Exhibition of joyful fans Ravens: New team is enthusiastically embraced by Baltimore in its first preseason game.

63,804 Welcome The Ravens

August 04, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The lovefest started the moment Art Modell made his first formal appearance at Memorial Stadium as owner of Baltimore's new NFL team.

His long journey complete, Modell heard the passionate voice of his followers when he stepped onto the playing field before last night's preseason debut for the Ravens.

As ovations go, this one touched his heart.

"I turned to [wife] Pat Modell and said, 'I don't believe what I'm hearing,' " he said. "Why me? I was very overwhelmed. They were saying, 'Thank you for bringing the team here.'

"In Cleveland, it was, 'Jump, Art, jump, Art.' "

There were warm feelings all around last night, when the NFL returned to Baltimore and Memorial Stadium after a 13-year absence. A preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles -- which the Ravens won, 17-9 -- marked the culmination of Modell's controversial move from Cleveland, where he owned the Browns for the past 36 years.

"I look at this as more than a preseason game," he said at halftime. "This is a renewal for Art Modell, a new adventure, a new era in my life."

Renewals were the theme of the night, as a record Memorial Stadium crowd of 63,804 rocked to the loud music and the plucky efforts of its newest heroes.

Baltimore's fans had not lost a beat, despite the long wait for an NFL team. They greeted the Eagles with a loud chorus of boos at the game's beginning. And there was a quiet anticipation before the first Raven -- running back Leroy Hoard -- appeared from the dugout. Then there was a loud ovation.

Quarterback Vinny Testaverde received the loudest response at player introductions -- a decidedly positive reception, but mingled with a few obvious boos.

When Testaverde launched a picture-perfect, 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jackson in the second quarter, there were only cheers, though. And as Jackson turned the Ravens' first touchdown ball over to a fan -- patting his chest -- there was a new wrinkle for Baltimoreans. It was the sound of a raven's "caw" from the public-address system.

New traditions were being formed.

George Young, general manager of the New York Giants and a native of Baltimore, was on hand to watch them develop.

"When I can, I come back," Young said. "This is another new beginning in Baltimore. I feel comfortable if I can see it. I was here for the start of the Canadian League season [in 1994]. Every time there's a new event here, I show up."

Young was in town for Baltimore's previous NFL beginning in 1953. He was teaching at City College down the street from Memorial Stadium. But if he felt any emotional pangs last night, he kept them hidden.

"I think of all the games the fans didn't have here [during the NFL's absence]," he said. "Now, they have a team, and I think the fans feel like most of us. They're happy to have a team, but under the circumstances, they're not happy for the fans in Cleveland."

Business was brisk at the souvenir stands along the concourse, although booths offered just 16 of the 60 items listed on the board overhead. Among the hottest-selling items at the booth where Bruce Gertz worked were $10 seat cushions, $7 inaugural pins and $16 Ravens caps. He even sold four of six $62 sweaters on hand by 6: 30, an hour before the game started.

What wasn't selling?

"The T-shirts," Gertz said. "Nobody likes the T-shirts. That's what they're telling us."

Wayne Jordan, a 17-year season-ticket holder with the Colts, said he was looking forward to regular-season games at the stadium. That's when the Ravens will become special to him.

"It isn't the night. When we start against Oakland and it gets to be late afternoon in the fall and you see dirt on the uniforms, that's what will bring back memories to me," he said.

Not everyone who showed up at the stadium came to rejoice over the return of the NFL, though.

Rich Hanbor, an English teacher at Randallstown High, grew up in Cleveland and was a Browns fan from as early as he can remember. He moved to Baltimore to teach in fall 1994. Little more than a year later, his favorite team was following him to Maryland. For Hanbor, there was no silver lining in the move.

"I was totally devastated," he said. "There was no good side to it."

Hanbor will suffer silently this season -- from his post as an usher at home games.

"When I wasn't here, I was rooting for Baltimore and St. Louis to get expansion teams," he said. "Little did I know it was my team they got."

Another Cleveland native, Tony Migliaccio, came to the game wearing a white shirt with a Browns helmet on the pocket. He did not bring any kind of allegiance, however.

"I'll come to watch, but if the team's gone tomorrow, I wouldn't be surprised," said Migliaccio. "It's all become a business now."

Even in this new beginning, Modell could not escape the past.

"Of course, I have regrets -- about the people of Cleveland, not the politicians," he said. "The people of Cleveland deserve more than what they've gotten."

He had been warmly embraced on opening night in Baltimore, his team had played well against a playoff-caliber team, and still it was hard to separate the past from the future. Cleveland is due to get a team by 1999, assuming the city meets certain stadium requirements.

"I hope the honeymoon runs 40 years like it did in Cleveland," Modell said. "I love this crowd. [But] I can't help but think of the Dawg Pound in Cleveland. It's up to the politicians to give the new owner there more than they gave me."

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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