'It was just a great day' Ravens kick off regular season with 19-14 victory

64,124 see NFL's return

Link is formed between old Colts and city's new club

September 02, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The first day of the rest of Baltimore's football history couldn't have been more perfect.

The sun shone brightly on sold-out Memorial Stadium, and the transplanted Baltimore Ravens glistened in the first regular-season NFL game here since 1983, coming from behind to score a 19-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders before a raucous crowd of 64,124.

It was the largest number of fans to see a professional football game in Baltimore, and why not? They had waited long enough . . . waited through an NFL ice age and an unsuccessful expansion effort and even a couple of Canadian Football League seasons. Waited patiently when there seemed to be little chance that their patience ever would be rewarded.

That's why the parking lots were filling up nearly three hours before game time yesterday. That's why virtually every seat was filled to see the pre-game ceremony honoring the old Colts. That's why there was a guy dressed up like Edgar Allan Poe -- almost sweating his fake sideburns off -- marching outside the stadium in a black topcoat insisting to anyone who would listen that the Ravens would leave Baltimore "nevermore."

They had only just arrived, of course, but they arrived in style, winning three of their four exhibition games and scoring an exciting regular-season victory made more important by the team's horrible performance in its last season as the Cleveland Browns.

"It probably doesn't get much better than this," said head coach Ted Marchibroda. "It's a shame we have to play 15 more."

The Ravens scored their first touchdown on a 9-yard scramble by quarterback Vinny Testaverde in the first quarter. Oakland rallied to take the lead before the half, but it was all Baltimore after intermission.

"It was just a great day for Baltimore," said Testaverde. "The players felt the enthusiasm and excitement. We didn't want to disappoint anybody in this city."

No one, with the exception of the handful of spectators wearing Browns paraphernalia, could have been disappointed.

The pre-game ceremony was meant to bridge the emotional gap between the old Colts and the new Ravens. A group of 39 former Colts assembled at midfield for introductions, then donned Ravens jackets and lined up with the Baltimore Colts' Band to welcome the Ravens onto the field.

Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas forged the final link when he carried the football onto the field and handed it over to the referee, then trotted to the Ravens sideline and embraced head coach Ted Marchibroda.

The point of it all was obvious. The old Colts were giving their blessing to owner Art Modell's decision to leave the Browns tradition in Cleveland and adopt the Colts' Baltimore legacy.

The Ravens had their timing down long before the first snap. The public address system was playing the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" as Raiders owner Al Davis made his way onto the field with about 45 minutes to kickoff. The fans showered him with jeers, obviously aware that it was Davis who set the precedent for the Colts' departure from Baltimore in 1984.

It was a great day to party inside and outside Memorial Stadium. It also was a perfect day to protest, though the loosely organized attempts to vilify Modell and Ravens-bashing broadcaster Bob Trumpy were all but lost in the excitement of the opener.

Radio personality Nestor Aparicio arranged for the printing and distribution of 20,000 "Dump Trumpy" placards and vowed to print even more if NBC sends Trumpy back to Baltimore to cover another game. Trumpy upset local fans when he placed a curse on the Ravens in a national magazine recently.

Ohio native Rick Redd stood in front of the stadium wearing a vintage Cleveland Browns sweater and hoisting a large sign that read, "Betrayed by Art" on one side and "Art Modell: The Thief Who Stole History" on the other.

He got his share of jeers, but he got just as many expressions of sympathy from old Colts fans, who know better than anyone how he felt when his team left town.

"I'm not trying to ruin anyone's day," Redd said. "I grew up going to Browns games with my dad. I live in Harrisburg [Pa.] now, so I felt that since I could get here, somebody should come and say something."

Just a few yards away, former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer was doing a pre-game radio show. More than 12 years after he vowed to bring the NFL back to Baltimore, he was enjoying the day, even if much credit was going to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John Moag.

Schaefer and former Stadium Authority chief Herbert J. Belgrad engineered the city's unsuccessful expansion effort and were responsible for the original plan to fund a new football stadium at Camden Yards, but it was the Glendening administration that put together the deal that lured Modell.

None of that seemed to matter when the team finally took the field and Unitas symbolically passed the football from the Colts to the Ravens.

"That was a great moment," Marchibroda said. "I told some of the players, 'Where would you rather be today than Baltimore?' "

Pub Date: 9/02/96

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