I knew it before Thursday night, but nothing punches in a universal sports truth like Peyton Manning's laser-rocket arm.
It was on full, gratuitous display on national television that evening, and I sat sprawled on my couch with empty-headed wonder. I didn't know a secondary could be beaten so badly. I didn't want to watch it unfold, but I couldn't look away.
That's when it really hit me: That championship has to keep you warm for a long, long time.
OK, backing up: I grew up 20 minutes outside of Baltimore, and came into sports just as the Ravens were gaining legitimacy. Watching Tony Siragusa and Ray Lewis on the legendary 2000 defense is one of the earliest connections I have to sports, outside of being one of the world's worst Little League right fielders.
When the Ravens pummelled the Giants in the Super Bowl, I failed to comprehend that these things only happen once in a while.
Kissing the Lombardi? Streams of purple confetti? Going to Disneyland? That stuff doesn't happen every year.
I was young and naive then, but I grew to appreciate how difficult winning a championship is. Especially when you have Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham, Jeff Blake, Chris Redman, Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright throwing the football.
Or when you have a starting runningback, a fantastic young talent, go to prison. Or when your starting receiver is Travis Taylor.
I know the Ravens fans have not had it as hard as many fan bases in the NFL: The Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins come to mind. I recognize that, and give those folks a ton of credit.
Even when the Ravens had successful years, it was always so frustrating to watch them come so far and stumble with only a few steps to go. Steve McNair's first year was the poster child for this kind of painful disappointment: The team went 13-3, only to fall to the Manning-led (there he is again) Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs.
There's also the early Joe Flacco years, when they lost in Pittsburgh, and of course, memorably, New England. I took pain from those defeats, but also recognize there are fans who don't have those kinds of seasons to even hold onto the ones in which one more catch or one more field goal could've pushed them over.
Which has brought me to where I am now: Bundling up for potentially a long winter.
Because championships don't happen every year. Because bad seasons happen. This time around, I'm ready. Baltimore is coming off a Super Bowl, and I have to ration, to pace my expectations. I can't worry about if the team sold out, if they lost their best players, if they gave up the future for one, big shot.
The gamble paid off. They did it. I'm going to celebrate that every year until the next one.
Because it could be a long time before it happens again. Peyton Manning will do his worst, and I'm going to have to smile and live with it. Frustrations can't get in my way.
Those Dolphins fans know what I'm talking about.