Case passes pressure test; Ravens: Stoney Case doesn't figure to get stressed out about his new role as starting quarterback: He has been a cool customer since his high school playing days in football-crazed Texas.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Sharon Case knew her son believed deeply in himself long before the Ravens discovered that quality in their new starting quarterback.

Stoney Case will feel the pressure when he takes the field in front of a cheering, packed house on Sunday, knowing he must lead his team to its first victory of 1999 against the Cleveland Browns. You don't have to tell Case about pressure. Long before he began a nondescript, five-year tour of the NFL, a journey that has taken him through three teams, a heap of disappointment and finally to the doorstep of his first golden opportunity, Case knew pressure quite well.

Try playing quarterback for your high school team in a state quarterfinal playoff game, before 31,000 people at Texas Stadium. Case did it when he was 17, as the leader of Permian High School in Odessa, which was the top-ranked school in the nation 10 years ago and was the subject of the best-selling book, "Friday Night Lights."

Sharon remembers her oldest son's great moments that year, many of which he performed in front of sellout home crowds of 20,000, while carrying Permian to a 16-0 record and a state title. She also remembers the ease with which he handled the fanatical prep football culture in that state.

"You know how a lot of kids have trouble sleeping the night before a big game? Stoney was always the type of kid who would take a nap after school, then just get up and go to the game," Sharon said. "I don't ever remember him having a doubt about himself. The more you knock him down, the quicker he gets back up."

Case, 27, is not on top of the world yet, but he aims to climb there. Spurned by the Arizona team that drafted him in 1995 and failed to develop him over three seasons, Case thought he had found a potential home in Indianapolis last spring. The Colts, looking for a backup to Peyton Manning, signed Case for two years, tossed him a $500,000 bonus, then shocked him by cutting him after he had completed five of six passes in the preseason opener last month.

Case still does not understand why the Colts suddenly chose Steve Walsh over him, and Indianapolis coach Jim Mora did not return phone calls to explain the reasoning. Case signed a one-year deal with the Ravens.

"People always get passed over for promotions for whatever reason, no matter what business they're in, and it doesn't always have to do with their ability," Case said. "I've gone from good situations to terrible situations. It's about being in the right situation at the right time."

The situation in Baltimore could not be more ideal for Case. After learning coach Brian Billick's offense at breakneck speed, after winning back-to-back preseason games on the last play and nearly leading a last-minute comeback victory against Pittsburgh on Sunday, Case has climbed the depth chart from No. 3 to No. 1, at the expense of veterans Scott Mitchell and Tony Banks.

"Stoney has got all the elements. Size, height, mobility, arm strength, intelligence," Billick said. "If he hits his stride and utilizes all of those abilities, we could have a heck of a quarterback. He's the prototype of what we're looking for."

Case, who will play in his sixth game and make the second start of his career against the Browns, quickly is becoming one of the most familiar faces in Baltimore. It helps that he has the face of a lifeguard who just walked off the set of "Baywatch." This guy already has exhibited star power -- he dated Ali Landry, of Doritos commercial fame.

"The secretaries love me," Billick said.

Case grew up around the oil fields and flatlands of Odessa -- located about halfway between Dallas and El Paso. If he wasn't playing sports or working summers in the oil fields fixing leaky pipes and faulty pump jacks ("You grow up there understanding manual labor"), Case was hunting deer, turkey, birds or wild hogs.

His father, Bobby, still works as a welder. Bobby and Sharon also own a convenience store in town. His younger brother, Stormy, is a physical therapist.

Stoney, named after Stoney Burke, the fictional cowboy in the short-lived television show from the 1960s, was a record-setting quarterback at New Mexico, where he was the only player in NCAA Division I-A history to pass for 8,000 yards and rush for 1,000. His 98 touchdowns are second all-time.

He also hit the classroom books as deftly as he found open receivers and directed the two-minute drill in those high-scoring, Western Athletic Conference games. Case graduated with a degree in biology and a 3.3 GPA. He might pursue medical school in the post-NFL world.

"I've been able to diagnose my own injuries for a long time," Case said. "I had two goals when I left high school. The first one was the more realistic one -- going to medical school. The other one was going to the NFL. You always hear about those guys who expect to get to the NFL and when it doesn't work, they get stranded."

Case basically got stranded in Arizona, after the Cardinals drafted him in the third round in 1995. According to then-coach Buddy Ryan, the plan was for Case to be a starter as early as 1996, after learning for a year under veteran Dave Krieg.

But Ryan, who is still a huge Case fan, got fired during Case's rookie year, effectively ending that experiment. For the next year-and-a-half under coach Vince Tobin, Case got stuck behind Boomer Esiason and Kent Graham. Then in 1997, Jake Plummer came along in the draft.

"Buddy gets fired, a new coaching staff comes in, and I was the redheaded stepchild they inherited," Case said.

"Nobody has ever given [Case] a shot," said Ryan, who recalled how Case out-studied every other rookie on the team in the film room in 1995. "Everybody has the will to win in the NFL on Sunday, when the bands are playing. Not everybody has the will to prepare to win. Stoney has that.

"When I got fired, Stoney came up to my office and I told him, 'I'm going to be watching you lead a pro football team in a few years. Make me look like a genius.' His arm is plenty strong. He's got a charisma about him. I think he's a natural leader of men."

Running back Errict Rhett saw that charisma invade the huddle on Sunday, following Mitchell's benching. Case yelled, slapped teammates on the shoulder pads, clapped his hands and went to work. After getting blindsided on a blitz and coughing up a costly fumble that led to a Steelers field goal, there was Case hitting receiver Qadry Ismail with a game-tying touchdown in crunch time.

Case "didn't sit on the ground moping because something bad happened. It was like it never happened," Rhett said of Case's fumble. "He came into the huddle pumped up and ready to play. There's a new man in here and I'm ready to run this thing. He's something special."

Sharon said: "I think this is the place. This is his opportunity, and it's up to him to make it or break it."

Said Case: "In college, I was always expected to make the plays in the fourth quarter for us to win. Either my arm or my legs had to do it. I like carrying the load. It's a challenge to me."

Ravens make moves

Quarterback isn't the only position where the Ravens are making changes. In addition to dropping Scott Mitchell to No. 3 behind Tony Banks, the team signs linebacker Jeff Kopp and releases tight end Lovett Purnell.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cleveland Browns

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 12

Tickets: Sold out

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