Ravens give city fresh NFL restart Inaugural game today to feature nod to past, hope for team's future

September 01, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It was a cold, dark night when the moving vans rumbled out of Owings Mills 12 years ago, and it seemed like the end of the world for a city of faithful football fans. Now, finally, it is a new day.

The Ravens open their inaugural season in Baltimore against the Oakland Raiders this afternoon at sold-out Memorial Stadium, where the ghosts of football seasons past haunt the aging locker rooms and the seeds of a bright NFL future will be scattered on the storied turf of the Baltimore Colts.

Even Ravens-bashing television commentator Bob Trumpy will be there to take part in Baltimore's new NFL send-off. Ain't the hot dogs cold.

No doubt, there will be residual resentment in Cleveland, where jilted Browns fans now know what it felt like to be in Baltimore in 1984. They, at least, will get to keep their colors and their tradition for the pending arrival of a new franchise.

Every effort will be made today to put that unhappiness in the past. The old Colts will get their due in an affectionate pre-game ceremony, and the new-look Ravens will hit the ground running -- or passing, as the case may be -- in the first regular-season NFL game in Baltimore since Dec. 18, 1983. "Clearly, even though we have some players who came over with us from Cleveland, it's a new team, new uniforms, a new venue, and there is an air of excitement in this town that I have not seen in years," Ravens owner Art Modell said.

"This town is up in arms. We're very happy and excited to be here. Now, it's time to reward the fans for their support, and also reward them for their patience waiting 13 years."

That patience will be acknowledged during pre-game festivities honoring the city's football history. Modell said that the Ravens are not going to co-opt the Colts' legacy, but will use today's celebration to build an emotional bridge between the Colts era and the newly arrived NFL franchise.

Many of the particulars of the celebration have not been made public, but Ravens officials -- some of whom were hired away from the Orioles -- undoubtedly are aware of the emotional coup that the baseball team pulled off when it brought back dozens of former players for a tearful farewell to Memorial Stadium in 1991. They obviously would like to tap the same wellspring of nostalgia today and forge that link with the past.

Bill Cervenka of Bowie has hired a limo to carry himself and much of his Ravens Roost chapter to Memorial Stadium. He'll be the guy in the tuxedo leading cheers at Gate E-1 before the game.

"I told people when the Colts left that if we ever got a team again, I'd do the first game up right," Cervenka said.

The Dundalk chapter has chartered a bus to carry 43 fans to the game, directing the proceeds of the package deal (ticket, transportation and refreshments) to a scholarship fund for local high school students. Nearly 100 fans from Hagerstown are busing over from Ravens Roost No. 7.

"I'm really enthused because I was a die-hard Colt fan," said Dundalk chapter president Don Uttenreither, whose regular presence at Colts home games dated to the late 1940s. "Everybody's fired up here. You can feel the electricity."

Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John Moag, who engineered the complex deal that turned the Cleveland Browns into the Ravens, is just as eager to witness the beginning of a new era of football in Baltimore.

"I didn't go to either of the two preseason games, because I wanted my first game to be a real game," Moag said. "I think it's going to feel absolutely awesome. They say that most men have some little boy left in them, and the little boy in me is very excited."

It took 12 seasons without football, from the day that then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer vowed to bring NFL football back to Baltimore, through the ill-fated expansion quest, to the decision of the Modell family to move out of Cleveland.

"I'm feeling two emotions," Moag said. "One is relief. It's real. All the bad stuff is over, and I've already forgotten most of it. Second, I'm proud to be a Baltimorean and a Marylander right now. I think we handled ourselves extremely well. Now it's time for us to celebrate. It's time for us to enjoy ourselves."

Schaefer will be there. He spent much of his eight-year tenure as governor trying to right the wrong that was wrought by Colts owner Robert Irsay, but his efforts to bring an NFL expansion franchise to Baltimore were frustrated by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and -- Schaefer says -- a concerted effort by Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke to keep any other NFL club from moving into Maryland.

"I think it's interesting that the team has gone back to Memorial Stadium, even if it's just temporarily," Schaefer said, "because that was the reason that the team left and Irsay pulled the rug out from under us -- we couldn't put sky boxes in Memorial Stadium.

"I always believed that we would get a team. We fought for 10 years. Herb Belgrad [former stadium authority chairman] kept it alive for 10 years, and I commend John Moag and Governor [Parris N.] Glendening for getting it done. I knew we'd get a team. It just took a very long time."

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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