O's ouster opens door for Ravens to grab attention

On The NFL

October 19, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The NFL season begins today in Baltimore.

OK, it actually began Labor Day weekend, but that was when area fans were caught up in what was supposed to be the Orioles' drive to the World Series.

Now that the Orioles didn't make it, the Ravens have the spotlight to themselves for the first time this year as they play host to the Miami Dolphins.

If the Orioles had made the World Series, this game would have been a sideshow, even though it's sold out.

Bob Leffler, the last marketing director of the Colts, who now represents four NFL teams, including the Ravens, knows what it's like to compete against the Orioles when they're in the World Series.

"We were playing the Bills for first place in 1983, trying to go 5-2, and we drew 39,000 because the Orioles were clinching the World Series in Philadelphia that day," he said.

The Orioles' loss is the Ravens' opportunity.

"They've got a tremendous advantage because the town wants to feel good," Leffler added.

"[The fans are] in a funk now and the town wants [the Ravens] to win. It's a tremendous opportunity and it's also pressure and a burden. If they make the playoffs, the town will go nuts because of the frustration of baseball."

Baltimore fans have gotten a bad rap recently because they let Steelers fans virtually take over Memorial Stadium two weeks ago, and the Indians' fans showed a lot more passion than the Baltimore fans did in the playoffs.

But Leffler said it's a lot more complicated than the fact that Camden Yards has a lot of Washington lawyers talking on their cell phones. He feels it was a matter of expectations.

"They expected them to go to the World Series, so they weren't going to get excited until they got there. And Cleveland was playing the team that knocked them out last year and the town that stole their football team.

"Can you imagine if Indianapolis had a baseball team and the Orioles had played them in 1985-1986? You get that civic stuff going. It's like two high schools.

"We never had a crack at Indy. Can you imagine the first time they come to the new stadium to play the Ravens? It's going to be a civic outpouring," he said.

Leffler said it's unrealistic to expect Baltimore fans to be the way they were in the Colts' heyday, when Memorial Stadium was dubbed the "world's largest outdoor insane asylum."

He said: "They hadn't had a major-league [football] team in 50 years and all of a sudden they were playing the New York Giants in Yankee Stadium for the world's championship."

He said Baltimore is now a much more sophisticated town than it was.

"In 1974, they passed the Hyman Pressman law that you couldn't build a stadium anywhere but at Memorial Stadium. And now they've put something like $750 million into Camden Yards. I rest my case.

"The market's bought a lot of PSLs, a lot of suites, a lot of clubs and they do a lot of other things, like buying boats and golf club memberships," he said.

But to turn on the town's fans, the Ravens need to win and there's no better time than now. The Dolphins come into town with a mystique because of Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson, but they've got the worst running game in the league and are favored by only 1 1/2 points.

To top that off, the Ravens next Sunday will play the team Baltimore fans love to hate -- the Redskins.

Of course, the Ravens have their own problems. They couldn't hold a 21-0 lead two weeks ago and have yet to beat a quarterback of Marino's stature.

The Orioles' demise, though, has given them an opportunity to capture the town's interest. It's up to them to take advantage.

Rumors and whispers

Now that the Giants appear to be on an upward swing, there are rumors that general manager George Young will retire at 67 and return to his beloved Baltimore.

If the team makes the playoffs, he could leave on top after rebuilding the franchise.

There was even an NBC report last week that he would retire and have some type of role in the NFL front office.

Young won't deny he'll retire, saying only, "I don't respond to rumors and whispers."

The best guess is that he's considering the move, but hasn't made up his mind.

It wouldn't be surprising, though, if he decides to continue. It's easy to think about retiring in October. It's a lot tougher to do it in January.

He loves being in the arena and he appears to be in good health after losing a lot of weight in recent years.

If he does depart, his deputy, Ernie Accorsi, the former Colts general manager, is likely to take his place.

El Nino is coming

Since the NFL doesn't seem enthusiastic about the idea of playing a Super Bowl outdoors in Baltimore, it's ironic that El Nino could rain on its parade in San Diego this January.

"If I hear that one more time, I'm going to throw up," Jim Steeg, the director of special events for the NFL, said of the possibility of a downpour at the Super Bowl.

San Diego gets an average of 1.80 inches of rain in January, but it could double this year because of El Nino.

The NFL seems to have forgotten it has played a lot of great games in rain and bad weather.

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