New splash of purple passion

To the fans' delight, Grbac, defense lead opening day victory

`Couldn't wait another day'

Ravens 17 / Bears 6

September 10, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

After waiting more than seven months for the defending Super Bowl champions to play another game that counted, Ravens fans got a little impatient as their team needed a few hours to take control of the 2001 opener.

The Ravens posted their 12th straight victory yesterday, as a pair of second-half touchdowns overcame the Chicago Bears, 17-6. The celebration at PSINet Stadium began with a giant inflatable Super Bowl trophy, 35 fans shuttling the real thing between two generations of the Modell family, bursts of fireworks and a jet flyover. All of that pomp had a crowd of 69,365 as energized as the players.

"The fans were hyped, and rightfully so," said Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens' veteran tight end. "Last year, we were coming off an 8-8 season, and now we're the defending world champs. I like where we are right now."

So did a raucous gathering that basked in 83-degree temperatures more suited to the beach than football.

Sunscreen was de rigueur, along with anything purple and Elvis wigs, a tribute to the Ravens' new quarterback. Elvis Grbac guided an offense that mustered only 3 points through the first 43 minutes, but he completed 24 of 30 passes, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to fullback Sam Gash that put the Ravens ahead to stay with 1:48 left in the third quarter.

The Bears' ball-control offense put the Ravens behind 3-0 and 6-3, but the Baltimore defense, led by linebacker Peter Boulware, was as stout as ever, keeping the Bears without a touchdown even though they controlled the ball for nine minutes more than the Ravens.

After All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis' interception set up the Ravens' clinching touchdown, a 1-yard run by Terry Allen with 2:36 left, defensive end Rob Burnett raised his 34-year-old arms in a gesture that seemed to say, "Finally!"

Though the message on a chalkboard in the Ravens locker room said "Same Old Game," the atmosphere in and around PSINet Stadium suggested otherwise.

Strangers embraced and greeted one another by the players' names that went with their Ravens jerseys. "Ray!" shouted one as he hugged another who wore Lewis' No. 52.

Ten minutes after the gates opened at 11 a.m., one man was washing down a breakfast of french fries with a cold beer. The stadium was nearly full 20 minutes before kickoff, as fans left coolers and grills behind at tailgate parties to enjoy the fruits of Super Bowl XXXV.

As a large balloon resembling the Vince Lombardi Trophy was inflated at the 50-yard line, the Ravens marching band played an obligatory rendition of We Are the Champions. David Modell, the team's president, entered from the southeast tunnel and held the real Super Bowl trophy aloft. Thirty-five Ravens fans passed it along to Modell's father, Art, the team owner, who waited at midfield.

The crowd noise built to match fireworks and a jet flyover, courtesy of the Maryland Air National Guard.

"He was truly touched by the response of the people," David Modell said of his father, who took the Browns out of Cleveland and moved his storied franchise to Baltimore in 1996. "After being here, we've seen how adamant the fans are, how supportive they are. We produce a TV show here at the stadium on Saturdays, and people were tailgating at 2 in the afternoon yesterday [Saturday]. Does it shock me in a sports town like Baltimore? No."

It was the first opening day in Baltimore for a major-league champion since 1984, the year after the Orioles last won the World Series. But what then should have been a joyous day at Memorial Stadium had a depressing undertone. Only weeks earlier, the city had lost its other sporting obsession, the Colts, when owner Bob Irsay moved the NFL franchise to Indianapolis.

Seeing the Super Bowl trophy back in Baltimore for the first time since 1971 seemed sweetest to Colts fans who were quick to embrace the Ravens. They reveled in the romp in Tampa over the New York Giants, and continued to seethe over slights from the NFL and national media, perceived or otherwise.

It is league custom to showcase Super Bowl champions on the Monday night opener against another contender, but the Ravens began their defense on a Sunday against a nondescript Bears team.

"The schedule used to bother me," said Paul Addicks, a 49-year-old Baltimore firefighter whose hair, camouflage shorts and court jester's hat incorporated the Ravens' color scheme. "To be honest, I'd be going crazy if they weren't playing today. I couldn't wait another day for this game."

Mike Bradford, who attended the Super Bowl in January with five friends and tailgated yesterday on a lot under Interstate 395, wasn't as forgiving. He fumed over the Ravens' having to wait a week to make their Monday night debut. The Minnesota Vikings, an upset loser to the Carolina Panthers, play in Baltimore a week from tonight.

"The fact that we aren't playing the Monday night opener is a continued snub of Baltimore," Bradford said. "The two teams that are playing [the Giants and Denver Broncos], we kicked the you-know-what out of both of them last year in the playoffs.

"As far as I'm concerned, next week is the real Monday night opener."

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