After nearly 13 years of waiting for the return of the NFL, Baltimore fans will finally get an on-the-field glimpse of the future tonight when the Ravens play the Philadelphia Eagles in the preseason opener at Memorial Stadium.
The game will not have the pageantry and glitz of the regular-season home opener on Sept. 1 against the Oakland Raiders, but a sellout crowd of 65,248 is expected to watch the first NFL game involving a Baltimore team since December 1983, when the Colts lost 20-10 to the Houston Oilers.
Three months later, owner Robert Irsay moved the Colts out of the Owings Mills training facility to Indianapolis.
"It's only a preseason game, but most of the guys know it will be somewhat of an emotional affair," said Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster, an Elkton resident and former standout at the University of Maryland. "They understand that this is the first test, that we have to get on the right track to pave the road of success in Baltimore."
Said Ravens wide receiver Michael Jackson: "It's a fresh, new start. It's like being a rookie again. I'm sad for my friends and the people back in Cleveland because they deserve a team. But Baltimore deserved a team for 12 years, and I'm glad to be a part of it."
Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda has downplayed the historical significance of the game, instead emphasizing the importance of developing offensive and defensive strategies for the coming season.
Will the Ravens use the one-back or two-back formation as their base set?
Can No. 1 draft pick Jonathan Ogden play offensive guard in the NFL as well as he played tackle at UCLA?
Are Ray Lewis, Jerrol Williams and Mike Caldwell capable linebackers? Can the gambling, stunting, penetrating style that succeeded in Pittsburgh work for Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis in Baltimore?
Is Earnest Hunter the team's running back of the future?
"We want to see which guys play with intensity, which guys will perform under pressure," said Marchibroda. "I think our guys are ready to play. We won't take exhibition games lightly. Every time you lose, it takes something out of your ballclub.
"This team was 11-5 in 1994 and 5-11 last year. These guys feel they have something to prove. They feel as though they can make some noise in the NFL this year."
Eagles coach Ray Rhodes plans to use his starters for only quarter, but Marchibroda probably will stay with his first unit for a half. It's an unusual move in the first preseason game, but the Ravens are in a new city with a new coach and new systems.
Marchibroda had planned to use the one-back set as a base formation, but when the team signed 6-foot-2, 240-pound fullback Carwell Gardner on July 20 it gave the Ravens a few more options.
"What you're probably going to see is a conservative offense, something simple like a two-backs, two-receivers set in the first half," said quarterback Vinny Testaverde. "We have to find out what we do best. Maybe in the second half we might mix it up a little more, but obviously you don't want to show too much in the preseason."
"I think we have a number of options and packages to look at," said Marchibroda. "Nothing is set yet offensively."
Defensively, the Ravens seem set on running a 4-3 defense. In training camp, the unit has been ahead of the offense, which is nothing out of the ordinary.
Now the Ravens get to see if some of their tricks work on another team, gimmicks like defensive ends covering tight ends down the middle and a variety of blitzes.
"I think we're on schedule," said coordinator Lewis. "Sometimes when you put in a new defense, you have a tendency to overlook some of the smaller things. But I think we've been pretty thorough. Now we get a chance to see where we need to improve, and how fast we can move ahead."
Rhodes would not say who would start at quarterback, Rodney Peete or Ty Detmer, but the Eagles coach said earlier this week that Detmer would get at least two starts during the preseason.
The Eagles will not use at least three starters tonight, including cornerbacks Troy Vincent (groin injury), Bobby Taylor (knee) and fullback Kevin Turner (hamstring). No. 2 halfback Charlie Garner (hamstring) is questionable.
The Ravens will be without two starters -- linebacker Mike Croel (calf strain) and receiver Derrick Alexander, who is attending the funeral of his brother. Starting left tackle Tony Jones may see limited action because of an elbow ailment.
Opponent: Philadelphia Eagles
Site: Memorial Stadium
Time: 7: 30
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Ravens by 3
Tickets: 1,100 remain
Pub Date: 8/03/96