Cheers make Ravens' house into a home

ON THE NFL

September 06, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Football stadiums don't have tall walls, ivy-covered walls, green monsters, quirky angles or even much ambience the way baseball stadiums do.

Football stadiums are remembered for the games that are played in them and the home-field advantages teams build there.

That's why Lambeau Field in Green Bay is a shrine despite the seats consisting of metal benches. After all, they played the Ice Bowl there, and Vince Lombardi once stalked the sidelines.

By contrast, the Falcons have a modern domed stadium in Atlanta, but the place is half empty most of the time because the Falcons aren't much of an attraction.

When the Ravens open their new stadium at Camden Yards today, what counts is not the amenities, but how the team plays and whether it can create a noisy stadium that provides a big home-field advantage.

"There's going to be tremendous electricity, the likes of which this town hasn't seen in a long time," said Ravens owner Art Modell.

The question is whether they can tear a page from their rival today -- the Pittsburgh Steelers -- and sustain it.

Since Pittsburgh has been so good for so long, it's almost forgotten that the Steelers had never won a playoff game at the time they moved into Three Rivers Stadium in 1970.

They were coming off a 1-13 season while the Cleveland Browns were coming off a 10-4 mark in 1969.

Yet the Steelers upset the Browns, 28-9, in November 1970 at Three Rivers and went on to beat them a total of 16 consecutive times in that stadium. The Browns then won four times from 1986-89, but the Browns-Ravens are 0-for-the-'90s in that stadium.

Of course, it wasn't just the stadium. The Steelers hired an obscure Baltimore Colts assistant named Chuck Noll the year before they moved into it, and he started drafting a bunch of future Hall of Famers, notably quarterback Terry Bradshaw in 1970.

The Ravens, of course, don't have a franchise quarterback yet. They're still working on that problem. It took them two years just to figure out Vinny Testaverde wasn't the answer.

But Jim Harbaugh, Capt. Comeback, has given the Steelers all they could handle in two of their last three meetings when he was with the Colts.

In 1995, he came within a Hail Mary pass of beating them for a Super Bowl berth and then lost only 24-22 at home last year when the Colts were off to a 0-10 start.

On the other hand, the Steelers hammered the Colts, 42-14, in a 1996 playoff.

The bottom line is the Ravens will find out today if they can start turning their new stadium into a home-field advantage and make it a place opposing teams fear.

Play-calling

This game is more significant for the Ravens than the Steelers. After all, the Steelers have lost four of their last five openers and still made the playoffs each time.

But there is one significant aspect. Former Minnesota assistant coach Ray Sherman will be making his debut as the team's offensive coordinator.

This is an important position for the Steelers because they might have fared better in the postseason last year with better play-calling.

Last year in the AFC title game against Denver, they had a 14-10 second-period lead and the best rushing attack in the league when Chan Gailey, then the offensive coordinator and later hired by Dallas, called three straight passing plays, and they punted.

The defense got the ball back and, on second-and-two at the Denver 35, Gailey called another pass that was intercepted in the end zone. Denver came back to score to take a 17-14 lead.

The Steelers got the ball back with less than two minutes to go deep in their territory. Instead of running out the clock, Gailey called for Kordell Stewart to go to the shotgun and throw. A holding penalty killed the drive, and the Steelers punted. Denver came back with another touchdown to take a 24-14 halftime lead.

By failing to using their running game, the Steelers turned a 14-10 lead into a 24-14 deficit -- a 14-point swing. The Steelers blanked Denver in the second half but lost, 24-21.

It was reminiscent of the Super Bowl two years ago when the Steelers, trailing Dallas 20-17, got the ball on their 24 with 3: 43 left.

They had plenty of time to run Bam Morris and drive for the winning touchdown.

Instead, Ron Erhardt, who was then the offensive coordinator, called two straight passing plays. Neil O'Donnell threw the second one right into Larry Brown's arms, and the game was over.

Meanwhile, Jerome Bettis is openly campaigning to have the team run more in the red zone.

"We're No. 1 in the NFL in running the football, yet when we get in the red zone, we rarely run the football. Why is that?" he said.

That's why it'll be interesting to see how Sherman calls the plays.

Rivalry

Now that New York financier Andrew Penson has opened the bidding for the Washington Redskins franchise at $450 million, it seems likely that the team will ultimately be sold.

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