Ravens are starting to grow on Baltimore

This Just In...

November 05, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

What's happening to me? I actually felt bad when the Ravens lost that game to the Jets on Sunday. So did the 7-year-old boy on the couch next to me. It was a genuine bummer - the Ravens coming from behind to tie the score with seconds left in the fourth quarter, then losing in overtime on a field goal. Of course, the Ravens' pass defense looked as tough as the cast of "Elmo's Coloring Book" on the Jets' drive after the overtime kickoff. Still, it was a bummer.

Something's happening to those of us - and there are a lot of us - who have been slow to warm to the return of the National Football League to Baltimore. The Ravens are starting to grow on us. I'm hearing this from more and more readers, friends and associates, men and women who have been lukewarm to the whole Ravens thing.

Now we like those receivers - Jackson, Alexander and Lewis. We like the Bam Man. We don't trust Testaverde completely - one play he looks like Joe Montana, the next like Gino Toretta - but we never call him "bum." We like the young, tough linebackers - Lewis, Boulware and Sharper. We like Siragusa - the Italian-American Artie Donovan. He has tremendous potential as a character in this town. He should move to Baltimore, open a giant Italian restaurant and call it Casa di 'gooza.

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the announcement that the Cleveland Browns would move to Baltimore. Has Baltimore embraced the Ravens? Certainly its hard-core football fans have. Thousands of them bought the season tickets right up. They gave the Ravens sellout after sellout last year at Memorial Stadium, even though the team was a stinker. Nasty Nestor and his gang have been loud and fervent from the start, happy to have the NFL back in Baltimore.

Though attendance is down some this year and running below the league average, the Ravens get about 60,000 fans at Memorial Stadium. The team has had trouble selling permanent seat licenses, but Ravens officials expect sales to pick up as 1998 and the opening of the new stadium approach.

Of course, the Ravens aren't exactly Super Bowl-bound. The team won only four games last year; so far this season, it has won four and lost five. In time, the Ravens will have to become dramatically better to keep selling out year after year. And they probably need a breakout year (or decade) - winning records and playoff berths - to challenge the Orioles as Baltimore's main sports squeeze.

It's not an easy gig - becoming an institution that enjoys the genuine affection of an entire community.

How do you measure that?

Not by attendance alone. Not by PSLs. Not by TV ratings.

I'm talking about something you can't easily measure, except by word-of-mouth, or by the number of kids who can tell you the name of a Ravens player, or by the amount of Ravens outerwear you see on grown men and women any given day at, say, a mall. By those measures, the Ravens have a long way to go.

They'll know it when it's truly here - that feeling of genuine embrace, of an entire community (not just its hard-core sports fans) feeling possessive of a new team, win or lose. It will come, but not because the Ravens get a new stadium. It will come with time - and with the perception that the owner is putting his new money into good players, and that the players and coaches are actually trying to win, and at least coming close. (The first Steelers game this year was the most notable exception.) That might account for my feelings Sunday. The Ravens tried. They came close. They lost in OT after a mad dash to tie the score in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. Bummer. I actually felt bad.

My God, what's happening to me?

A Ravenesque Rushmore

The Ravens want a dramatic, visual signature on the new football stadium. They've suggested a 40-foot tall, 4-ton aluminum raven with glowing red eyes, at a cost of $250,000. That's so predictable! And costly.

Come on now. You want to save money and still raise eyebrows? Nipper is sitting, virtually ignored, over at the City Life Museums. Let's use him instead. That's a perfect pitch to RCA to buy rights to the name of the stadium. (The company is corporate sponsor of the dome where the Colts play in Indianapolis, but so what?) Does putting Nipper on the stadium make sense? Would Jim Kelly be able to easily explain it to a national television audience? No, but then Jim doesn't easily explain much anyway.

See, the idea is wacky. And Baltimore should never lose its sense of wacky.

How about getting Pep Boys to buy the stadium name? Can't you just see Manny, Moe and Jack, each 40 feet tall and grinning, perched above the stadium entrance? Add an Art Modell figurine, and you have a virtual Rushmore of great men of commerce.

Dan Rodricks gets e-mail at TJIDANaol.com, voice mail at 410-332-6166 and letters at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 11/05/97

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