Colts glory a gleam in Ravens' eyes

December 15, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

It was the sound of the future. It was a roar from the past.

"Dee-fense! Dee-fense!" the fans at Memorial Stadium chanted in the final minute of the Ravens' 21-19 victory over the Tennessee Oilers.

"C-O-L-T-S!" they spelled out during breaks.

Maybe next season they'll spell "R-A-V-E-N-S."

The way the stadium rocked on its final day, the way the Ravens eagerly accepted the torch from the old Colts, all things seemed possible now.

"It was wild," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Everyone was behind us 100 percent. Colts fans, Ravens fans, everyone came together as one."

Another dispiriting loss might have crushed that spirit, but for once, the Ravens could not, would not, be denied.

It was the loudest the stadium has been since the Ravens' opening game last season. It was proof that this can be a great football town again.

"I told the ballclub yesterday, we had to do something before the home fans," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "It would only be by our performance that we could get the 12th man behind us. I think we did today.

"Hopefully, it will carry on to the new stadium, and give us eight games where we could have an edge. The electricity and excitement was here today."

It was there because of the occasion. There because of the presence of the old Colts. And there because the Ravens won the kind of game they've usually lost in their brief, torturous existence.

The final moments were so tense, few even noticed the plane circling the stadium with the trailer, "Unitas We Stand -- Go Ravens."

The reference was perfect -- another plane carried the same message 25 years ago after Colts general manager Joe Thomas announced Unitas would not return for another season.

"I saw it," Unitas said, nodding and grinning.

They cheered Johnny U. one last time yesterday. They chanted "Art-ie! Art-ie!" for Art Donovan. They bellowed "Lou-u-u!" for Lou Michaels.

The final play was -- what else? -- a touchdown by Lenny Moore. The Ravens stuck around to watch the ceremony, several raising their helmets in salute. Afterward, two generations of Baltimore football bonded.

"I'm glad you guys could come out. It's nice to have you here," Ravens center Quentin Neujahr told one former Colt as he left the field.

"Jackie Wallace," the man in the Colts' jersey replied, extending his hand.

Rick Volk met Antonio Langham. Lydell Mitchell greeted Kim Herring. Lewis did a TV interview with his arm draped around Bruce Laird.

Maybe now the Ravens will finally get it. Maybe they'll understand the tradition. And maybe they'll create some of their own.

Memorial Stadium burst with humanity one last time yesterday, and for 3 1/2 memorable hours, shook like the world's largest outdoor insane asylum again.

Unitas didn't think it was quite as loud as the old days, but he added with a smile, "The people had a good time -- that's what counts."

"They got behind us when the going got tough," Ravens cornerback Langham said. "Now we really see it -- when we go out and win, they're going to support us, cheer for us.

"This could be, I feel, a starting point of great things to come, not only for our football team, but the city of Baltimore and the fans."

After 12 seasons without NFL football, after two frustrating seasons with Team Modell, perhaps the time is finally at hand.

The Ravens, of course, didn't always sell out Memorial Stadium. When they did, it was often with the help of local corporations and rival fans.

They've still got an image problem -- offensive lineman Wally Williams said the team won't escape the Colts' shadow "as long as Johnny Unitas and those guys are around."

Still, the new stadium offers a new beginning. All the Ravens need to do is start winning. They can own this town, if they ever get their act together.

"That's one of the things I tell the young guys -- if you win football games around here, they'll probably give you a key to the city," veteran special teams demon Bennie Thompson said.

The fans marked the occasion yesterday by wearing their faded blue jerseys, dusting off their Colts memorabilia, snapping pictures of the old stadium.

It was a day to reminisce, a day to bid farewell. But it was understood by all that a special chapter in Baltimore sports history was ending.

"The Ravens are going to be here a long time," Marchibroda said. "The Colts certainly had a tremendous run, a lot of support, a lot of glory. Now I think it's the Ravens."

Marchibroda should know -- he's the link between the two franchises. He embraced Mitchell on the sideline during the first quarter. Outside the locker room afterward, he greeted Volk, Mike Curtis and Marty Domres.

The day was full of such touching scenes, full of nostalgia, full of inspiration.

As the clock wound down on an era, the old Colts gathered in the closed end of the stadium. The fans in the near corner chanted Donovan's name, trying to get his attention. But the outcome was still in jeopardy.

On the other side of the horseshoe, fans pleaded with the Ravens to stop the Oilers' final, desperate drive. Their chant, too, could be heard over the din. "Let's Go Ravens!" they cried. "Let's Go Ravens!"

It was the sound of the future, a roar from the past.

Pub Date: 12/15/97

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