Baltimore turned a three-hour journey down memory lane into a raucous revival last night.
One more time, Memorial Stadium was the world's largest outdoor insane asylum. One more time, 33rd Street rocked to the rhythm of a professional football game.
The NFL was back, if only for a one-night stand, and a sellout crowd of 60,021 made the best of it.
The New Orleans Saints beat the Miami Dolphins, 17-3, in the final preseason game for each, but the real story was the frolicking crowd.
Eight years after the Colts abandoned Baltimore in the middle of the night, those fans were into a meaningless preseason game in a big way.
They booed lustily in the first quarter when Miami's Bernie Parmalee downed a kickoff in his end zone, content to take the ball at the 20-yard line.
They roared approval when Miami quarterback Dan Marino drove the Dolphins 63 yards with his two-minute offense to get a field goal just before the end of the half.
And they nearly went into a frenzy when more than 70 former Colts were introduced during nostalgic halftime ceremonies, capped with the presentation of John Mackey's Hall of Fame ring.
The loss spoiled Miami coach Don Shula's return to Baltimore, where he spent 11 years as a coach and player with the Colts. The Dolphins (3-2) left six injured starters back in Miami.
Coming on the heels of Hurricane Andrew, Shula described it as "a game we had to get through.
"It was great being in Baltimore and seeing all the old ballplayers. The fans, I think, were terrific. I just wish we could have played better for them," he said.
"It was a tough week for us. Fortunately, the coaches and players weren't hit by the hurricane, but it devastated the people to the south of us. Football was secondary for us."
The New Orleans area also endured the devastating effects of Hurricane Andrew, but the Saints (3-1) came through their difficult preseason in slightly better shape. They were minus three regular wide receivers.
"Whether we won or lost -- and I'm happy we won -- it was a real pleasure to come back to Baltimore and play a game," said Saints coach Jim Mora, who coached the Baltimore Stars to the U.S. Football League title in 1985.
"We have great fans in New Orleans, the best in the NFL, but these fans are great, too. This is a city that deserves a team. It's a shame they don't have one and I hope they get one. I know they will support the team the way they did the Colts when they were here."
Quarterback Bobby Hebert produced touchdowns on the Saints' first two offensive series for a 14-0 lead that was never threatened.
Hebert played the first half, completing 10 of 14 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. He was replaced in the second half by Steve Walsh and Mike Buck.
Marino played the first half only and completed seven of 15 passes for 99 yards, but he produced Miami's only points.
A week after the Saints were hammered by the Houston Oilers, 33-3, they dominated the first half against the Dolphins.
They scored on their first two offensive series on nearly identical drives covering 77 yards (13 plays) and 80 yards (12 plays).
Hebert threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Patrick Newman -- a reserve who got playing time because three regulars were hurt -- to cap the Saints' first possession.
Hebert's short passing game clicked with the running of tailback Fred McAfee to keep the Dolphins' defense on the field for nearly the first eight minutes of the game.
Miami had the ball for only five plays in the first quarter as New Orleans' ball-control offense appeared to be in regular-season form.
The Saints' second drive covered 7:58 and ended with Dalton Hilliard taking a pitch from Hebert around right end for a 2-yard touchdown six plays into the second quarter. Hilliard broke a would-be tackle by defensive end Larry Webster, a third-round draft pick from Maryland, at the goal line to make it 14-0.
The key play in the drive was a third-down scramble by Hebert for 21 yards and a first down at the Miami 26. On the next play, Hebert completed a 19-yard pass to Marcus Dowdell to the 7.
Both teams went to backup quarterbacks in the second half and the pace slowed considerably. With a halftime lead of 14-3, the Saints converted a third-quarter turnover into a 17-3 advantage.
Saints strong safety Brett Maxie, a holdout until this week, intercepted quarterback Doug Pederson with the Dolphins pinned deep in their territory.
The interception gave the Saints possession on the Miami 20. Buck, the third of three New Orleans quarterbacks, gave the ball to first-round draft pick Vaughn Dunbar on four straight plays, but the Dolphins' defense stiffened at the goal line and the Saints settled for an 18-yard field goal by Morten Andersen.
Pederson, a long shot to make the Miami roster, was playing because the Dolphins' two backup quarterbacks are hurt. Scott Mitchell has a broken finger and Scott Secules has a torn muscle in his chest.
Still, Pederson moved the Dolphins deep into Saints territory in the fourth quarter when he completed a 40-yard pass to Mike Williams. The drive stalled, though, as he was sacked for a 9-yard loss by linebacker Renaldo Turnbull, and Pete Stoyanovich missed a 33-yard field goal.
Pederson moved the Dolphins to the New Orleans' 19-yard line late in the game, but was intercepted by free safety Gene Atkins, another of the Saints' holdout defensive backs.
The Dolphins' running game was negligible with eight attempts for 25 yards. Running back Bobby Humphrey, acquired from the Denver Broncos in the off-season in a trade for Sammie Smith, led with 17 yards on four carries.
HTC But Humphrey made his biggest contribution to the game when it was over. As he walked off the field, he handed over his gloves and a towel to some anxious young fans in the stands.
"I saw a couple of kids," Humphrey said. "I don't know . . . they won't have but one football game in this town this year or next year.
"People will remember what they got from this game."