BALTIMORE - Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz began a conference call with Baltimore writers last week by turning things around and posing the opening question.
"I want to know who the Orioles are going to pick up to play third base," Schwartz asked.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Schwartz still has deep ties to Maryland. He owns a beach house on the Eastern Shore, has family spread throughout the state, and closely monitors the Orioles and Maryland Terrapins. The Lions' rookie coach even has two Ravens season tickets.
Today, Schwartz will put that sentiment aside when Detroit (2-10) faces Baltimore (6-6).
"I've tried not to treat it any different. It's obviously not about me," Schwartz said. "It's obviously about our team, and it makes no difference if I'm from Baltimore or if I was from Cincinnati last week."
The son of a Baltimore County police officer, Schwartz graduated from Georgetown before starting his coaching career as an assistant at Maryland in 1989. He moved to the NFL as an unpaid assistant to Bill Belichick in Cleveland and later was paid as a scout before becoming an assistant coach with the Ravens from 1996-98.
His subsequent success as defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans earned him a shot with the Lions, who have struggled this season, but still have two more wins than last year's 0-16 club.
Schwartz intends to treat the visit to Baltimore as a business trip, his main focus being to end the team's 18-game road losing streak. But that doesn't mean he won't get together to exchange greetings with some old friends, including Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
"Jim was a good guy. Just seeing him will be good. Hopefully not seeing him come in and get a win," Lewis said. "Jim was always a detail-oriented person, a person who was really striving to do some great things. I think he'll definitely get that program turned around."
Schwartz will almost certainly be hit up for tickets this weekend, but anyone asking had better not have any intention of cheering for the Ravens.
"I don't give tickets to anyone who's not rooting for my team," he said. "That started with the Titans. I had some people that came down to Tennessee and professed their love for the Titans and how much they were Eddie George fans ... and then I had some people see them at the game with big Ravens foam fingers and wearing some purple stuff."
Regardless of who ends up with Schwartz's tickets, the majority of the fans will be cheering for a Baltimore team that desperately needs a win after falling to .500 with a 27-14 loss at Green Bay last week.
"We've backed ourselves into a corner and if we don't win, we're done," linebacker Jarret Johnson said.
The Ravens probably have to go 4-0 down the stretch to get into the playoffs. They'd have preferred an easier route, but are prepared to make the best of a familiar situation.
"Around here, it's always been the same thing. We're grinders," Lewis said. "If it's going to come, it's going to come late, as it's always been around here. The bottom line is every year I've been around here, our best football probably comes in the later part of the year."
The first step comes against a Lions team led by quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who takes over for injured Matthew Stafford.
"It will be a smooth transition," Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson said. "Daunte still has it."
The Lions are building with Stafford, their quarterback of the future, but the goal this week is to end that annoying skid on the road.
"Yeah, it's a monkey on our back right now," Johnson said.39.29055 -76.6096 ERROR: Template storyimage.ldo not found in theme default for section Pro!
Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz began a conference call with Baltimore writers last week by turning things around and posing the opening question.