To this day, the Ravens talk about the tape.
But this tape was different. There was no stopwatch. No track. No finish line. Just a man and a horse, going head-to-head in a race through a meadow.
Of course, the horse wins easily. The NFL wanna-be loses. And the football team has another keepsake for its unusual file.
Ozzie Newsome, the vice president of player personnel for the Ravens, knows as much as anyone in NFL circles how hard the dream dies for those longing to play pro football. Before moving to Baltimore, Newsome spent two years as the Browns' pro personnel director. He was bombarded with requests from outsiders seeking a chance at NFL glory.
"Every day, I'd get a call or a fax or a letter from somebody saying they deserved an opportunity to play in the NFL, guys ranging from four feet tall to 500 pounds," Newsome said. "This is America. It's all about that dream."
And, as Ravens pro personnel coordinator Scott Pioli hinted, it can get a little twisted.
The best examples seem to show up on videotape. Like the time a few years ago when the Browns watched a self-anointed prospect, eager to show off his strength and agility, juggle bowling balls. Then there are the guys who send in tapes of themselves pumping iron in a gym. Sometimes, the tapes are complete with background music. "Eye of the Tiger" is a popular choice.
The greatest hit of the video collection might be the 34-year-old from Florida who taped himself on a hot summer day in 1992 -- complete with pads and helmet.
"He introduces himself, then he says he can do it all -- play quarterback, running back, wide receiver, kick and punt, return kicks. Then the tape shows him attempting to do each of those things," Pioli recalled. "After his buddy shanks a bunch of punts to him, the guy finally fields one and returns it the distance. He does this several times. This is where the tape goes from humorous to unbelievable."
The man wraps up his application by removing his helmet and addressing the camera. Then, his breath shortens, his faces contorts and he calmly steps off camera. After relieving his upset stomach, he completes his closing statement.
Newsome said the team's move to Baltimore "opened up a whole new arena" for such inquiries. For example, there was the man who showed up at the Ravens complex in April, barely a week after the team had moved here. The front office was buried in draft-day preparations, and suddenly, this huge individual was standing in Pioli's door, asking for a workout.
"I told him nicely that we didn't have time for him," Pioli said. "Open tryouts in the NFL are a thing of the past."
As he finished that story, Pioli looked at a letter from an athlete barely out of a Baltimore City high school, where he had been quite successful as a running back. The player began by misspelling team owner Art Modell's name, then addressed Modell later as "Mr. Ersay."
Pioli planned to call him back, just as he or someone else from the Ravens officially responds to every letter, fax or tape.
"The least we can do is respond to them," Pioli said. "The thing is, 75 percent or more of the tapes we get are serious and legitimate."
Although some of the wannabes have little or no football background, a stack of video resumes on Pioli's desk last week includes tapes from small-college players with useful game footage, along with several from Canadian Football League players, including one from former Baltimore Stallions nose tackle Jearld Baylis, a three-time CFL Lineman of the Year.
Occasionally, a long shot actually gets a shot at the NFL. Two years ago, the Browns gave a defensive lineman named Dane Kemp a training-camp look after watching him work out on his self-made tape. Kemp got his chance, but was cut.
Pioli receives a steady flow of inquiries, although the volume of mail picks up as losses mount and injuries occur. That means the letters and tapes have been coming in at a brisk clip this season.
Newsome said some of the material makes for comic relief. He recalled last spring, as draft day approached, the staff was bleary-eyed from watching so much tape of the nation's top collegiate talent. So he popped in an old favorite to break the tension.
"A man racing a horse, think of the ingenuity that went into that," Newsome said. "It's the kind of thing that takes the edge off of the grind. Plus, you just want to see it again."
NOTES: Inside linebacker Mike Caldwell, whose reinjured knee will require more surgery after the season, could be done for the year. Trainer Bill Tessendorf said Caldwell is doubtful for the Panthers game this week. Tight end Eric Green has a knee bruise that most likely will keep him from practicing today. Green and inside linebacker Ray Lewis (hip pointer) are day-to-day. Today, Ravens left guard Jonathan Ogden will distribute 150 Ravens jackets and 300 tickets to Baltimore City school students. Ogden will be joined by Mayor Kurt Schmoke after practice. The Ravens Wives Association will participate in a benefit fashion show at the Gallery at Harborplace today at noon. Proceeds from the show will go to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation and the House of Ruth.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Carolina Panthers
Site: Ericsson Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Panthers by 8
Pub Date: 12/11/96