If the Orioles have resembled a sinking ship for most of the season, then the Ravens enter minicamp looking like the good ship lollipop.
The owner is pumped. The coach is pumped. The quarterback -- we kid you not -- is talking Super Bowl.
"This team has a chance to go all the way," Jim Harbaugh said yesterday. "More than a chance."
Never mind that the Ravens are 10-21-1 in Baltimore, and play in the same division as Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.
"I don't think I'll be doing my job as a quarterback if we don't make the postseason," Harbaugh said.
Accountability, what a concept.
Not only does Harbaugh embrace it, but so does Ted Marchibroda, the coach entering the final year of his contract.
Marchibroda, 67, is likely to be fired if the Ravens fail to make the playoffs. But he sounds almost too confident to care.
"I really don't give it any thought," Marchibroda said. "I'm just concerned about this year. I feel we have an opportunity to win, get into the playoffs. It's a happy feeling.
"You see the way [Larry] Bird coaches. You're there to win. You know you have to win. I think we have a football club that can win. That's all that matters."
Fightin' words from Harbaugh.
Fightin' words from Marchibroda.
Never one to be outdone, here's Art Modell:
"I'm very upbeat about the team, the stadium, the community, our opportunities, our prospects," the owner said. "Otherwise, I'm a downer."
Let the record state that Modell has a history of overrating his teams. Let it also state that the Browns/Ravens franchise has made the playoffs only once in the '90s.
So, why such optimism?
Well, Vinny is gone, or about to be. A smash-mouth system is in place. And no longer is almost half the roster comprised of first- and second-year players.
The opening of the new stadium will only add to the excitement, but at the team's minicamp in Owings Mills, the talk is only of football.
Marchibroda raves about the additions of the "four warriors" -- Harbaugh, running back Errict Rhett, fullback Roosevelt Potts and cornerback Rod Woodson.
He's also delighted that he probably will start no more than one rookie in the season opener -- cornerback Duane Starks, the team's first-round draft pick from Miami.
"He's an old hand. He's been around as long as I have," Modell said. "You don't turn the enthusiasm jets on and off every year. This year, he's really upbeat."
Half the NFL finished with between six and nine wins last season. The Ravens still might be at the bottom of that group, given the difficulty of their schedule.
The offense lacks a big-play threat. The secondary is both too young and too old. But Marchibroda keeps drawing comparisons with his '96 Indianapolis Colts, who came within one play of the Super Bowl.
Potts, a member of both teams, prefers the Ravens.
"I just see better players, better athletes," he said. "The year we went almost all the way in Indianapolis, we only had five or six guys on the whole team you could count on. We were just good in spots.
"Here, we're two or three deep at some positions. I don't see a lot of drop-off."
Harbaugh doesn't like to compare, and besides, he said, it's too early. One thing he has noticed, though -- the same type of excitement stirring in Marchibroda.
After improving from 1-15 to 9-7 in Marchibroda's first season, the Colts dropped to 4-12 before going 8-8 and 9-7, earning a wild card and two playoff victories.
The Ravens went from 4-12 to 6-9-1, and now they've got a winner at quarterback, rather than a detached, star-crossed Charlie Brown. They're also shelving their three-wide receiver set for a two-back offense -- power football.
"It's more basic," Marchibroda said. "We have a football team that is going to be able to control the game a little more. We'll move the ball offensively to keep the defense off the field. We'll be running.
"Defensively, we have to take the football away, give us field position on offense. That's the kind of club we have now. That's the kind of team the players really like. You're strong. You're physical. We're a physical football team now."
The Jaguars, Tennessee Oilers and Cincinnati Bengals are trying to narrow the gap to Pittsburgh with offense. The Ravens are going the other way, using first-round picks to select Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Starks on defense.
Will they score enough points? If Harbaugh stays healthy, if Rhett and Potts shake off their rust, if Jermaine Lewis can be as effective on the outside as he was in the slot.
Tight end Eric Green is in his best shape as a Raven. Second-year back Jay Graham is listed ahead of Rhett on the depth chart -- and could play a huge role, if he overcomes questions about his pain threshold.
At the center of it all is Marchibroda, who appeared in jeopardy last November after Modell called a 37-0 loss at Pittsburgh "embarrassing" and refusing comment on any members of his coaching staff.
Modell said yesterday that he had "supreme confidence" in Marchibroda. The coach could always retire if he was fired, but that clearly is not part of his plan.
"I'd be extremely disappointed if it were to happen," Marchibroda said. "My goal is to win that darn Super Bowl. I've been there three times, and haven't won it. That still burns."
The coach is pumped. Everyone is pumped.
The good ship lollipop has set sail.
Pub Date: 6/02/98