Leroy Hoard said he had to see the crowd, hear their roars and feel the happy tension at Memorial Stadium to leave one chapter of his career behind, then begin another.
Just before the pre-game introductions last night, the Ravens walked onto the field in single-file formation to a thunderous ovation from a record crowd. Hoard was at the head of the line.
"I wanted to get out there so bad," Hoard said. "I didn't want to xTC get stuck behind anybody else. I just wanted to feel a different atmosphere."
Music blared, fireworks were set off, and the Ravens were off and running.
"That first time I looked up and saw all of those people and heard them cheer, that's when I said to myself, 'We're not in Cleveland anymore,' " Hoard said. "This is a new era."
Besides the exhilaration that comes with a victory, even a preseason win, the Ravens were awash in the sensation of a fresh start in an adoring city.
Wide receiver Michael Jackson spent some time before the game talking with fans in the north end zone, where temporary bleachers have been installed near the scoreboard. He even promised fans he would catch a touchdown pass in front of them. He made good on his promise -- almost. Jackson's 31-yard touchdown reception came at the opposite end.
"To be the first person to do anything is exciting, especially in front of people who have wanted football here for so long," Jackson said.
Quarterback Vinny Testaverde showed his attachment to the crowd early. As he was introduced to roaring applause, the normally stoic Testaverde raised both arms and pointed each index finger at the crowd, while rotating in a circle.
Then, Testaverde won the fans over with a first-rate performance in the first half, completing 11 of 14 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown.
"It was louder than I expected. I don't know who was more excited, the fans or us," Testaverde said.
"Football hasn't been here in so long, and we all want to be the [hero]," he added. "That's what's going to make this team good, having everybody want to step up and take responsibility. I think the excitement is just beginning."
Pub Date: 8/04/96