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Dancing in the aisles, but hold the screeching


THE RAVENS opened in Baltimore Saturday night, and their debut was nearly perfect.

The setting was perfect. The night was unseasonably cool. The rain stayed away. The moon, I swear, was a burnt orange.

And, of course, the Ravens won -- before the largest crowd ever to see a football game in Baltimore.

Some highlights:

Vinny Testaverde threw a touchdown pass.

The Ravens' defense was smothering.

The Colts Marching Band, which I had once likened to the Flat Earth Society, lived to play again, in Baltimore, showing that there might be something to this faith business after all.

Yes, it might have been perfect.

The buses seemed to run smoothly. Mine slipped in and out of Memorial Stadium like a cat burglar.

The food was lousy and yet overpriced. But nobody seemed to mind.

For those who miss antiquated Memorial Stadium, there was a wonderful retro feeling. No Diamond Vision. No designer coffee that I could find. No skyboxes. No club boxes. If you ignored the prices (of the seats, of the beer, of the T-shirts, of the parking, of, well, everything), you could almost convince yourself that it was Johnny U and not Vinny T out there throwing the passes.

The old stadium looked good. Some fresh paint. Some new turf. No Ravenettes.

It could have been perfect.

For starters, my seat was 20 bucks cheaper than the seat directly in front of me. What could be better than that?

And I didn't just get to watch a football game. I also got to conduct an amateur study of the relationship of beer to dancing in the aisles of public venues (Surprise: The more beer one consumes, the more likely one is to believe one can moon dance.)

My favorite moments of the evening both involved beer.

First there was the announcement that the management would tolerate no "excessive alcohol abuse." Moderate alcohol abuse was apparently all right.

Then there was the guy, walking just a little unsteadily, carrying 12 -- count 'em, 12 -- cups of beer back to his seat.

Yeah, it might have been perfect.

Ravens owner Art "This Was a Great Night for Me" Modell gave a speech. Nobody booed him, although somebody should have, for robbing the deserving folks of Cleveland. But at least his speech was significantly shorter than any Peter Angelos might have given.

The P.A. announcer was flat.

The soda was watered down.

The beer was fine, if you don't mind paying four bucks for a cup.

But complain? It was all small stuff compared to football's return to Baltimore, compared to the party atmosphere, compared to the rock music -- most of it from the era when "Colts" and "Baltimore" were synonymous -- blaring from the speakers. The Ravens knew their crowd, which was littered with Colts regulars or people who remember themselves as Colts regulars even if they weren't.

No, it was nearly perfect.

OK, it wasn't quite the love affair you may have heard it was. Sure, there was a standing ovation at the start. And there was one loud chant of dee-fense, but no more than that. And there were a few Wild Bill Hagy wannabes in the stands, trying to lead the crowd in spelling out R-A-V-E-N-S. The guy in our section couldn't seem to make the letters. It came out R-R-R-R-R-R.

LTC This was more like a first date, a heavy first date. A little necking. We liked them. They liked us. We promised to call again.

It's the kind of first date after which you phone your best friend and talk till 3. But love? Not love. Not yet.

You ought to at least know the players' names before you give your heart, or any other important body parts, away.

And still, it could have been just about perfect.

Except for the caw.

Yes, the caw. As in what a Raven says. A cow says moo. A raven says caw.

If you were there, you know what I mean. If you watched on TV or listened on radio, you must have heard it.

It was the sound you hear outside your window at 6 a.m. that makes even the most resolute animal lover want to grab a shotgun and fire away.

It was the sound that some misguided Ravens official thought should fill the August night and Memorial Stadium. The next thing I knew, there were caw calls to my left, caw calls to my right. Caw calls that inspired those who may have moderately abused alcohol to stand on their seats and wave their arms, raven-like, while making hideous noises.

I thought I was in a bad Hitchcock movie. The only surprise was that there was no panic in the stands.

I had thought it was cool that the Ravens were the only team ever named after a poem. The name was, at once, literary and foreboding. But I hadn't counted on screeching.

The night may have been a huge success, but I have only one word to say about the cawing, and I'm pretty sure Edgar Allan Poe would approve: Nevermore.

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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