With a backdrop of fireworks, foreign dignitaries and a special guest of honor, Baltimore officially opens its Canadian Football League era at Memorial Stadium tonight against the Calgary Stampeders.
Say hello to native son Doug Flutie, then get ready for the high-speed passing game that is certain to follow.
On the night of Baltimore's first regular-season pro football game at Memorial Stadium since Dec. 18, 1983, it seems fitting that Flutie, the king of Canadian football, has a hand in writing the new chapter.
"He's probably the most recognizable name in the league," said Baltimore CFL coach Don Matthews, "and he backs it up by being the most productive player."
Who can forget the Hail Mary pass that beat Miami in 1984, when Flutie won the Heisman Trophy at Boston College?
But how many people know that Flutie has thrown for 18,656 yards the past three seasons -- an average of 6,219? Or that he has thrown for 114 touchdowns over the same period?
Sent off to Canada in 1990 after four disquieting seasons in the NFL, Flutie, 31, has enjoyed a career rebirth as a CFL quarterback. North of the border, he has won an unprecedented three straight Most Outstanding Player awards, one with the British Columbia Lions, two with the Stampeders.
Now, thanks to the CFL's expansion into the United States, he has a chance to create a few new memories. You could call it Flutie's revenge on the NFL, even if he doesn't.
"I don't think I'd take it that far," he said. "But it is kind of my way of letting people in the U.S. know I'm still around, that I can still play the game.
"My first couple of years in the CFL, I felt like I was playing the best football of my life and was in exile and nobody knew what was going on. The first year I threw for 6,600 yards up there, not too many people knew about it. . . . So now, through ESPN, through the expansion in the States, I feel like I'm letting people know I'm still alive and kicking."
In the past three years, he has wreaked his own brand of havoc on secondaries around the CFL. He is still the "Magic Flutie," a quarterback who is hard to catch and almost impossible to contain. He throws with a slingshot motion, moving backward as he unleashes the ball.
"When he gets outside the pocket, he can buy 10 seconds," Matthews said. "That creates huge gaps in defense. We know what he does. That's not the problem. The problem is stopping him."
Baltimore rush end O. J. Brigance has played with and against Flutie, but has not beaten him.
"The special challenge is not knowing what kind of rabbit he'll pull out of his hat," Brigance said. "You have to keep constant pressure on him, try to keep him in the pocket. When he's allowed to scramble, he's extremely dangerous.
"He always finds a way to win. Everybody gets up for playing against him."
It is that commodity -- the ability to turn a defeat into an improbable victory -- that Calgary coach Wally Buono appreciates most.
"We were Grey Cup finalists the year before Doug came to Calgary," Buono said. "We were a very good team. The one thing Doug brought to us was, there's an aura about him that makes him the marquee player he is. Nothing is ever out of reach. If it's close, Doug will find a way to get the job done."
Without Flutie, the Stampeders lost the Grey Cup in 1991. With him, they won in 1992. He was the MVP of Calgary's championship victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Last year, when he threw a league-record 44 touchdown passes, the Stampeders went 15-3 but were upset by the Edmonton Eskimos in the Western Division final.
Because of that loss, Calgary owner Larry Ryckman predicts even bigger things for Flutie this season. "I think it will be his greatest season, because Doug is such a fierce competitor," Ryckman said. "He's never been in better shape. He really felt that loss last year."
What it did, Flutie said, was rekindle a fire that possibly had burned too long.
"I think we were conscious coming off the Grey Cup that we wanted to repeat. We wanted to stay hungry," he said. "We had that attitude so early in the season that it was tough to maintain through a 20-game season. And when something is taken away from you, the desire to go get it back and re-prove yourself is there."
For the first time in Buono's five seasons as head coach, the Stampeders lost a game in July last week. They lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on the last play of the game, 22-21, and made an uncharacteristic five turnovers.
They will try to rebound against Baltimore's expansion team, which won its regular-season opener in Toronto, 28-20, last week, after a 2-0 preseason. A crowd of more than 35,000 is expected, along with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, CFL commissioner Larry Smith and Canadian ambassador Raymond A. J. Chretien.
"My impression originally when there was going to be new expansion teams was, 'OK, there's a 500-yard passing game. There are going to be games we just go in and score 40 points without batting an eye,' " he said. "That's not so in this situation. This is a true veteran defense."
Calgary vs. Baltimore
Site: Memorial Stadium
Time: 7:44 p.m.
Radio: WJFK (1300 AM)
& Tickets: 20,000 remain