Ray Lewis was there to excite the crowd. Naturally, he was introduced after everyone else and received the adulation from the stadium that was about 60 percent full at kickoff.

It was the start of another Baltimore Ravens season.

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Two weekends ago, the Ravens had an open practice at M&T Bank Stadium, but this was for semi-real.

The game was televised nationally on Fox, giving it a bigger time feeling than most preseason games.

It was the first time the Ravens had played here in more than seven months, since their divisional playoff win against Houston.

Whether the game counted or not, it was a special night for Westminster's Howard Burke and his granddaughter, Jessa DiTullo from Mount Airy.

Jessa and her grandfather have been going to games regularly - until now. She's leaving home on Saturday to start Frostburg State. Jessa will miss watching the Ravens.

"I'll be here for the Pittsburgh game," she vows.

Burke is a longtime season ticketholder. "Forever and ever, from Day 1 whenever that was," he said.

It didn't matter that it was an exhibition game or a preseason game in NFL parlance.

"We're here to see the new players and everything," Burke said.

"True fans are here always," Jessa said.

Lots of families were on hand and because it was a preseason game, some people who don't usually attend got to come.

Take Lisa Saxon of Sykesville. She and her 11-year-old son Daniel, who'll soon to be starting sixth grade at Oklahoma Road Middle School accompanied Saxon's brother, Michael Vitucci of Eldersburg.

"I look forward to it every year," Vitucci said. "They're always competitive, which is really all you can ask for - as long as they stay healthy."

Daniel was wearing a No. 27 jersey for Ray Rice.

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"That's also his soccer number," his mother proudly pointed out.

For Saxon, it was only her second Ravens game, and her first in 14 years.

"I told my husband I was going in his place," she said.

Even before the games, the fans were definitely into the game. During the National Anthem, fans shouted "O" more vigorously than usual, aware that 500 miles away another Baltimore-Detroit matchup was taking place. That one counted.

When Paul Kruger nearly snared one of Matthew Stafford's passes late in the first quarter, they groaned. With no Terrell Suggs, they know there's pressure on Kruger.

The offense got lots of attention with cheers for the expected big plays from Ray Rice and Joe Flacco.

It was the first time the fans got to watch Jacoby Jones, the free agent receiver signed from the Texans and they enjoyed his 35-yard first quarter romp down the sidelines.

The pace of the game was very slow and the replacement officials struggled with calls. There were seven penalties in the first quarter and six more in the second quarter. The crowd watched passively, but for the players, it's serious business.

"There is no substituting game experience," Matt Birk said. "You can practice a lot - and we're lucky to go against a great defense every day - but game situations are paramount."

It rained briefly before the game, but by the time the game began, it let up. At halftime, it began to rain again and by the second half began, many had gone home.

Friday nights aren't the usual time for NFL games, but fans will have to get used to night games for a while.

Next Thursday's game against Jacksonville begins at 7:30 p.m., and Baltimore's first three home games: Sept. 10 (Cincinnati), Sept. 23 (New England) and Sept. 27 (Cleveland) are all prime time games.

Each year, fans eager for live football are appalled that they have to pay for preseason games as part of their season tickets, vow not to go again.

Some give their tickets away, sell them at deep discount on StubHub or stay away.

But, after six months without football, most can't resist the lure.

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