Eleven months ago, I declared Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson as one of the few earthly beings with duende.
Defined by the playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca, duende means star power, charisma, a kind of ghostly spirit that gets into the blood of artists — dancers, singers, writers of verse — and takes over. It gives the audience chills. It’s thrilling and sometimes even a little scary. Garcia Lorca wrote that duende is “the mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher has explained.”
George Frazier, the late Boston Globe columnist and jazz writer, had a big hand in Americanizing duende in the 1960s and 1970s, judiciously noting its presence in certain artists of stage, screen and stadium. It’s not merely talent or panache or charisma. It’s all that times 10. Frazier described it as “heightened panache or overpowering presence … that certain something.” He said he saw duende in Joe DiMaggio, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Ingrid Bergman and Gene Kelly. Frazier defined duende as “what Ted Williams had even when striking out, but Stan Musial lacked when hitting a home run.”
It’s what we saw in Muhammad Ali. It’s what I saw stirring in Lamar Jackson two football seasons ago and what was confirmed last October when the Ravens beat the Indianapolis Colts in overtime. The Ravens trailed 25-9 in the fourth quarter. They came back because Jackson threw two touchdown passes to tight end Mark Andrews, followed each time by a two-point conversion completion from Jackson to Andrews.
I’ve also decided — call it philosophical speculation — that duende can be a presence “in the moment” at an event, working off the energy of several individuals. Garcia Lorca saw it in flamenco dancers and bullfighters, but the setting and audience had something to do with it. This excerpt from Garcia Lorca could apply to Lamar Jackson and what he’s come to mean to Ravens fans: “The duende’s arrival … brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm.”
Alas, all of this can apply to those who oppose Jackson and the Ravens, and I would have to say, based on my review of the evidence, that the Miami Dolphins had the duende with them on Sunday in Baltimore, defeating the Ravens in the fourth quarter after being down 21 points, a stunning victory for the Dolphins that overshadowed another stunning performance by Lamar Jackson.
Does this mean that the spirits that power duende pick sides in NFL games? I don’t know. That’s beyond my duende range. But this is certain: Lamar Jackson has it and it appeared again in him on Sunday; it also appeared among the Dolphins. The TV commentators and sportswriters will try to explain the Dolphins victory with conventional analysis — bad coaching, lazy Ravens defense — but I’ll go with duende.