Fans find taste of revenge flavored by pinch of relief

November 30, 1998|By John Eisenberg

Revenge? Go ahead, call it that if you want.

But let's face it, there's only so much vindication in having to come from 14 points behind at home to beat a 2-9 team, giving up 540 yards of offense to a rookie quarterback and not nailing down the win until a tipped interception with a minute left.

That's not revenge, that's relief.

That's a great escape, not a saving grace.

"We had to win for obvious reasons, and you know what? I'm just glad we did," Ravens center Wally Williams said after the Ravens rallied for a 38-31 victory over the Colts yesterday at Camden Yards.

The audible sigh in Williams' summary could be heard throughout the Ravens' locker room and the entire organization. Executive vice president David Modell made a quick, congratulatory sweep through the room before leaving, presumably to offer a belated prayer of Thanksgiving. You know, the "thank you for letting the Colts not beat us at home" prayer.

"That would have been so, so ugly," Ravens kicker Matt Stover said.

And ugly almost happened.

With rookie quarterback Peyton Montan, er, Manning leading the way, the Colts scored early and often, threatened to run the Ravens out of the gym, led by 11 points at halftime and never trailed until early in the fourth quarter. The Ravens needed a 28-7 flurry in the last 31 minutes to avoid a devastating loss.

"I don't even want to think about what would have happened if we'd lost," Williams said. "All I know is we'd have been a bunch of turtles around here. We'd have had our heads in the sand."

Quite simply, Baltimore's new pro football team would have teetered in the wake of an embarrassing, fan-unfriendly home loss to Baltimore's old pro football team, which moved to Indianapolis 14 years ago and left a lasting, bitter ripple in the local football waters.

At the very least, the fans expected a win against a rebuilding, winless-on-the-road Indy team that's entrenched in last place in the AFC East. And in the Ravens' first home "crusade game," after a loss at Indy in 1996 and a win in the state title game at Washington in 1997, what the fans really expected was a bloodletting. Sixty minutes of revenge.

A loss? Huh?

"That wasn't an option today," Williams said, shaking his head and smiling. "You could tell that [from the crowd]. They didn't have any patience today when things went wrong. [Losing] wasn't an option."

No, it wasn't. A loss would have cost the Ravens much of the modest support they have gathered in their three years here. zTC loss would have fired the coach, cut players, refunded PSLs and turned the Ravens into a laughingstock.

Generally speaking, it's a bad idea to feed the fans a galling defeat on a day when they're expecting to release 14 years of pent-up anger.

"I didn't talk to one person this week who didn't say to me, 'You have to go out and beat the Colts,' " Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said.

Even the old Colts still living in the area got swept up in it. Few feel ties to the new Colts.

"Lenny Moore came in [to the locker room] before the game and went around talking to some of the guys, encouraging us, telling us we can do it," Williams said. "He's done it before. But I tell you, it made you think twice today. Here's an ex-Colt Hall of Famer telling us to go out and beat the Colts."

John Unitas, the most famous ex-Colt Hall of Famer of all, stood on the Ravens' sideline and cheered for the home team. Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh handed him a game ball on the sideline as time expired.

"We can't compete with those guys," Williams said. "The Colts were a great team when they were here. They won championships, they made the Hall of Fame, they did great things. I don't think we're even trying to compete with those memories. We just want people to start having some Ravens blood, too. And this was the only way to do it. Beat the Colts. Beat the team that ducked out of this town at night. It's the least we could do for the people."

Those "people" were whooping and hollering outside the stadium after the game, which was fine and understandable and all that. It was their war, after all, not the players' war. And it ended right.

It ended with the Ravens' best offensive burst of the season; with Harbaugh leading his first rally in Baltimore; with reserves James Roe and Floyd Turner catching touchdown passes; with the running game coming alive to dominate the fourth quarter for the second straight week; with the defense finally making a game-winning play at the end, when safety Ralph Staten picked off a pass that slipped through the hands of Indy's Marshall Faulk.

It ended with a win.

"That's all you're hoping for when you have a game like this," said the Ravens' Tony Siragusa, who had played for the Colts before coming to the Ravens last year. "The people here, they kind of got the short end of the stick, not necessarily from the Colts, but from the league in general. They wanted a little of it back. Today, I hope they got it."

They did, however barely, and with a sense of relief more than revenge. But they did get a little back, no doubt. At long, long last.

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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