OpenCalais Metadata: Latitude: 
OpenCalais Metadata: Longitude: 

AFC Championship Features Rematch Between Hated Foes

In game that few people expected them to be a part of, the Baltimore Ravens enter Sunday as nine-point underdogs to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  However, the Ravens and fifth-year Quarterback Joe Flacco weren’t phased by similar circumstance last week, when they went into Denver and pulled out a double overtime victory over the Broncos.  Can they do it again?  Here are a few storylines to follow heading into Sunday’s AFC showdown:

1) Oh, You Again

The Pats and Ravens are very familiar with each other, as Sunday’s game will make it their second straight meeting in the AFC Championship game and third playoff contest in the past four years.  Although New England is virtually unbeatable at home in the playoffs, Baltimore blew them out 33-14 in 2009 and narrowly lost 20-23 after Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds.  Clearly, the Ravens aren’t afraid of heading into Foxborough.

2) Matchup to Watch: Aqib Talib vs. Torrey Smith

Plenty will be made of the chess match between QB Tom Brady and LB Ray Lewis in this game, and rightfully so.  However, a matchup that may be more intriguing will be between Pats’ corner Aqib Talif and Ravens’ wide receiver Torrey Smith.  Smith burnt New England for 126 yards and two touchdowns when the two teams met earlier this season, and hauled in another two last week with veteran corner Champ Bailey covering him.  However, Talib, who New England acquired from Tampa Bay midseason, has brought some swagger to the Patriot defense with his fiery attitude and physical style of play.  Can he contain Smith?  The answer to that may determine this game’s outcome.

3) Can Joe Flacco Win the Big One?

Flacco’s been heavily critiqued over the past several years, as many people in the sports world have begun to wonder whether or not he has what it takes to win a championship, despite the fact that he is the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons.  After last week’s victory in Denver in which Flacco threw three touchdowns and outplayed four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning, people had better start acknowledging his abilities.  However, out-dueling Tom Brady in Foxborough is never easy, even if Flacco has done it before.


Although Baltimore is no pushover and will give the Pats all they can handle, New England just has too many weapons on the offensive side, even with Rob Gronkowski out with a broken forearm.  With Tom Brady playing like well, Tom Brady, and their defense playing its best football of the year, New England will make enough plays to defeat Joe Flacco and the Ravens.

Score: 31-24

BALTIMORE (AP) — Two brothers accused of beating a black teenager while patrolling an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood are set to go on trial Monday in a case with similarities to the Trayvon Martin shooting.

The brothers, who are white and Jewish, have claimed self-defense, saying the teen was holding a nail-studded board. Local civil rights activists hope the Martin case will draw more attention to what they believe was racial profiling by neighborhood watch vigilantes.

Eliyahu and Avi Werdesheim are accused of beating a 15-year-old boy who was walking through a Baltimore neighborhood in November 2010. The brothers pulled up next to the teen in a vehicle, then got out and “surrounded him,” according to charging documents. The passenger threw the teen to the ground and the driver hit him in the head with a hand-held radio and patted him down.

The teen remembered the driver yelling, “You wanna (mess) with us, you don’t belong around here, get outta here!” according to court documents, which do not identify which brother was driving.

While the teen struggled, a third man got out of a van and kneed the teen, pinning him to the ground. The teen told police that he stopped struggling and the third man continued to search him, while the teen insisted he didn’t have anything on him.

Eliyahu Werdesheim told the Baltimore Jewish Times that he was acting in self-defense because the teen was holding the piece of wood. The teen picked up the board during the encounter, but put it back down, said J. Wyndal Gordon, an attorney for the teen’s family. He said the family did not want to speak publically.

After the trio left, the teen called police and was taken to a hospital with a cut on the back of his head and a broken wrist, according to court documents. Using a photo book compiled by investigators, the teen later identified Eliyahu Werdesheim, now 24, as one of the men who assaulted him. He was arrested after about 10 days; his now 21-year-old brother was charged two months later.

The brothers are charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and carrying a deadly weapon (the hand-held radio). The pair face up to 13 years in prison if convicted on all three counts. A third man, identified in a lawsuit brought by the teen’s family as Ronald Rosenbluth, does not face charges.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said investigators don’t believe Rosenbluth was involved in the beating. Rosenbluth said he doesn’t believe there was a third person and he was only called to the scene after the incident.

Law enforcement officials emphasize that neighborhood watchers’ responsibility is to report crime, and leave interventions to police. Most follow the rules, and confrontations are rare.

“We owe a lot of our success to communities that have stepped up and partnered with police. They help us out,” Guglielmi said. “But when they step too far, we have to hold people accountable.”

In the Florida case, authorities charged neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman this month with second-degree murder in Martin’s death Feb. 26. Zimmerman claims self-defense, but Martin’s family claims he targeted Martin mainly because he was black. Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother Hispanic.

It’s unusual to have a trial in which the allegations mirror a case so prominent in the news, said Steven Levin, a former federal prosecutor.

“Since the Trayvon Martin case, people cannot help but think about that case and draw comparisons, whether they are fair or not,” he said.

In the Werdesheim case, the six trial postponements could significantly hinder the defense’s case, Levin said. However, the charges against Zimmerman since the last postponement may mean jurors won’t feel that they need to somehow set things right through the case they are deciding.

Eliyahu Werdesheim was suspended from the neighborhood group while Avi was never a member, according to Nathan Willner, general counsel for Shomrim of Baltimore, a group that patrols neighborhoods with a large concentration of Jewish residents and institutions in the Baltimore area. Shomrim, which is Hebrew for guard, has about 30 volunteer, unarmed responders. It was founded in 2005 to provide security and gather information for police, Willner said.

While the case has not garnered the attention the Martin shooting has, Cortly C.D. Witherspoon, president of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has organized protests outside the courthouse during court hearings and has been frustrated by the postponements.

“We feel that justice should have been served long ago. I would contend that the urgency for justice (in this case) is affected by the Trayvon Martin case because of the similarities,” he said.

Members of the area’s Jewish community also rallied outside the courthouse when the brothers appeared in court to enter not guilty pleas in February. Jakob Lurman, the owner of a barbershop, was among them.

“I have a business in the community. Shomrim do good work,” Lurman said. “I don’t know what happened in that case, but I wanted to show support.”

Jewish neighborhood watch groups in New York City have faced accusations of unnecessary force against blacks, creating tensions between the Jewish and black communities. That hasn’t yet happened in Baltimore, according to the Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. The organization of predominantly black clergy met with leaders of the area’s Jewish community to keep relationships between the two communities strong.

“We were already working with them when this came up,” Gwynn said. “It hasn’t done much damage yet.”

Baltimore is a city that’s 64 percent black, and the jury will likely have eight or nine black members. So race will be a factor, said University of Baltimore School of Law professor and practicing attorney Byron Warnken.

“What the defense has to do is completely downplay that,” he said, and show the force was necessary to prevent a crime.

Susan Green, an attorney for Avi Werdesheim, said last month that she hoped the media coverage would not create an atmosphere that would make it difficult for her client, but declined to comment further. The attorney for Eliyahu Werdesheim did not return calls for comment.

Turnblad, played by Brooke Shapiro, sings the dance number, “Nicest Kids in Town,” in ZACH Theatre’s production of “Hairspray.”(Courtesy of Kirk Tuck)

The stage lights center on a short, plump girl with big hair waking up in her bed. As her bedroom transforms into the sidewalks of Baltimore, she sings about greeting the city in her sassy soprano voice. Her larger-than-life personality resonates throughout the small theater. ?

Saturday marked the opening night of “Hairspray” at ZACH Theatre. Directed by Dave Steakley, the energetic musical centers around the themes of love, racial equality and self-acceptance told through the plight of aspiring TV dancer personality Tracy Turnblad.

?The play is set in 1960s Baltimore, where big girl Tracy Turnblad (Brooke Shapiro) lives with her mother Edna, performed in drag by Brian Coughlin; and her father Wilbur (Scotty Roberts). The story picks up when Tracy, with the support of her best friend Penny Pingleton (Christine Tucker), decides to cut class and go to the set of the Corny Collins’ TV show and audition for the open dancer position on the show. ?

After being laughed off set by the show’s closed-minded producer, Velma Von Tussle (Jill Blackwood) and her daughter, the show’s star Amber (Sara Burke), Tracy slinks back to her regular life feeling discouraged. She receives some encouragement in detention from a new friend, Seaweed J. Stubbs (Joshua Denning). ?

The musical takes on the racial tension of the 1960s in a simplified way. While Tracy is finally receiving the teen-idolized fame she always dreamed of, it doesn’t seem quite as important if she can’t dance alongside her African American friends on the show. She represents the new ideas of a younger generation untouched by the prejudices of the past. Although this is a lighthearted celebration of an important breakthrough in the American Civil Rights movement, it’s clear there is still a ways to go.?

For those who have seen the movie, the live performance at ZACH Theatre is a completely different experience. There is a slightly more mature edge, with a bevy of comically risque side comments. It’s nothing crude or obvious enough to detract from its family friendliness, but definitely something to take into account. The removal of all cinematic elements makes the musical feel more personal and lends itself to the small audience interactions impossible on the big screen.

?The set is largely scaled down from that of the touring Broadway show. Because the theater has a limited amount of stage space, the use of props is minimal, with only the necessary elements on stage. For instance, in the opening scene, “Good Morning Baltimore,” instead of completely transforming into the busy, dirty ’60s streets of Baltimore, the chorus of city dwellers popped out from behind Tracy’s bed.

However, what the show lacked in set design was made up by the show’s extravagant costumes. From tall, beehive wigs to full-on gloves and bedazzled dresses of the Motown generation, the frequent costume changes spurred the performance.

The musical itself is definitely a feel-good experience in which the underdogs always win. The heavyset girl gets the popular guy, everyone is rooting for the biracial couple and the behemoth of a man dressed in drag wins the hearts of audience members with a tender love song to her husband. Edna stole the show with her boisterous personality and comedic outbursts, such as when she gets into a catty argument with Velma Von Tussle in the record shop.

?While all the musical numbers were dynamic and energetic, there were a few standouts. The pop song “Welcome to the 60s,” sung by The Dynamites (Angelica Fay Davis, Kia Dawn Fulton and Tiffany Mann) packed powerful vocal punches from the sassy three-woman chorus as they moved through the musical number. They harmonized well together, but the song stood out because all three had strong solos. ?

In the second act, Motormouth Maybelle’s (Janis Stinson) “I Know Where I’ve Been,” is an empowering and soulful number about not giving up on the long road to equality. The rest of the musical is so fun and bright that this deep, meaningful vocal powerhouse catches you off guard and stirs up feelings of emotional inspiration. ?

“Without Love,” perhaps one of the musical’s most iconic songs, did not disappoint. Tracy, Link, Penny and Seaweed lead the ensemble in a song about how everything seems meaningless without the people they care about. Penny finally showcases her singing and provides a little more depth to her character expressing her love for Seaweed. The musical number had the best ensemble vocals by far, and they all moved in a choreographed dance.

Although supposedly the superstar of the musical, Shapiro’s portrayal of Tracy was somewhat overshadowed by the vocal strength and larger-than-life personalities of other cast members, namely Stinson’s Motormouth and Coughlin’s Edna. There is a genuine quality to Shapiro’s performance, but it did not entirely punch through the thicket of Stinson’s and Coughlin’s characters.

Experiencing Steakley’s rendition of “Hairspray” is a definite departure from that of the movie or the traveling Broadway show. With the absence of an expansive stage and over-the-top sets, the viewer is left with much more focus on the actual performance of each character. For the most part, the vocals live up to the challenge, but it’s definitely not the huge production viewers might expect.