Ravens kick off new stadium, era Excitement surrounds opener vs. Pittsburgh

September 06, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

A new era officially begins today at 1 p.m.

Hello Ravens stadium at Camden Yards. Goodbye Memorial Stadium. Meet new stars such as Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden and Jim Harbaugh and exorcise the ghosts of John Unitas, Lenny Moore and Art Donovan.

The Ravens will begin carving out their own place in Baltimore history today when they play host to the defending AFC Central Division champion Pittsburgh Steelers in the grand opening of a $223 million stadium.

Not only will such dignitaries as Gov. Parris N. Glendening, and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer be in attendance, but movie stars such as Timothy Hutton, Ving Rhames and David Schwimmer will be among the expected sellout crowd of 69,354.

Talk about excitement? Owner Art Modell addressed the team briefly after Friday's practice.

"We're embarking on a new period today and we'll find out how good we are against the Steelers," Modell said. "It would be nice if we reached the playoffs, it would be a nice reward for our coaching staff, players, organization and the city of Baltimore. It would help us eradicate some of the memories of Memorial Stadium and begin our own."

The Ravens were fired up for preseason games in their new digs, but they might need a Richter scale to measure the emotion today. Ravens reserve safety Bennie Thompson is always the first player out of the tunnel. He can't wait for the euphoria.

"It is going to be exciting, ex-ci-ting, do you hear me,?" Thompson said.

"This is definitely going to be a new experience," said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary. "I've never played before a sellout crowd before in Seattle. This gives us an extra edge because we want to give our fans what they want. I have no fear of losing. I haven't even thought about losing this game."

A win would be a huge boost for the Ravens' morale. The Steelers have won four straight AFC Central titles and five of the last six. The Steelers have also played in three of the last four AFC title games, and beat the Ravens twice last season.

Both were humiliating. The Ravens had a 24-7 halftime lead in the first game, and lost 42-34 in a game played at Memorial Stadium. The next time out it was 37-0 as the Steelers embarrassed the Ravens on national television.

"That was last year," said Ravens running back Errict Rhett, who was named the starter over Jay Graham on Wednesday. "This is this year. This team has something to prove. People are underrating us, man. I can't wait to get started."

Rhett is part of an entire new backfield for the Ravens and one of four veterans the Ravens signed during the off-season, joining Harbaugh, fullback Roosevelt Potts and cornerback Rod Woodson. The Ravens have shifted from a one-back to a two-back set with emphasis on running the ball.

"Obviously, Baltimore had a very impressive preseason," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher about the Ravens, 4-0 in the preseason. "They've taken a whole different approach offensively. They acquired Jim Harbaugh as their quarterback. You'll see a lot more two-back sets. They have a very solid offensive line. Defensively, it's a group of guys that are very active. It's going to be the start of an exciting season."

Said Marchibroda: "We have a good combination of veterans and young players. The best thing we did in the off-season is bring in some warriors who are also mentors. We know that winning in the preseason doesn't mean we're going to win in the regular season."

If the Ravens are going to win, they have to establish a running game, something they haven't done in the past two games. The most interesting matchup is Ravens second-year center Jeff Mitchell against Pittsburgh nose guard Joel Steed. There are also concerns about left guard Wally Williams, who held out for 24 days, being in playing shape.

Defensively, the Ravens' task sounds simple, but few have accomplished it: Stop running back Jerome Bettis. The Ravens will also have to contain quarterback Kordell Stewart and force ,, the erratic third-year player into passing situations where he sometimes self-destructs.

Of the starting unit that allowed only two field goals in four preseason games, Lewis said: "We have to play the way we've been playing. Pittsburgh is coming in and we know they're going to run. But I think we're at the point now where it's up to us; we control our own destiny. We have to do our own stuff. We feel as though the crowd is going to be our 12th man. It's going to be crazy in that new stadium. I can't wait."

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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