If Ravens lose to Saints, it'll be a license to ignore

September 29, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

If the Ravens fall today, the mayors of Baltimore and Cleveland should alter the traditional bet they'll make before the American League playoffs.

Forget crab cakes vs. pierogis.

Loser gets the Ravens.

Cleveland mayor Michael White would never go for it -- he'll be dancing in the streets if the Ravens lose today at home to 0-4 New Orleans.

Besides, White already has secured an expansion or existing team for Cleveland, along with the Browns' name, colors and history.

If the Ravens fall today, it will be fair to ask, who got the better deal?

If the Ravens fall today, they could become almost invisible in the Baltimore sports universe.

The Orioles' eclipse might be only temporary.

But no one expected it could occur this quickly, four games into the Ravens' inaugural season.

Once, this was a football town; now, it is a baseball town. Baltimore can support both sports. But the Ravens face unique obstacles in trying to gain acceptance, and the Orioles are making their task that much more difficult.

"One team draws strength from the success of the other team, a great synergy spills over," Ravens owner Art Modell contends.

Still, the competition for the sports dollar is fierce, even in a football-starved town like Baltimore.

Indeed, the Ravens' arrival might be one reason Orioles owner Peter Angelos refused to allow general manager Pat Gillick to break up the team in July.

Angelos would have been yielding the market in September and possibly October. As it turned out, everyone is talking about his team, and not Modell's.

"Was that part of our thinking consciously? I don't think so," Angelos said. "I don't feel the presence of a football team represents a threat to the continued well-being, financially or otherwise, of the Orioles.

"Our challenge is to have a competitive team, one capable of winning every season, recognizing that we won't. I think that will maintain our fans' interest. We want our fans also to be interested in the football team."

Angelos, remember, fought as hard as anyone to bring the NFL back to Baltimore, urging the state legislature to preserve the stadium funding, and later negotiating to buy several teams.

But now, he's in competition with Modell.

He probably would maintain his same commitment to the fans even without an NFL franchise in Baltimore. But the teams figure to push each other to higher standards.

Or is that shove?

The Orioles are on the verge of their first postseason appearance since 1983. The Ravens will face an uphill battle to make the

playoffs if they drop to 1-3.

Indeed, they could fall to 1-6, with their next three games against improving New England at home, and Indianapolis and Denver on the road.

By then, the Orioles could be in the World Series.

Then again, this easily could go the other way. A victory today, and the Ravens would improve to 2-2, with a chance to go 3-2 at home next week.

By then, they could have the Baltimore stage all to themselves, if the Indians eliminate the Orioles in three or four games.

And after that, with Bam Morris and possibly Eric Green making their debuts in a nationally televised game against the Colts, who knows?

Intriguing possibilities, but first things first: The city could grow exasperated with Modell and Co. if the Ravens fall today.

They can't lose at home to a team that is last in the NFL in turnover margin, last in rushing offense and next-to-last in rushing defense.

They can't lose at home when they're about to start selling permanent-seat licenses for the new Camden Yards stadium opening in 1998.

The truth is, they've already got an image problem.

Angelos is a hero for keeping the Orioles in Baltimore, for opposing replacement players during the strike, for vetoing trades that might have removed this year's team from contention.

Modell is a pariah for taking his team out of Cleveland, and could become an object of local scorn if he brings bad football on top of PSLs to Baltimore.

The Orioles have big-name stars setting home-run records.

The Ravens have no-name players failing to make big plays.

Such is the cyclical nature of sports. At some point, the pendulum will swing, and the Ravens will be the primary focus, not the Orioles.

"They're in the spotlight right now, and rightfully so -- they should be," Modell said. "I don't give it a second thought. We've got to do our thing.

"If we win, it will take care of itself. If we don't, no matter what the Orioles do, it won't make a difference."

Modell is right -- winning is the bottom line, even in a city that waited 13 years to return to the NFL, and a state that gave him the deal of a lifetime.

His critics in Cleveland said he bristled when the Indians rose to prominence, displacing the Browns as the No. 1 team in town.

Modell, however, said he was upset only that the Indians moved into the new Jacobs Field, while he was stuck in outdated Cleveland Stadium.

"What bothered me was that the physical plant was inadequate compared with the [NBA] Cavaliers and Indians, forget the other 29 teams in the NFL," he said.

Now he's in a new city, and in two years his team will be in a new stadium. Beyond that facility, however, nothing is guaranteed.

Modell could run from Cleveland, but he couldn't run from competition. His team needs to win over a city, not lose to an 0-4 opponent.

The honeymoon figured to last at least one season.

But all bets are off, if the Ravens fall today.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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