merriweather Post Pavilion never materialized, but that may have been the only disappointing news from the A.C. camp. Look for them to grace many "Best of 2009" lists this month.
Station North solidifies standing as bonafide arts district. It's been building over the past few years, but Station North, thanks to a few key additions, has evolved as a bonafide arts and entertainment district. With that in mind, it's hard to underestimate the continuing impact of MICA's Studio Center on North Avenue, and how the opening of the college's nearby Gateway complex—with its student housing, career center, galleries, cafe, and performance space—has reinforced the school's presence and upped its profile in the district. That presence has helped support budding arts and retail ventures and grow an audience for what's become an unlikely theater district.
Of course, Everyman has been there for awhile, but we've seen the emergence of live theater at Single Carrot, the Strand, and Load of Fun. In the not-so-distant past, that would have been unthinkable. The Windup Space, Metro Gallery, and Joe Squared now offer full schedules of live music, as well. Joe's food and drink are excellent, and you can grab a good breakfast or lunch at Station North Arts Café. Add a fantastic arts supply store (Artist & Craftsman Supply) and a decent bookshop (Cyclops), and you have a budding area that nicely complements mainstays such as The Charles Theatre and Club Charles.
Nevermore 2009 celebrates Poe bicentennial. This year marked the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe's birth, and Baltimore celebrated with Nevermore 2009, a sprawling, entertaining citywide festival. Featuring performances, lectures, exhibitions, and even wine tastings—Amontillado anyone?—at all sorts of venues, it was a fitting tribute to the celebrated author.
We also marked Poe's death in high style, on October 11, with a stately funeral procession (with horse drawn hearse and pipe and drum corps) from the Poe House on Amity Street to Westminster Burying Ground, his final resting place. The funeral itself was presided over by none other than John Astin, star of The Addams Family.
And earlier in the year, Poe House curator Jeff Jerome defended our city's honor in a spirited debate at the Philadelphia Free Library, where scholars from Philly and Boston laid claim to Poe's legacy and alleged that Baltimore hadn't sufficiently honored Poe. Being lit types, maybe they'd never heard of the Ravens, or their mascot: Poe.
But no matter—after this year's impressive Poe fest, any questions of supremacy have been laid to rest.
By Suzanne Loudermilk
The Brass Elephant—and others—close doors. We have to admit that we've been grieving this year for the loss of several well-known restaurants. Of course, it really hurt that a smattering were on our Best Restaurants list.
But perhaps the one that hit hardest was the passing of The Brass Elephant in Mt. Vernon, an elegant mainstay that had recently brought in a talented chef to jazz up the menu. Sadly, even though Marcus Olson's food was getting rave reviews, it wasn't enough to keep the grande dame afloat.
There are various reasons why restaurants close. Owners don't usually mention the "e" word (economy, that is) when talking about endings. But backstage whispers often point to disappointing dollar signs when the doors shut.
Other top restaurants that are no more: Ixia in Mt. Vernon, The Bicycle in Federal Hill, Blue Sea Grill in the Inner Harbor, and Jordan's Steakhouse in Ellicott City. At press time, we still didn't know about The Dogwood in Hampden, whose website keeps promising that it is going to reopen. There were other closures, too. We'll miss them all.
Up-and-coming restaurants make their mark. Even as we bid farewell to longtime favorites, we saw a bright side with the opening of several ambitious undertakings. Perhaps the one that got the most buzz was B&O American Brasserie, a blend of old and new Baltimore that seems destined to woo local and visiting foodies.
Located in the stately former headquarters of the railroad company, the refurbished space adds élan to the Charles Street business district. An accomplished chef—E. Michael Reidt—also was brought on board to shape up a menu that focuses on local, seasonal ingredients without a lot of fussiness.
We also were wowed by Blue Hill Tavern in Brewers Hill, which snuck up on everyone last summer with its awesome interior and equally impressive cuisine, including some of the most creative desserts in town.
Other dynamite newbies include Miss Irene's in Fells Point (now an upscale bistro), Lutherville's Restaurant Sabor (showcasing classics with Latin-American/Mediterranean influences), La Famiglia near JHU (replacing Brasserie Tatin), Sullivan's Steakhouse on Pratt Street (settling in just fine in our seafood town), and Pizzazz Tuscan Grille at Pier 5 Hotel (with healthful, modern Italian fare).
Tapas stays on top. Food trends come and go. (We will not miss foam, molecular gastronomy, or deconstructed presentations when they hopefully disappear soon.) But tapas, or small plates as they're often called, seem to have found a long-term place on our menus.
We've seen several restaurants opening this year specializing in these little portions: Talara in Harbor East, Taverna Corvino in Federal Hill, 13.5% Wine Bar in Hampden, and the new Adela in Fells Point (part of the Kali's Restaurant Group's growing empire) to name a few.
And then, there are tried-and-true places like Tapabar in Little Italy, Mezze in Fells Point, Tapas Teatro in Station North, and Annabel Lee Tavern in Canton, which are capitalizing on these tastings, too.
One reason for the continued popularity of small plates could be the pricing. You can indulge in nibbles without maxing your credit card. And you can also share a mix of different flavors with your table in the ultimate communal bonding. We think breaking bread with friends is always a good thing!
Bad economy is foodie's delight. Not a day goes by that we don't get an e-mail or press release about a cost-saving offer at an area restaurant. That wasn't always the case in previous years. These stepped-up enticements are a win-win response from restaurants to lure in patrons during our belt-tightening recession.
Some of our favorites are: Sláinte in Fells Point (Thursday prime rib night, $1 an ounce), Christopher Daniel in Timonium (three-course chef tasting, $25, Sunday-Thursday), and The Wine Market in Locust Point (Monday, 20 percent off all regular-priced entrees). There are lots more incentives out there.
There's even a local website (600block.com) dedicated to listing these deals. Also, restaurant.com offers some amazing coupons. The home page lets you search by ZIP code or geographic locations.
In addition to these ongoing budget savers, Baltimore's summer and winter restaurant weeks tempt diners with packages like this recent one: three-course dinners for about $30.09 at some of our finest restaurants. The dates for Winter Restaurant Week 2010 have just been set—Jan. 22-Feb. 7. Checkbaltimorerestaurantweek.com for prices and updates.
In the meantime, let's support our local places. They need us. And we need them.
Voltaggio boys rule Top Chef. Maybe it's the water. Or perhaps it's our melting pot of taste buds from assorted immigrants who settled here. Whatever the origins, the Free State has unleashed some impressive chefs recently.
This year, we have three native Marylanders on Bravo's competitive show Top Chef. Yes, we would be addicted to the beautiful yet annoying (to us) Padma and the adorable chef Tom Colicchio anyway. But it's even more fun to see our own brethren battle it out on national TV.
We were sorry to lose Jesse Sandlin (formerly of Abacrombie) after several episodes. But, given our deadlines, we're still watching siblings Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, who grew up in Frederick, sniping at each other for the winning spot and lots of cash. At this point, brotherly love is as fragile as a temperamental custard—or cheftestant Robin's ego.
Whatever the outcome, we think it's wonderful we're getting big-time culinary recognition. Last season, chef Jill Snyder—now at Woodberry Kitchen—made an appearance on the show as well as homegrown Sparks girl Melissa Harrison, who transplanted to Colorado. Lets hope the run continues next year.
By Evan Serpick
Massive layoffs, shrinking circulation plague The Sun. That The Baltimore Sun was rocked by yet another round of layoffs could hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has watched the city's paper of record shrink in heft and staff in recent years. But the depth of the loss on April 28 and 29 was staggering: More than 60 employees—about 30 percent of The Sun's newsroom—were let go. Sun-watching blogs like The Real Muck and Baltimore Brew quickly circulated stories of employees being escorted out of the building and getting fired over the telephone, and the episode became an ugly microcosm of the state of The Sun. The brutal market for newspapers nationwide, coupled with questionable decisions by the paper's managers and their Tribune bosses have left The Sunconfronting some existential questions about its own future. With daily circulation down 14.7 percent for the period ending in September, the road ahead looks even more grim.
Dr. Alonso hires Brian Morris, creates firestorm. If anything this year gave reason to hope for the future of civic journalism, it was the firestorm drawn up when Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Andrés Alonso tried to quietly hire school board ally Brian Morris to a new, unadvertised $175,000-a-year position of Deputy CEO. The Sun was quickly on the case, chastising Alonso for quietly hiring Morris at a time when schools were experiencing layoffs and cuts, and digging up Morris's troubled financial history, including several liens and lawsuits. Within days, Morris had resigned and Dr. Alonso's reputation as the savior of Baltimore City schools had been dinged.
Water, water everywhere. Baltimore's aging infrastructure started to collapse this year. In April, a 20-inch water main beneath Lombard Street broke, shutting down a large chunk of downtown and creating traffic havoc for days. In September, a six-foot main broke in Dundalk, flooding about 100 homes and leaving hundreds more without power. Days after the Dundalk flood, Senator Ben Cardin introduced the Water Infrastructure Financing Act of 2009 into the U.S. Senate, which would allocate $35 billion in federal funding to protect water infrastructure nationally, although critics say the amount is not nearly enough to update the country's aging maze of pipes and mains.
Student slays with samurai sword. Ancient Japanese weaponry and modern crime collided in September when a Johns Hopkins University student killed an apparent burglar with a samurai sword. The student, John Pontolillo, and his three roommates had been robbed of a video game console and other electronics the night before when they heard noise coming from the garage. The four students confronted the intruder, Donald Rice, who had been released from prison days earlier. The students say Rice lunged at them and Pontolillo swung the sword—an ornamental piece he had never trained with—nearly severing Rice's left hand and wounding him in the upper body. Rice died at the scene.
Mayor Dixon indicted. To her critics, it was proof of Mayor Sheila Dixon's dirty dealings. To her defenders, it was the culmination of a years-long witch hunt by an overzealous state prosecutor. The 12-count indictment on charges of theft, perjury, and misconduct came after state prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh's three-year investigation—dating back to Dixon's tenure as City Council president. Some of the charges related to Dixon's failure to disclose gifts and trips from Robert H. Lipscomb, a prominent developer who worked on projects that received city tax breaks and who was, for a time, the mayor's boyfriend. But the charges that really riled up the populace related to at least $3,500 in Target and Best Buy gift cards, donated for the needy, that Dixon allegedly used to buy a digital camcorder, a Playstation Portable, an Xbox 360, and other electronics for her personal use. Dixon quickly proclaimed her innocence and got back to playing the role of dedicated civil servant annoyed by petty distractions. With crime down and schools improving, she's got plenty of folks on her side, but as her trial continues (at press time, it was scheduled to begin November 9) and the details emerge, a lot of things can change.
By Amy Mulvihill and Jess Blumberg
Stalwart fundraisers succumb to the economy. For years, you could set your clock to the Baltimore party circuit. If it's January, it must be time for Heartfest. When June rolls around, you know to dust off your penguin suit for Zoomerang!. Not this year though. When the economy hit the skids last fall, donations to nonprofits dried up as well. As a result, some organizations chose to curtail or completely forgo large-scale fundraising events for 2009, reasoning that the proceeds earned would be too meager to justify the expense.
Zoomerang!, the Zoo's annual fundraiser, and Heartfest, a benefit for The Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, were two of the most high profile galas to call it quits, but there were others, both large and small. Some, like the National Aquarium, say the economic uncertainty has forced its development department to be creative. Instead of holding its annual fundraising gala, the Aquarium recruited support through a private series of morning breakfasts and tours. So is the party really over in Baltimore? Suffice it to say, we're not putting our party dresses in storage just yet.
John Waters, uncensored, at MPT's 40th anniversary. John Waters has got to be one of the most entertaining people in Baltimore—if not the world. He always has a slightly cracked take on things, but shares his perspective with such charm and verve that you walk away thinking, "Yeah, that totally makes sense." Such was the case at MPT's 40th Anniversary Gala in October. There to support his longtime friend (and gala honoree) Rhea Feikin, Waters went room to room providing short standup sets during dinner. Among his best anecdotes: He talked about a man he met in a Baltimore bar whose job was trading deer meat for crack; and he shared the story of his own failed attempt to purchase Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's garbage can for $1,400. (It eventually went for $2,000.) Plus, he had some advice for MPT's gala committee. "It should be free to get in and then you have to pay to get out . . . and you should have the cleaning crew speak. They're the ones who know everything." He was kidding. (We think.)
Lang Lang brings "gangsta flava" to BSO gala. Everything was just as it should be at the BSO's opening night gala after party in September. Tuxedoed gentlemen and elegantly-coiffed ladies milled about under a white tent across from Meyerhoff Symphony Hall nibbling on chocolate-dipped strawberries and praising the evening's excellent concert. Then, the performance's guest star, Chinese pianist extraordinaire Lang Lang, entered the tent. Immediately, Lang Lang, as close to a rock star as you can get in the classical music world, was swarmed by well-wishers, photographers, and autograph-seekers, which he patiently obliged. As the minutes ticked by though, you could sense his energy start to flag and his focus start to wander. Finally, he could contain himself no longer and the musical superstar began goofing off, striking silly poses in the photos like double-thumbs up or—most improbably—flashing (fake) gang signs. The image, so amusingly incongruous, is also emblematic of what Maestra Marin Alsop has going on over at the Meyerhoff these days—class with a touch of irreverence, just the way we like it.
Brooks Robinson finally gets his evening. In what many viewed as long overdue, legendary Orioles third-baseman Brooks Robinson was honored on October 26 during "An Evening With Brooks" at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Though Robinson garnered the nickname "Mr. Oriole," the current organization has been criticized for not acknowledging him enough. So it was high time that a laundry list of sports greats got together to honor the "Human Vacuum Cleaner." Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken Jr., Boog Powell, Paul Blair, Ron Hansen, Lenny Moore, Bernie Carbo, and Frank Deford (but curiously, no current Oriole players) were on hand to discuss the illustrious life and career of the 16-time Gold Glove winner, while footage from the 1966 and 1970 World Series rolled in the background. Even cantankerous Weaver got choked up as he discussed Robinson's last home run of his career. It's hard to imagine a space being more densely packed with local sports talent than it was at this event. That night, Baltimore was finally able to give back to a man who has given so much in return.
Obama stops in Baltimore en route to Inauguration. It wasn't technically a party, but you couldn't tell that to the 40,000 excited spectators who braved freezing temperatures and tight security to witness then President-elect Barack Obama's pre-Inauguration stop in Baltimore this January. Armed with signs, buttons, hats, and all manner of Obama-emblazoned gear, people began lining up early in the morning January 17 to attend Obama's War Memorial Plaza speech, which wasn't scheduled until late afternoon. The long wait and frigid temperatures didn't dampen any spirits though and the ebullient crowd whiled away the hours chanting, cheering, and waving to the assembled throng of media cameras. Even when the Plaza was at capacity, the overflow crowd remained chipper, watching the subsequent 15-minute speech on giant TV screens scattered throughout the Inner Harbor. As for the main event, Obama's oration referenced Baltimore's heroic role in the War of 1812 and Little Italy's own Nancy Pelosi (née D'Alesandro). For some people though, what he said was secondary to his mere presence in their hometown. When someone shouted "I love you, Obama!" during his speech, you knew it was heartfelt.
By Janelle Erlichman Diamond
Boutiques get Tweeting. Websites are so 2008. These days, it's all about social media tools—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—if a store wants to get out the info on sales, new merchandise, and events. More boutiques are adding blogs to their repertoire—giving shoppers yet another way to be connected. Harbor East boutique Urban Chic has theurbanchic-blog.wordpress.com, with new posts every few days, including photos of "Must Have" items and interviews with the staff. Same goes for eyeglass boutique Paris West (pariswestoptical.blogspot.com), which highlights "pint-sized supermodel" Miss K sporting the latest frames. Other stores (like Wee Chic, Nectar, and Babe) have fan pages on Facebook. They post pictures of new merchandise—sometimes daily—and other sartorial musings ("a beautiful day calls for beautiful clothes!"). Fells Point's Cupcake sends out regular e-mail blasts (and has a Facebook page). With the weight of the economy on their shoulders, small businesses are in sink or swim survival mode. And right now, the life raft looks a lot like a personal computer.
Gaines McHale closes. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Popular furniture giant Gaines McHale, long the standard-bearer for antiques in this region, seemed to be living the high life—a great roster of customers and a beautiful new 14,000-square-foot space in Harbor East's E.J. Codd building. But trouble was brewing just beneath the surface. Baltimore developer Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse filed a lawsuit against Gaines McHale owners Michael J. and Jean McHale on July 11, 2008, seeking $600,000 in back rent. Another lawsuit filed by K Bank alleges the store owes $1.35 million for a loan. Prior to that, the state was seeking more than $150,000 in back taxes. And then there were the two lawsuits seeking $90,000: one for television advertising and another for rent on a property leased from Shofer's Furniture Co. in Federal Hill. Gaines McHale ended up closing its store in September 2008, then reopening a few weeks later for a fire sale. Despite all this, son Scott McHale started GM Atelier—a furniture design company that operates out of a warehouse in Remington—after his family shuttered the store. "It's a totally different animal," he says.
Recessionistas key in on accessories. While stores figured out creative ways to brave the recession, for the shoppers, it all was about becoming a smart consumer. And that meant less luxury and more reality. That's how it became the year of the accessory. Cocktail rings, belts, scarves, sunglasses, bracelets, headbands, and bib necklaces were flying off shelves. Instead of buying an entire new outfit, shoppers found that a few artfully chosen accessories can make an old outfit feel new(ish). Boutiques stocked up on accessories, piling them next to the register like candy. Luckily, statement pieces are all the rage for spring, too.
Home stores design a new path. When the economy gives you lemons—open a design studio. Three popular home stores—Su Casa, The House Downtown, and Nouveau Contemporary Goods—all added interior design to their repertoire this year. Whitehead & Appel Interior Design caters to the animal print and Andy Warhol loving crowd (including BSO conductor Marin Alsop). Its website has a great little feature called "Design on the road with Steve [Appel]," which includes shots of home deliveries and coins cute terms like "Towsontastic." The House Downtown has a great staff and new work space in their Belvedere Square store and caters to a comfy but upscale crowd. Su Casa—ever young and modern—recently added an interior design specialist who has been working on maximizing small spaces—yes, for those downsizing.
Baltimore Fashion Week takes off. Baltimore Fashion Week exploded this year. Created to highlight one-of-a-kind fashions from Baltimore and beyond, designers and models positively rocked the U-shaped runway. The 30 designers who showcased in 2008 ballooned to 42 this year (with a projected 60 expected next year). Led by the über fabulous New York Fashion Week veteran Sharan Nixon, the runway shows, workshops, and other events attracted thousands of audience members to the War Memorial Building and Plaza. Each day featured a different style like punk/Gothic, avant-garde, couture, and eco-friendly, with designers from as far away as Africa and France showcasing their wares. Hey, it might not be Bryant Park—but it's ours.
By Jess Blumberg
Orioles pull off biggest comeback in franchise history—celebration lasts precisely one day. Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. On June 30, the Orioles managed to pull off their biggest comeback in franchise history against the Boston Red Sox. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Orioles trailed 10-1 and many fans left Camden Yards dejectedly. During the next two innings, RBIs from Luke Scott, Oscar Salazar, Felix Pie, Ty Wigginton, Brian Roberts, and Nick Markakis catapulted the Orioles to an 11-10 win. Orioles fans were deliriously elated, as Red Sox fans just looked on stunned. But Beantown fans got their revenge the very next night. The Orioles maintained a 5-1 lead until the top of the ninth inning when pitchers Jim Johnson and George Sherrill gave up four runs, sending the game into extra innings. Julio Lugo hit an RBI single in the 11th to secure Boston's win. The lesson here? As Orioles fans, we can only gloat for so long.
After tumultuous season, an emotional Melvin Mora says goodbye. This season wasn't easy for any Oriole (or Oriole fan, for that matter). But it was especially hard for third-baseman and 10-year O's veteran Melvin Mora. In August, Mora was benched for the third time in four games. The reason given by manager Dave Trembley? Mora was "struggling." The disgruntled 37-year-old player lashed out at Trembley, telling the press, "I don't appreciate the disrespect . . . I don't deserve it." Many speculated that Trembley would bench Mora for the rest of the season—he didn't. But it was clear that Mora's days with the team were numbered. So in the final home game of the season, on October 4, fans paid tribute to the longest tenured Oriole—and the only active player to show up for longtime bullpen coach Elrod Hendrick's funeral. Fans remember stuff like that. When he was removed for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the sixth, Mora stepped into the dugout to a standing ovation at Camden Yards. "La Vida Es Un Carnaval" by Celia Cruz blared over the stadium speakers while Mora, teammate Cesar Izturis, and fans got choked up. Though Mora will be a free agent in 2010, the emotional moment established that he will always have a special place in the hearts of Orioles fans.
NBA star Shaquille O'Neal races hometown Olympian Michael Phelps in Loyola University's pool. It was Aquaman vs. Superman. On August 23, ABC crews taped four-time NBA champion Shaquille O'Neal racing against Michael Phelps for O'Neal's show Shaq Vs. The basketball star came to Loyola University Maryland's Mangione Aquatic Center and swam against Phelps in three races. O'Neal was wearing a black full body swimsuit and Phelps (limping from his recent car accident) was in his signature Speedo. The three races—in front of 600 roaring fans—were all handicapped to give O'Neal an advantage. In the first race, Shaq edged Phelps, who had to swim 50 meters as opposed to O'Neal's 25. The most exciting was the next event, the 200-meter medley relay. Shaq swam with Olympic champions Rebecca Soni and Dana Vollmer and world-record holder Ariana Kukors. Phelps swam the medley by himself, and managed to come out on top. The best-of-three came down to the last race, where Phelps swam a 75-meter freestyle, beating O'Neal's 50-meter time. The show aired on ABC September 15, and proved to the country that, even when racing a 7'1" athlete, Phelps still reigns supreme.
Baltimore Ravens upset the Tennessee Titans, advancing to the AFC Championship. Though it seems like a century ago, the January 10 game that pitted the sixth-seeded Baltimore Ravens against the top-seeded Tennessee Titans was one of the best sports moments of 2009. The odds were against us going into the game. The Ravens (12-5) with rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco, were up against the Titans (13-3) and their veteran QB, Kerry Collins. But big offensive plays, three defensive turnovers, and a fairy-tale like Stover field goal led the team to a victory. Flacco had no trouble connecting to Derrick Mason for a 48-yard touchdown pass, and then again to Todd Heap for a 23-yarder that set up Matt Stover's kick with only 53 seconds left. Stover's 43-yard kick went through the uprights, putting Baltimore on top 13-10. With that game, the Ravens became just the second sixth seed in NFL playoff history to upset a top seed. Ironically, Stover was released by the team in the offseason and is now kicking for the dreaded Indianapolis Colts.
Baltimore demonstrates its love for that other football. Part of a six-city round robin tournament known as the World Football Challenge, England's Chelsea played a "friendly" against Italy's A.C. Milan at M&T Bank Stadium on July 24. When news first broke that the international soccer game was coming to Baltimore, some residents questioned its popularity. But the skeptics were silent on game day, when a sellout crowd of 71,203 packed into the stadium, and the city became abuzz with European-like fervor for the soccer teams. From bars to tailgates to street corners, Baltimore was filled with soccer fans donning blue or red and black jerseys. Inside the stadium, the energy was electric, especially when Brazilian star Ronaldinho was introduced. In the end, Chelsea topped A.C. Milan 2-1, and Baltimore was left hungry for more. In fact, the City plans to play host again in 2010, and could even be selected to be part of the U.S. bid for the World Cup. Soccer—who knew?