New stadium lays to rest ghosts of past

August 09, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

The Colts owned this city's football hearts and minds for 31 years of wins and losses, 12 more years of silent Sundays and yes, even for the two years the Ravens played at Memorial Stadium.

But not anymore.

Not after last night, when the Ravens finally moved into their own house on the south side of town.

It's their town now, for better or worse.

"We were Cleveland's team," Ravens receiver Michael Jackson said, "and then, when we came here, we invaded the Colts' town. Starting [last night] it's our town."

You can't argue. Not at these prices.

From now on, the Colts' glorious past will recede like a winter tide, hard and fast.

The Ravens' games will no longer serve as sensory flashbacks to all those Sundays with Johnny U.

At last, they'll play only against other teams every week, not against the Colts' mighty memory, too.

Toto, they aren't playing ball at Memorial Stadium anymore.

Yes, the Ravens moved just a few miles away into their shiny, new, enormous, still-nameless digs. But it's a new world.

And it's not the world your father knew.

Not when the average ticket costs more than $40.

Not when the Ravens are led by a quarterback who was traded last winter from the team formerly known as the Baltimore Colts to the team formerly known as the Cleveland Browns.

Not when it's hard to watch the game because your eyes are drawn to the giant end zone scoreboards as clear and compelling as a pair of new televisions.

Not your father's world.

Not with a sea of purple seats rising high into the sky (and we do mean high).

Not when the stadium remains nameless, absurdly, because the $40 million corporate sponsor still isn't signed.

Not when you can scour the place without finding any references the team that used to play around here.

If the Ravens are smart, they'll keep it that way. No Colts in any Hall of Fame or Ring of Honor they erect. Nothing personal. No disrespect intended. But spending two years in the Colts' shadow was tough enough. A no-win situation for a new team losing too many games. It's time to make the break.

Those old Colt videos playing on the scoreboard before the game last night? Lose 'em. Make a statement. Our town now. It's OK, really, it had to happen sometime.

Donovan and Moore and Marchetti, that was then. Ogden and Boulware and Lewis, they're now.

With a stadium to call their own, designed for the new century, they have the town's attention at last.

What they do with it is anyone's guess. They'll need to start winning games at some point, probably sooner than later to keep those sky-high seats full.

But the opportunity is there.

Last night's game against the Bears was a nice start, although it was just a preseason game no one will remember against a team going nowhere.

Still, the Ravens' starting offense came as advertised in the first quarter, more dependable and physical. The defense was aggressive. A defense with promise.

The stadium? Bright and electric and loud.

Not your father's world. Not by a long shot.

Not with cheerleaders dressed in purple, gold and black dancing on the sidelines.

Not with two rows of luxury boxes filled to the brim.

Not with thousands of fans wandering the corridors gawking at what $220 million can bring these days.

It's hard to say exactly when during the night that the Ravens officially took over the city's football heart, at least symbolically. But they did.

Maybe they took it over hours before the kickoff, when fans had to break years-old habits and navigate new routes to their football fix.

Those old, traditional, family-held routes to Colt games? Yesterday's news.

Maybe the change came in the moments before the opening kickoff, when the crowd rose for an ovation so loud it tingled the spine.

An ovation for what? For the present, of course, the glorious present. Not the past. No sir.

The only link to the past last night was Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, who coached the Colts in the '70s and put a common-sense spin on the situation recently.

The new stadium will bring closure with the Colts, he said, although there can never be complete closure.

True enough. You can't ignore the past. Can't forget it entirely. Especially a past so important to so many.

But years pass and worlds change. Old stadiums go dark and new stadiums rise. Old eras give way to new ones. Bring your wallet.

The realities of modern sports will cost the Ravens some fans, no doubt, as they move to the new stadium. Some Colts fans won't come with them. They'd rather cheer with Big Wheel. They aren't buying.

But the majority are coming, moving with them to a new home and a new era.

They have given the Ravens what the Colts once had, the city's football heart. There's no going back now. No going back to the horseshoe.

From now on, like it or not, your father's football world is just a memory growing dimmer every day.

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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