In first game, Baltimore fans get the full CFL experience


When Baltimore's persevering football fans finally got a taste of the Canadian Football League, they got a full-course meal.

They got the rouge, the comeback and the kick that capped it all.

They got 88 points, 857 yards of offense and 139 plays.

They got a pulsating, 45-43 exhibition victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Memorial Stadium that punctuated Baltimore's return to pro football 10 years after it left town.

Opening night may never again be as sweet or theatrical for Baltimore's CFL expansion team.

"The entertainment value of the Canadian League is something I know," said Baltimore coach Don Matthews. "And it's the best-kept secret in North America.

"No lead is safe; no game is over. I don't think every game will be like that. But that's the potential of what can be."

The 88 points scored by both teams represent the most in a pro football game at Memorial Stadium since Oct. 4, 1958, when the NFL Colts beat the Chicago Bears, 51-38.

If first impressions are lasting, this one should linger awhile, said Baltimore quarterback Tracy Ham.

"The first impression was a good one," Ham said. "But make them [the fans] understand it was a preseason game. We can LTC feel good about the game, but the reality of it is we've got to get ready to play Toronto.

"People realized the potential of the Canadian game. [Wednesday] night, we maxed out."

The new team in town, sans nickname, finished its first preseason with a 2-0 record. On Thursday, it will open the regular season at Toronto's SkyDome against the Argonauts.

There are a few wrinkles to iron out between now and then. Wednesday night, for instance, Winnipeg rolled up 504 yards in total offense, accumulated over a staggering 80 plays.

"When you're on the field that long, you will get tired," said cornerback Karl Anthony. "Five hundred yards in the CFL . . . that's high. But 400 is the average."

Winnipeg quarterbacks Matt Dunigan and Sammy Garza combined for 463 yards on 61 passes. Baltimore's secondary was frayed around the edges. But it also had its good moments, too.

Typical of Baltimore's plight were the last two plays of regulation. With seven seconds left and Baltimore leading 40-33, halfback Ken Watson made a strong move to tip away a deep ball for Gerald Alphin and protect the lead.

On the next play, Garza, with time and room to run, fired a 50-yard touchdown pass to Alfred Jackson.

The conversion kick sent the game to overtime, where Baltimore ultimately won on a 47-yard field goal by Donald Igwebuike.

"They sent two runners, one down the seam, one on an out pattern," Watson said. "The cornerback pushed [Jackson] out of bounds, [but] I thought he had run out of bounds."

In Canadian rules, a receiver cannot run out of bounds and still be an eligible receiver. But if he is pushed out of bounds, he can return and catch the ball. Watson broke from his man but was a second too late to reach Jackson.

Baltimore proved resourceful first in building a 40-30 lead, then in recovering from a 42-40 deficit in overtime. The CFL plays two five-minute halves of overtime rather than sudden death, as in the NFL.

There was Anthony's 59-yard touchdown run with a blocked field-goal attempt (Jearld Baylis had the block) that pushed the lead to 10.

And there was the inspired performance by quarterback Shawn Jones after John Congemi left the game with a severe back bruise at the end of the first overtime.

Jones went 4-for-4 for 69 yards in his two series, including a 36-yard pass and acrobatic catch by Walter Wilson to set up Igwebuike's game-winner.

"The great thing is the character of the team," Matthews said. "Before you can win, you've got to have the will to win. Certainly, our players have that.

"After both games, I congratulated the players and said, 'You find a way to win. . . . That's what you bring to the equation.' "

Wednesday night, there was an exclamation point at the end of the equation.

"Defensively, I wasn't happy about the way things went," Watson said. "But for the crowd, it showed them how exciting this game can be."

"The bottom line," said Jim Popp, director of player personnel, "was that it was a great introduction to the city by the CFL. What else can you ask for?"

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