The love affair between an old, historic NFL city and its new professional football team has been rekindled in the 2000 season.
An affection once reserved for the Baltimore Colts and such legends as John
Unitas, Lenny Moore and John Mackey has grown to include the Ravens and their
modern-day stars of Ray Lewis, Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson.
When the Ravens play in Super Bowl XXXV against the New York Giants on
Sunday in Tampa, Fla., the cycle will have been completed. The Colts created
memories in Baltimore from 1947 through 1983, and now the Ravens are forming
their own bond in a community that has gone Ravens-crazy.
Purple-mania has arrived.
Local sporting goods stores are selling out of team merchandise. Area
schools have had Ravens days. Purple lights shine throughout a city where the
mayor has attended team practices during the playoffs. Young children paint
their faces purple and black, and statues inside City Hall are clad in purple
The boulevard on which the team's practice facility is located has been
temporarily renamed Ravens Boulevard, and there aren't many conversations in
bars where the talk doesn't turn to the Ravens.
"The response in this city to what we've done so far has been humongous,"
said Ravens owner Art Modell. "I've had many, many playoff games, four
championships in Cleveland prior to this one, but nothing has turned a town on
like we have witnessed in Baltimore. This city has been denied football for 13
years, and all their pent-up emotions were channeled toward the Eagles,
Redskins, Jets, Giants and even Miami, where they tried to find a kindred
"When we came in here in the dark days in Memorial Stadium, we didn't do
too much either, but at least they had something to hang on to," Modell said.
"The attachment grew, the romance grew to where it is now a full-grown love
affair. Every player, every coach, cannot get over the response given to them.
It has been overwhelming."
It really is an amazing run to glory. There is hardly anyone, even the
Ravens themselves, who believed they would play in Super Bowl XXXV. The most
reasonable scenario was an outside chance at the playoffs, especially with the
defending AFC Central champion Jacksonville Jaguars and defending AFC champion
Tennessee Titans in the same division.
But this is a story about a team whose best player, middle linebacker Ray
Lewis, was involved in a double-murder trial in May, and had to play five of
its first seven games on the road.
The Ravens shuffled quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers during
the regular season, a sure formula for disaster, and also endured five games
without scoring a touchdown, losing three.
For an encore, they had to play successive road games against Tennessee in
the AFC semifinals and the Oakland Raiders in the conference championship
It was always an uphill battle, but it ended with a trip to the Super Bowl.
"Never at any point did I feel we were out of it," said Ravens president
David Modell. "Faith is faith. You have to have it. It's not like a library
book where you can turn it in at any time at your own convenience."
Coach Brian Billick said: "There are a lot of things in the game that tear
at the heart and fabric of the team concept - salary cap, free agents and the
media to name a few. What allows you to handle and sometimes overcome all of
this is chemistry and character. We have both of those in abundance. We have
enough to stare into the abyss and grow strong.
"We did it when we went through our three-game losing streak and our
touchdown drought," he said. "We've won with shutouts, and we've won with
great comebacks at the ends of games, especially against Jacksonville at home
and Tennessee in November. We're ready for the Super Bowl and what it may
Thank goodness for the Ravens' defense and Pro Bowl kicker Matt Stover.
Defense has been the team's most consistent weapon throughout the 2000
season. There will be debates for years about how this unit compares with
other great defenses, such as those of the mid-1980s Chicago Bears and the
1970s Pittsburgh Steelers. But these facts can't be denied: