Ravens-Colts: Don't get carried away Fans see grudge match as less than compelling with two losing teams

November 25, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Nothing would please David Houseknecht more than to hear the old Baltimore Colts fight song on Sunday, then to see the Ravens kick Baltimore's former team back to Indianapolis to the tune of a rout.

Houseknecht, 37, grew up in Dundalk as a rabid Colts fan. Nearly 15 years after the Colts rolled out of Maryland in the middle of a cold night, the memory still makes his temperature rise.

Then again, Houseknecht is not exactly bleeding Ravens purple as he prepares for Sunday's game.

"We're not going to be rooting for the Ravens as much as we're rooting against the Colts," House- knecht said. "I think the [Ravens'] band should play the Colts song, just for the hell of it. We just hope [the Colts] get their butts kicked. You never want them to win a game."

In the eyes of many fans, the Colts' first appearance in Baltimore since March 1984 is the sole reason to be interested in Sunday's event.

The reality is, the 4-7 Ravens have been a colossal disappointment in their new, no-name stadium, and the 2-9 Colts are resting in last place in the AFC East. The reality is, two teams going nowhere are clashing for history's sake.

After watching Baltimore's new team stumble through three straight losing seasons, and after watching it grope for points in 1998 with an offense that has been, well, offensive, season-ticket holder Jeff Guidera still cannot wax emotional when it comes to the Ravens.

"If they were in [playoff] contention, that would be one thing. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the beginning of the season, but they've blown so many games, and they don't have an offense," said Guidera, 40, of Timonium. "It would be nice to beat the team that left here. I'm more excited about the party than the game."

The number of empty seats at Camden Yards has grown noticeably in recent weeks, especially after the Ravens dropped an ugly, 12-8 decision to Tennessee on Oct. 11.

They followed that with two losses on the road, then another flop in their next home affair, a turnover-filled, 45-19 defeat to Jacksonville on Nov. 1 that dropped the Ravens to 2-6. By midseason, high expectations had crashed.

Guidera, who owns three season tickets -- not to mention the permanent seat licenses it took to get them -- said he has trouble giving away his ticket if he can't make it on game day. He regularly takes a shuttle bus from a Fells Point bar to the stadium. What used to be a packed vehicle is now loaded with seating room.

Still, Guidera would not consider missing a date with Indianapolis.

"Of all the games on the schedule, if I had to save one ticket for myself, I would have kept the one to the Colts game," he said.

Dean Piccoli, 37, an Eldersburg resident who purchased two season tickets in 1996, senses the same type of dissatisfaction in the fan population. Piccoli counts himself among the Ravens faithful who are equally bored and frustrated. Not even the return of the Colts can shake Piccoli from his doldrums.

"People I know aren't that interested [in the Colts game], because we don't have an exciting product. It's a boring club," Piccoli said. "I might stay in the parking lot and tailgate the whole time. We're not talking about a marquee game here. We're 4-7, they're 2-9. I do think I'll have some emotion when we play the Browns next year.

"I hate to say it, but this game means nothing to me," he added. "I used to go to Colts games with my father, but it's been so long [since the Colts left]. I'm not an old-timer."

Ed Belz, 54, of Cockeysville, is part of the generation that lived and died with the Colts. When they left for Indianapolis, that marked the end of Belz's season-ticket days, although he roots for the Ravens on television. He has yet to visit the new stadium.

Belz said a loss in the old days would leave him moping until Wednesday or Thursday. When the Ravens lose, he forgets about the game within minutes.

"This is definitely more interesting than a normal game, but I'm not going to sit there [Sunday] with fire in my eyes," Belz said. "I guess I'd like to see us beat Indy more than anyone else. It's a shame we didn't get the [Colts] colors back. The uniforms we've got now are kind of strange."

The sight of blue-and-white uniforms and the trademark horseshoe logo are bound to elicit a reaction, be it hostile or sentimental or a combination of the two. Jim Phillips, who runs the Hagerstown Ravens Roost lodge (formerly the Colt Corral), still isn't sure how he will react.

"It's been 13, 14 years. Up to this point, it's not bothering me from a personal standpoint," said Phillips, referring to the Colts' invasion. "I don't know if I'm going to shed a tear or not when I see that horseshoe. But for the sake of our city and the franchise, we've got to win this one and win it big."

John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said: "It's going to be bizarre, totally bizarre, because we're in a sea of purple seats and we'll have the blue-and-white shocking us back to the past."

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