It won't take much to fire Ravens-Browns rivalry

On The NFL

September 13, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Baltimore football fans are going to get a ringside seat for the next great NFL rivalry.

The new Cleveland Browns don't even have a player, much less a coach or a general manager, yet.

But they already have a rival for next season when they play their first season -- the Ravens.

It was obvious the Cleveland fans were going to want their team to beat the Ravens after the Browns moved to Baltimore. Now that billionaire banker Al Lerner has won the bidding war for the team, it will be personal.

Although Ravens owner Art Modell helped to make the vote virtually unanimous for Lerner -- Raiders owner Al Davis abstained as he usually does -- that did nothing to heal the bitter rift between Modell and Lerner.

This may even be hotter than the old Bengals-Browns rivalry after Modell fired Paul Brown, who later founded the Bengals.

Brown's son, Mike, who now runs the Bengals, said it's not the same now that Modell has left Cleveland, but he remembers the way it was after his father started the Bengals in 1968.

"It turned out OK for us, but I don't think he ever got over it [being fired by Modell]. When he called me on the phone to tell me, he said, 'He took my team away from me.' That's how he felt. He couldn't forgive that.

"It was a very real rivalry because from the top down, everyone knew there was something extra at stake. It turned out to be a plus because it made the rivalry very strong. It never changed. But when the Browns moved, the rivalry did not move with them," Brown said.

The Ravens-Browns rivalry will more than fill the void.

It's obvious Modell was hurt by the way Lerner distanced himself from his former friend after the move. With former friends like Lerner, Modell doesn't need any enemies.

Lerner brought Bernie Kosar on board for a position that has yet to be defined. His major asset is that he was fired by former Browns coach Bill Belichick -- with Modell's approval -- and is now a martyr in Cleveland.

The vote

Baltimore fans who remember what happened during expansion couldn't have been surprised that Lerner got the Browns. Once he joined forces with former San Francisco president Carmen Policy, it was obvious they were the league choice. Especially when Cleveland Mayor Michael White endorsed the group.

It was no surprise that the committee voted 7-0 for Lerner over the group headed by Charles and Larry Dolan.

"One of the issues in our league is whether things are decided by committees and the membership scarcely has a meaningful role," said Mike Brown.

Brown was for the Dolan group because it included former Baltimore and Miami coach Don Shula.

"Shula made a great impression on me," said Ralph Wilson, the owner of the Buffalo Bills. "Don said he realized how much he missed football. How can you get a better guy than Don Shula? I have nothing against Policy, but Shula has been around a lot longer. He was a legendary figure in football."

Avoiding the 0-2 curse

The 15 teams that lost in the opening week -- including the Jets and Ravens, who play today -- face a major test today.

They don't want to fall to 0-2. An 0-2 start might not seem like much of a hole, but just 10 teams in the 1990s -- including just one of 16 the last two years -- have overcome 0-2 starts to make the playoffs.

Only one -- the 1993 Dallas Cowboys -- went on to win the Super Bowl, and that was a special situation because Emmitt Smith held out for the first two games that year.

Since teams put a lot of emphasis on their first two games, it's not a good omen when a team loses both of them.

Enis' debut

The Chicago Bears can't wait for Curtis Enis to get in shape after his long holdout.

He carried only 12 times for the Bears last Sunday and asked to be taken out when he was stopped for a 1-yard gain at the Jacksonville Jaguars' 4 with less than five minutes to play because he was winded.

But he gained 77 yards on those 12 carries and was running over defenders as if he were Earl Campbell.

Enis might have won the game for Chicago if he hadn't gotten tired, but the referees kept the Bears in it in the first place.

Glyn Milburn was tripped up by kicker Mike Hollis, but Milburn got up and ran 89 yards for a touchdown and the officials gave it to him. They apparently thought Milburn had tripped over his own feet.

Enis gets a good test today when he faces the Pittsburgh Steelers' run defense.

4 Ravens in top 100

In a list of what it claims are the top 100 players in the NFL, the Sporting News listed four Ravens -- Jonathan Ogden at 22, Peter Boulware at 46, Ray Lewis at 73 and Michael Jackson at 99.

Although the list is subjective -- at this point Lewis should be rated ahead of Boulware -- the ominous thing for the Ravens is that they don't have a quarterback or running back on the list.

Until the Ravens get a franchise player at one of those two positions, they're a long-shot playoff team. It's difficult to be a playoff team when a left tackle is a team's best player.

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