Reveling in the Ravens' victory over Indianapolis last season, owner Art Modell said, "In all my years, I can never recall a game in Cleveland, Denver, or wherever, where there was so much electricity. It was deafening, unbelievable enthusiasm."
Recalling the Minnesota Vikings' visit, Brian Billick said last January, "The fans really got behind [the Ravens] With the enthusiasm of the fans in that new stadium, I was blown away by Baltimore."
But reeling from another bitter defeat to Jacksonville last Sunday, several players privately offered a different view.
"What's wrong with the fans here?" said one player, who requested he not be named. "Two weeks ago, we go down to Jacksonville and their fans are making so much noise I can't hear the play or the cadence. Today, our fans sat around and didn't get up until the end.
"I think they need to be educated a little. Cheering fans is what the home-field advantage is all about."
No Raven would go on the record with such criticism in the past week, perhaps out of fear of reprisal by Billick. In fact, several Ravens criticized the unnamed player, describing the fans as nothing short of wonderful.
"Every time I look up, I don't see it empty like in other stadiums," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "Our record isn't that great, but they still come out and support us. How can anyone complain? They're great fans. And if we were winning, they'd be louder."
McCrary is right -- the fans have indeed shown their support by filling the stadium for a team that is 20-38-1 since arriving in Baltimore. But the unnamed player also is right -- if Memorial Stadium was the world's largest outdoor insane asylum, PSINet Stadium might be the world's largest chat room.
Oh, it's rowdier than the baseball wine cellar at the other end of the parking lot, but that's more a reflection of the sport than the clientele. The scoreboard at Oriole Park flashes "Two Strikes!" to remind everyone to put down their cell phones. Perhaps the scoreboard at PSINet needs to flash, "Third Down!"
Is it the Camden Yards Syndrome, in which hard-core fans are unable to afford high-priced tickets? Is it the architecture of a stadium that features notches at the four corners and an upper deck stacked on top of two decks of luxury boxes? Is it the Ravens' disappointing record, which includes a 12-16-1 mark at home?
There's no way to know exactly, and the impact of the architecture is particularly debatable. But just as at Oriole Park, the home-field advantage at PSINet Stadium isn't as pronounced as it should be.
For the first time last Sunday, I sat in the stands instead of the glass-enclosed press box. My seat was in the third row of the upper deck, on the visitors' side. And I was stunned that the stadium wasn't louder, particularly when Jacksonville was facing third-and-long.
It's a cop-out to claim that the fans need to be re-educated; this is the Ravens' fourth season. It's also a cop-out to blame the performance of the team that particular afternoon; the game was an absolute epic, and the Ravens rallied to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
Granted, the outcome was the same as it always is against Jacksonville. Team Modell is now 0-10 against the Jaguars. The question is not if the Ravens will lose to Mark Brunell and Co. The question is how.
"You've got to give them something to cheer about," Billick said. "When I came here with Minnesota, the nature of the game [three kickoff returns for touchdowns in the first quarter, two by the Ravens], that certainly kept the crowd into it, and they sustained it throughout.
"But we have to do our part. The games are sellouts. They're starting out enthusiastic. But we have to show them something on the field, obviously, to keep them fired up."
OK, but how fired up are they going to get? Oriole Park during the 1997 postseason was about as lively as a board room. It's the Curse of the New Stadium, not just in Baltimore, but everywhere. After the Ravens played in Cleveland, several players remarked that the new place is not nearly as loud as the old one.
Jacobs Field in Cleveland is a notable exception, but the general rule is that the noise level drops as ticket prices rise. Besides, PSINet Stadium was not designed to be intimidating; it was designed to make money. It offers nice sightlines, but not the closed-in effect of classic "old" stadiums like Arrowhead in Kansas City.
Admittedly, we're heading into subjective territory, but how much sound is lost through the notches? What about the effect of the double-deck luxury boxes that push the upper deck farther away from the field and higher into the sky?
Architects from the stadium's design team at HOK were unavailable to comment, but Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said the stadium "can be as loud as any," citing Billick's impression of the crowd last season.
Hoffman said that the 30,000 fans in the lower deck are as close to the field as any fans in the NFL. And he said that Billick's comments "fly in the face of any theory that our stadium isn't acoustically as good as others."
As is the case with Oriole Park, a crowd of well-behaved fans certainly has its plus side. Hoffman said arrests are down from the Ravens' first two seasons at Memorial Stadium. But why can't a family atmosphere be a boisterous one, too?
Perhaps it's due to the Ravens' lack of playmakers -- the team's biggest problem, in every way.
"Only a couple of people on this team can get the crowd up," special teams ace Bennie Thompson said. "The [unnamed] player, whoever that was, must be one who can't get them up. 'Cause I can. Me, Ray Lewis, maybe Jermaine, Michael McCrary. The rest of 'em... "
The rest of 'em need to win some games.
Win some games, and see how the fans respond.