TWELVE YEARS AGO, Robert Irsay stealthily moved Baltimore's beloved pro football team in the dead of a snowy night to Indianapolis. That searing image is vivid for Baltimoreans who treasured the Colts and the renown that team brought to the region. Pro football was an integral part of this area until then. The loss, and subsequent bitter disappointments in seeking another team, only deepened the sorrow.
That mourning period ends once and for all tomorrow. The National Football League is back in Baltimore. Owner Art Modell's re-named Ravens open their NFL season against the Oakland Raiders at a spruced-up Memorial Stadium. The decibel level could be deafening.
When the Colts were at their peak, sports writers referred to this park as "the world's largest outdoor insane asylum." The pandemonium of the loyal Baltimore fans rattled more than a few visiting football teams. But wait till tomorrow afternoon. The new heroes in purple and white will receive fanatical ovations while the villains in silver and black can expect ear-rattling derision. Calling Raiders signals at the enclosed end of the field will be brutal.
Football fans differ from baseball fans. They express their emotions loudly and often. They sit glued to their seats, even in impossible winter weather, scrutinizing every subtle movement on the field. No one heads for the concession stands while the ball is in play. They are boisterous and sometimes riotous. And when the Ravens pull out a close game at the last moment, they will be explosively ecstatic.
Baltimore benefits enormously from these games, both financially and psychologically. This will be, after all, a nationally televised -- and much-watched -- contest tomorrow. It showcases Baltimore and puts sports fans in this region on a pedestal.
When Mr. Modell brought his $80 million payroll to town from Cleveland, he helped heal a still-open wound. And when the club moves into a state-of-the-art public stadium south of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1998, Ravens mania will reach new heights -- and Baltimore once more will be the envy of other American sports cities.
But tomorrow is the red-letter day that excites fans around here the most. The long, heart-wrenching wait is over. Baltimore is a two-sport major-league town once again. The Ravens are home; this is their roost.
Pub Date: 8/31/96