Nostalgia kicks off on 33rd Street

July 28, 1996|By John Eisenberg

We gave the place a teary, beery funeral five years ago.

"Wave It Bye-Bye" read the headline in The Sun after the Orioles played their last game at Memorial Stadium in 1991.

But like a doddering aunt who takes her medicine, the old place refuses to go away.

Memorial Stadium has made more comebacks than Magic Johnson.

First, the Baysox brought baseball back for a year.

Then Jim Speros brought pro football back, a return that was warmly welcomed even if the big rival was Winnipeg and a stack of bills went unpaid.

Now, out of nowhere, comes the big kahuna, the return of NFL football.

Two more years of Sunday afternoons on 33rd Street; one last, unexpected jolt of the electricity that charged this town for so long.

"I never thought I would see it," said Til Strudwick, one of the 7,788 fans who watched the Ravens go through their first practice at Memorial Stadium yesterday on a sunny, windy afternoon.

How important it is that the new team in town will start out playing at the old stadium.

"To get two more years of football here is just the best feeling," said Strudwick, 45, who grew up in the upper deck and now works in landscaping at Loyola College.

Sure, everyone in town still would have been delighted if the Ravens had moved straight into a fancy new stadium next to Camden Yards, instead of having to wait two years.

A team is a team is a team.

But this way is better.

This is the right way to usher the NFL back to town.

This is the way that provides an emotional payback for going 12 years without a team.

Fans are going to revel in the little joys. Picking up the newspaper and seeing "Baltimore" in the standings. Going to work on Monday and talking about Sunday's game. Those touchstones of the fan's life will bring more pleasure than any success on the field, simply because we went without them for so long.

And out of all those little joys, going to games at Memorial Stadium will resonate by far the loudest.

L That was what Robert Irsay stole in the middle of the night.

That was what the fans missed for 12 years.

The memory of going to games at Memorial Stadium was the reason it hurt so much not to have a team.

Two years of games at the old place will provide an intrinsic pleasure giving the fans a slice of what they missed.

Put simply, people are going to dig it.

"It would have been fine if they had moved into the new stadium right off the bat," Strudwick said, "but this place is where my memories are. This is going to give us the right kind of closure here. A much happier closure."

Not that anyone should expect Ravens games to measure up to the standard for passion and sheer civic brotherhood set at the old Colts games.

Sorry, those days are over.

Let's face it, the fans don't even know the players yet. It's Cleveland's team. And many of the average fans who set that memorable standard have been priced right out of the stadium.

The fact that the Ravens are going to try to prohibit tailgating before games tells you all you need to know.

Good luck with that one, guys.

But, hey, don't let the details cloud the big picture.

"I want to see Baltimore against San Francisco on the schedule instead of Baltimore against Saskatchewan," Strudwick said. "And I really want to see a Baltimore team playing at Memorial Stadium. Mainly because I never thought I would see it again."

The old place was looking pretty good yesterday. There is a new field, brilliantly green. There is a tall bank of aluminum bleachers filling the old open end of the horseshoe, giving the stadium a more intimate feeling. The sound system rocks.

The Ravens players bused in from their training camp in Westminster yesterday, signed autographs for a while and then limbered up and went through a workout.

L The loudest cheer was for a nice catch by a rookie receiver.

The place was still poorly configured for football, with plenty of lousy seats. That hadn't changed.

It was still outdated, the antithesis of the modern, streamlined, revenue-generating stadiums sprouting everywhere, including here.

But it was still standing, and still in use almost five years after the headlines told us to wave it bye-bye.

"I wept that day like everyone else," Strudwick said. "It was like an era of Baltimore's history was closing. The new era is here now, and it's great and all. But I'm glad that we're going to get a little more of that old era before we move on for good. I think we deserve it."

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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