It seemed a rare and perfect opportunity to take revenge on history.
Twenty-three years after the Colts had abandoned Baltimore, they were on their way back for a playoff game. A 13-3 Ravens team lay in wait with the franchise's typical great defense and, for once, a solid veteran at quarterback in Steve McNair.
The town buzzed all week with nostalgia for the old Colts and anticipation of another possible Super Bowl run. Every grocery store stocked purple shirts bearing the image of John Unitas, mid-pass. The message seemed clear - the Ravens were about to unite Baltimore's football present with its past and flush away all the bad memories.
But the reality of Jan.13, 2007, proved cruel. Though Peyton Manning hardly evoked Johnny U. in attacking the Ravens' defense, McNair and the Ravens' offense proved even feebler. Neither team scored a touchdown, and the Colts escaped the frenzied atmosphere with a 15-6 victory.
In 10 years of existence, M&T Bank Stadium has been the scene of glorious Ravens victories, gripping college football showdowns, tense lacrosse championships and wild outdoor rock shows. Eyes have grown moist at tributes to fallen heroes, and hearts have leaped into throats at the wacky conclusions of high school football games. But the stadium, which opened Sept.6, 1998, has not held an event more memorable than that painful game against the Colts.
"It was embarrassing," cornerback Chris McAlister said, "for ourselves and for our city."
Though players downplayed the historical angle throughout the week, several seemed taken aback by the intensity around the contest. Signs around the stadium proclaimed fans' desire for revenge. Harsh words filled the air.
"I hope we can just move on," Manning said afterward. "I was 8 years old when that happened. It was one guy's decision, and that one guy isn't around anymore. I think we need to get past it, but we saw a lot of middle fingers on the bus ride in here."
No doubt he would see them again if the Colts were to return for a playoff game this winter.
Here are the nine other most memorable happenings from 10 years at M&T Bank Stadium, along with a few extras for fun.
2. The Ravens beat the Denver Broncos in their first home playoff game (Dec.31, 2000)
Baltimore had not had a home playoff game since 1977, or a home playoff victory since 1971. The Ravens' historically great defense allowed the NFL's second-ranked offense to cross midfield once in the 21-3 wild-card victory.
"The emotion was high because it's been 23years since this city had a playoff game," Ray Lewis said. "I was 2years old the last playoff game that was in Baltimore. The thing now is to keep rolling. Nothing else matters but the next game."
The Ravens did pretty well in the next three contests, actually, continuing their defensive dominance on the way to a championship.
3. Ravens rally to win in Colts' first visit back to Baltimore (Nov.29, 1998)
Fans directed obscene gestures at Jim Irsay and wore T-shirts that depicted a raven urinating on his father's grave. So, yes, they were happy to see the Colts. But Baltimore's first shot at on-field revenge seemed in jeopardy as one of the weakest editions of the Ravens fell behind 24-13 at the half. A furious 17-point rally in the fourth quarter sent fans home happy with a 38-31 victory.
When it was over, Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh handed the game ball to Unitas. "I could tell how much it meant to the fans," Harbaugh said.
4. The first regular-season game at the new stadium (Sept.6, 1998)
Stevie Wonder sang the night before. Fans and players crowed about how beautiful the place - then known as Ravens Stadium at Camden Yards - looked. State and city officials called it the real culmination of pro football's return to Baltimore.
The only problem was the game itself, as the Ravens lost a sloppy 20-13 opener to their archrivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The celebratory atmosphere left an impression nonetheless.
"I've never seen a city so excited about a single game," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said.
5. Navy edges Army, 30-28, as the historic matchup comes to Baltimore for first time in 56 years (Dec.2, 2000)
Baltimore got a taste of college football's most dignified pageant as the cadets and midshipmen marched up Conway Street to PSINet Stadium. The teams entered with only one victory between them, but that hardly mattered as they played a thrilling contest.
Navy went ahead 27-7 in the third quarter and then had to hold on for dear life as Army rallied. The Midshipmen benefited from a controversial call that Army had touched an onside kick before it went 10yards and were able to run out the clock.
6. The Ravens induct recently deceased John Unitas and seven other Colts legends into ring of honor (Oct.20, 2002)
The greatest Colt had died of a heart attack the previous month. But on this day, the Ravens unveiled a 13-foot sculpture of Unitas and added him, along with seven former teammates, to the stadium's ring of honor.
"He was very much looking forward to today and still was in awe of it," said Unitas' widow, Sandy Unitas. "He really didn't think he deserved it. That was just John. But he would have been very, very proud and thankful for the fans."
7. Johns Hopkins captures the NCAA lacrosse title in a tense 12-11 win over Duke (May28, 2007)
Hopkins had ended an 18-year title drought two years earlier. But the Blue Jays entered this championship game as an afterthought.
Rape charges against three players had ended Duke's 2006 season. But the charges were dropped and the 2007 Blue Devils were riding high on a wave of redemption and great offense. Hopkins had little interest in being a footnote, however, and jumped out to a startling 10-4 halftime lead. Duke rallied to tie it at 11 before Calvert Hall graduate Kevin Huntley pumped in the game-winner with 3:25 left.
"You wake up this morning and see ESPN do a story on the DivisionI national championship game, and they don't even mention Johns Hopkins once," Hopkins senior Jake Byrne said. "I took it personally. I hope our whole team did. I think it was a motivating factor."
8. The Ravens herald their championship run with wild 39-36 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars (Sept.10, 2000)Jacksonville was coming off a 14-2 season, while the Ravens had not posted a winning record. But times were changing.
The Ravens overcame a 17-point first-quarter deficit and took a 32-26 lead, only to fall behind again. Quarterback Tony Banks bailed them out with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Shannon Sharpe in the final minute. The toss capped a career-best five-touchdown day for Banks. "It's like we won the Super Bowl," a teary Banks proclaimed.
9. Jamal Lewis breaks the NFL single-game rushing record in a 33-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns (Sept. 14, 2003)During a phone call with Cleveland linebacker Andra Davis three days before the game, Lewis predicted he would break Corey Dillon's mark if given 30 carries. He got exactly that many and picked up 295 yards, shattering the record by 17 yards in the easy home-opening victory.
Lewis ripped off runs of 82, 63 and 48 yards in the signature game of his signature 2,066-yard season.
10. Maryland beats Navy, 23-20, in the first meeting between them in 40 years (Sept. 4, 2005)
A divided announced crowd of 67,809 watched the exciting renewal of an old rivalry. Navy went up 20-15 with 4:43 left in the game, but Maryland marched right back down the field - 82 yards in 10 plays. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach hit wide receiver Drew Weatherly with the 11-yard game-winning touchdown pass. "I told everyone it would be like this. We were fortunate to come out ahead. It could've went the other way very easy, " Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said.
•The stadium hosts first concert - the HFStival, headlined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers - and draws an announced 75,000 (May29, 1999)
•The Ravens tie a team record with nine sacks in a 27-0 demolition of the Steelers (Nov.26, 2006)
•Aberdeen scores the final 26 points against Potomac to capture its first state football championship (Dec.10, 2003)
•The Ravens and Minnesota Vikings combine to return three kickoffs for touchdowns ... in the first quarter (Dec.13, 1998)
•The Ravens come within two fourth-down stops of ending the Patriots' undefeated season (Dec.3, 2007)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun