Ravens wear black hats, like it or not


How will the fans at Giants Stadium react to the Ravens today?

Not by throwing roses.

What kind of response will Baltimore's new team generate in its first road game as the team formerly known as the Cleveland Browns?

That's easy.


L And you can't blame those obnoxious New York fans this time.

The Ravens will hear scornful booing in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, everywhere they go for road games this year.

And you know what? As much as you don't want to hear it, the reaction is perfectly understandable.

If I were a fan in another city, I would boo the Ravens, too.

Those of us in Baltimore obviously see the situation differently, but fans everywhere else should boo the Ravens.

The fact that the Ravens exist means that fans don't matter anymore.

It's true. Think about it. The Browns were still drawing big crowds in Cleveland, averaging close to 70,000 fans a game, but Art Modell still left.

The fans' undying support didn't matter.

All that mattered was Modell's having the chance to move into a new stadium and make gobs of money.

That was why there was such an outcry across the country when the Browns moved, as opposed to the prior moves of such teams as the Cardinals, Rams and, yes, the Colts.

None of them had the same kind of popularity at home when they moved.

The Cardinals were a stepson in St. Louis, a baseball town.

The Rams had dwindled into a mediocrity, playing before thousands of empty seats at antiseptic Anaheim Stadium.

The Colts? Yes, they owned this town for years, but they were no longer a hot ticket when they moved to Indianapolis. True, Robert Irsay had run the team into the ground and it was depressing and all but impossible to watch, but the fact is that Memorial Stadium attendance had fallen off.

That wasn't the case in Cleveland, even though the Browns hadn't won a league or conference title since 1964.

Before the move was announced last season, the Browns drew 74,000 and 76,000 fans on successive Sundays. Five years before that, they averaged 71,000 in a year in which they went 3-13.

The Browns were different, a benchmark franchise playing in an old stadium graced by legends. In football's big-money era, in which fans feel increasingly disconnected from players, the Browns were throwbacks, symbolizing a lot of what used to be good about the game. There was something timeless and old-fashioned about them -- no carpet, no premium seats, no glitz. Win or lose, the fans were there.

Modell took that tradition and threw it in the trash. And fans everywhere felt violated.

All of what is so wrong with sports today -- the death of tradition, the selfish grab for money, the absence of a moral compass -- was summed up in the Browns' departure from Cleveland.

It was a move that drove home a sad point to fans everywhere: No one was immune.

If it could happen in Cleveland, where the Browns were so popular, it could happen anywhere.

The outcry that ensued wasn't over whether Baltimore deserved to get a team back, which it obviously did. The point was that Modell's decision to leave Cleveland was, as a general statement, so blatantly anti-fan.

A year later, the Ravens are the living symbol of that statement, a team born solely out of the greed that offends so many fans.

Dan Dierdorf gently ripped them in his Hall of Fame speech.

"The Baltimore Ravens. . . I have to think long and hard about that," he said.

L NBC's Bob Trumpy destroyed them in an Inside Sports preview.

"I wish [the Ravens] high winds and muddy fields," Trumpy wrote. "I wish them empty roads to and from the ballpark. I wish them cold hot dogs. I wish them nothing but bad."

Now, don't go getting too upset about all that. It's just Bob Trumpy. But you can see what's coming, can't you?

Boos, boos and more boos.

Baltimore as the Bad Guy.

Sure, it's tough to try on that hat after years and years of milk-drinking Cal Ripken's symbolizing the city as a sports town.

Sure, it's more pleasing to be famous as the city with the jewel of a ballpark, not as the city that stole Cleveland's team.

Let's face it, Baltimore likes to see itself as a sports town that is sweet and light and nostalgic, not ugly and mean.

But here is the deal: The Bad Guy stuff isn't going to go away any time soon. It's part of the package.

We got the new team, we got Art, we got the Bad Guy blood on our hands.

And there's nothing we can do about it.

It's the opposite of Sally Field's famous Oscar acceptance speech: "You hate us, you really do!"

So what the heck.

The Oakland Raiders have made a career out of it.

So did the Detroit Pistons in their heyday.

"Why not us?" as the Ravens are saying this year.

Let's try it on for size. Let's say it together: "We're Baltimore, we're bad. [And if you don't believe it, look at our quarterback.]"

& Kind of fun, isn't it?

Pub Date: 8/10/96

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