Ravens choose right guest to invite to housewarming

FROM THE SIDELINES

August 09, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Chicago Bears are what the colleges like to call a "homecoming opponent" -- a losing team that can be counted on not to spoil the party on a special occasion.

That's why inviting the Bears for the first preseason game at the new stadium at Camden Yards last night was a master stroke.

The Bears played their role to perfection in Baltimore's stadium coming-out party, putting up only token opposition while losing to the Ravens, 19-14.

The Ravens limited the Bears to just 16 snaps, one first down and 23 net yards in the first half while they piled up 11 first downs and 187 net yards to take a 9-0 lead into the locker room.

Not that exhibition games mean anything, but a victory was only fitting on a night when Baltimore fans could savor the fact they now have a downtown two-stadium complex that is the envy of sports fans around the country.

This was a night that was a long time coming for Baltimore fans. It was 14 years, 5 months and 11 days since the trucks pulled out of Owings Mills in the sleet and the snow on March 28, 1984, and carried off Baltimore's football heritage to Indianapolis.

It took 12 years -- after the rebuff from the Cardinals, the expansion snub and the flirtation with the Rams and Bucs -- before Baltimore got a team that had to play two years at Memorial Stadium.

Now Baltimore has a state-of-the-art stadium with the fancy scoreboards, wide concourses and, yes, plenty of bathrooms.

Sure, some fans aren't happy with their seats. Double-decking the luxury boxes means the upper deck is too high, and even the view from the lower deck seats isn't always ideal if a tall person sits in front of you.

That's just a fact of life in these new stadiums crammed with luxury boxes and club seats. For the average fan, the sightlines aren't always as good as they are in football-only stadiums built in the 1970s, notably Arrowhead Stadium and Giants Stadium, which don't have double-decked luxury boxes.

But the premium seats are the price of having a team these days because they produce half the revenue. At least the modern scoreboards show everything the fans might miss on the field.

Ultimately, though, football stadiums are defined by what happens on the field.

Now it's up to the Ravens to live up to their new home. For one grand night, they did, but the Bears probably get a lot of the credit for that. The Ravens already knew they were better than the Bears, so this wasn't a good barometer of what kind of team they will be.

Highlights and lowlights of a memorable night:

* Turning point: Unlike the regular season, teams can pick the teams they want to play in the preseason. This game was decided once the Bears -- would it be too trite to call them the "Bad News Bears"? -- accepted the Ravens' invitation to play in the opener.

* New quarterback: Calling his style of play "little ball," Jim Harbaugh, as expected, gave the Ravens a dimension they didn't have with Vinny Testaverde. He scrambled twice for 28 yards, once to set up a field goal and the second time to keep the second-period touchdown drive alive. He also threw well on the run and executed the short passing game well while completing 10 of 13 for 60 yards. On the negative side, he had two batted down and threw a pass that bounced off an official's head and was intercepted.

* New offense: The Ravens looked like a real ball-control team with a two-back offense except on obvious passing downs. Junking the three-wide receiver offense used as a base offense in their first two years, they even stayed with the two back on second-and-10 and third-and-10 plays with Roosevelt Potts as the fullback. It shouldn't have taken the Ravens three years to get a fullback.

* Pressure: Bears QB Erik Kramer took just 16 snaps in the first half and was sacked on four of them. The Ravens need that kind of rush to protect a porous secondary. Rob Burnett, who came back from a bronchitis attack, led the way with three tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.

* The $3.5 million man: The Ravens gambled $3.5 million on their belief that Rod Woodson can still play cornerback. He wasn't tested last night as he was on the field for just 13 snaps. He gave up a 5-yard pass on the Bears' first play, but only one other pass was thrown his way.

* Duel: The battle between Jay Graham and Errict Rhett for the starting running back job may be the best of the preseason. Graham played with the first unit in the first half and gained 37 yards in 10 plays while Rhett picked up 63 yards in 16 carries with the second unit. Rhett may be on his way to winning the job.

* Speed: Rookie Patrick Johnson, the second-round draft pick, flashed his speed when he ran a reverse 35 yards in the fourth period. He then caught a 19-yard touchdown pass when he faked out Clyde Johnson.

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