No matter Ravens' final record, they haven't lost as much as fans

December 22, 1996|By JOHN STEADMAN

Check the standings.

Baltimore is completing in its first season in the NFL, after a l 2-year wait in purgatory. What can't be denied, after a season of watching, is the game itself has lost something. This is not casting aspersions on the 'Ravens and owner Art Modell. The overall product has declined, the same as crowds, and the good ol' days are buried in the memories of the past.

We once authored a campaign slogan for pro football, calling it the greatest entertainment buy in sports today." Commissioner Bert Bell and then Pete Rozelle thought they were the sweetest words they ever heard. Such an acclamation presently would border on falsehood.

Maybe what the league needs is, dose of humility to replace its arrogance. Fans no longer count for anything, except to have their pockets fleeced. Imagine a league without franchises in Los Angeles, Cleveland and soon Houston, which refuses to be stampeded by owner Bud Adams.

If pressed to name a sportsman of the Year in the NFL it would have to be Jack Kent Cooke, who refuses to make preseason games compulsory for his Washington Redskins ticket holders and will not demand permanent seat licenses for the stadium he's building and paying for with his money. Lambaste Cooke, if you want, but what he's doing earns respect.

It's difficult to comprehend how Cooke can use private funds, $174 million, to create a stadium while Modell, getting a free ride all the way, insists fans pay for the right to buy a ticket -- a PSL. Gov. Parris N. Glendening will be documented in the history of the state as initiating the greatest giveaway since Maryland became colony.

As we put these lines together, we're interrupted by an urgent telephone call. A man in Boston, worthy of high respect and well-endowed financially, wants to know if any NFL franchises are available. He is eager to buy a team. What he needs is sympathy and direction.

Modell brought baggage with him, all kinds of indebtedness, and has held up well under the onslaught of bitterness, even after his Cleveland partner, Al Lerner, withdrew from football appearances in Baltimore because he wanted to avoid being painted, back home, with the same brush of criticism as Modell. But it was Lerner who put the deal in motion.

The Ravens are beneficiaries of the most generous handout in the annals of sport, considering Modell is getting a rent-free $200 million stadium, built to his specifications, plus profits from parking and concession Modell took hard hits from all over because of the way he defected from Cleveland, but has survived in reasonably good shape, fiscally and physically, in Baltimore

As for wins and losses, the season of 1996 can't be any bettethan last year in Cleveland. If the Ravens Win their finale today over a respected Houston Oilers team that refused to let lame-duck status diminish its efforts, the record will again be 5-11 . Now for a capsulized review of Baltimore's return to the NFL.

* Players: No dog in any of them. They've made the maximum effort. Some teams with losing records pack it in early. Bam Morris can knock down a building, but the man he replaced Earnest Byner, still has something to give. Byner knows how to run and gathers tough yards, and his limited play this year, with less contact, should add a season or two to his longevity.

* Coaching: First-rate. Ted Marchibroda and his assistants held a losing squad together.

* Team ability: Minimal by NFL standards, even today in the watered-down competition. Losers, but not disgraceful losers. There is a difference.

* Stadium: The best field any team has played on in Baltimore. The playing surface made up of both natural and artificial substances, approaches perfection.

* Uniforms: Close to a bad joke, but the road colors are slightly better than what they wear at home. If a vote were taken, the Ravens would be named the most poorly dressed team in the NFL.

* Logo: Any sixth-grade child with a crayon could draw something that offered more eye appeal. Those responsible for its creation should endeavor to keep it a secret.

* Officiating: They need desperately to be more assertive. Once they call a penalty, they shouldn't have to explain themselves. When they go into executive session while making a decision, the players should be kept at least 10 yards away. Players should not be allowed to crowd officials.

* Game presentation: Efficient. Unlike Jim Speros, who had an exciting CFL team called the Stallions and once arrived at midfield on horseback, Modell didn't enter the stadium on the wings of a dove-or a raven either. Credit director of operations Bob Eller as one of the organization's most professionally competent employees.

* National anthem: The selection of baritone Mishael Miller, a student at Morgan State, was a wise decision. His voice quality transmits dignity and excitement.

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