Web offers mixed bag for Ravens fanatics; Content: Stories are often outdated, but stat freaks will love what they find online.


You're a big Ravens fan. Your sofa is upholstered in purple and black. Your doorbell goes "caw, caw, caw." Your dog is named Billick.

You already read every word in the paper, watch every minute on television, listen to every syllable on the radio talk shows.

The question is: Do you need to get online?

The answer? It depends on just how fanatical you are.

A check of major sports Web sites during the week ending with the Ravens' first regular-season game turned up little that a daily reader of The Sun or follower of TV sports news wouldn't already know. At best, the sites had news the same day it appeared in print or on the tube. At worst, they were hopelessly outdated and even confusing.

Still, sports sites do put statistics at your fingertips any time -- and don't forget tidbits like learning about tight end Aaron Pierce's favorite martial arts movie actor. (Don't rush off to your PC -- it's the late Bruce Lee.)

But first, the news -- or lack thereof. On our test day of Sept. 6, The Sun reported the Ravens' final cuts, including the surprise waiver of middle linebacker Tyrus McCloud and news that the team was considering a trade of backup quarterback Tony Banks.

That information was nowhere to be found on the Ravens pages at the big sports Web sites.

At CBS Sportsline (cbs.sportsline.com), the top "Latest News" story was a staff-written piece on Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs linebackers, which was posted on the Ravens page because Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis was mentioned. The page's only article on cuts was a day-old wire-service roundup that mentioned the departure of Ravens running back/wide receiver Eric Metcalf.

Over at CNN/Sports Illustrated (www.cnnsi.com), the top story on the Ravens page was an Associated Press account of the last preseason game from three days earlier; the last significant roster move reported was wide receiver Webster Slaughter's departure on Aug. 31.

Defensive end Michael McCrary, an unhappy wanderer during contract talks, was still gone as far as CNN/SI knew. But any Ravens fan in Baltimore with one eye open knew McCrary had ended his brief walkout nearly a week earlier.

ESPN (espn.go.com) at least reported that McCrary was returning, but there was no cutdown story beyond Slaughter. It was much the same at the official NFL Web site (www.nfl.com) -- a three-day-old preseason game and outdated cutdown stories.

Through the rest of the week, Web sightings of Ravens news didn't improve. CNN/SI passed along The Sun report of Banks on the trading block a day after publication. On the day of publication, Sportsline, ESPN and CNN/SI picked up the AP rewrite of a Sun article about owner Art Modell's efforts to sell part of the club.

So you get the point. If it's news to you, you have a better chance of being informed the low-tech way -- newspapers, radio or TV. But then, most fans don't save their newspapers past recycling day. This is where the Web is invaluable.

Most football sites have rosters, depth charts, statistics and player biographies. When they have been updated, they're great guides for the true fan.

NFL.com was loaded with tidbits -- supplied by the Ravens' public relations department -- heading into the opener at St. Louis. Among them: The Ravens were 0-2 in domes, and cornerback DeRon Jenkins is a St. Louis native. So that explains it.

The most extensive bios are on the Ravens' official Web site (www.baltimoreravens.com), which reproduces every player's page from the team's media guide.

What fan wouldn't want to know that onetime starting quarterback Scott Mitchell won the "closest to the pin" competition at the 1997 Detroit Lions charity golf tournament? (OK, no jokes about how he might have kept his starting job if he'd won the "closest to the receiver" contest.) And where else would you learn that offensive lineman Spencer Folau is native of the South Pacific island of Tonga: His mother is from Wyoming and met his father while she was a Peace Corps nurse.

But even straightforward information comes with a caveat. In addition to outdated rosters, depth charts aren't always reliable. Even NFL.com continued to list statistics for the waived Metcalf, Wally Richardson and Steve Broussard well after the team's first regular-season game.

The Ravens' official site also links to Ravenszone.net, most of whose content -- coach Brian Billick's weekly news conferences, opposing coaches' phone news conferences, e-mail to players -- is available only to subscribers. However, anyone can get to the Ravenszone classifieds. For sale: a 1999 Porsche for $51,000. Perhaps being sold by a recently cut Raven?

Whether it's Ravenszone.net or NFL.com, be aware that some content is produced by public relations departments. A season preview story at NFL.com quoted Denver Broncos rookie Al Wilson as saying: "It's not about the money and fame. It's about the love of the game." You can almost hear the NFL Films music in the background.

But enough complaining.

The major sports Web sites are easy to navigate. Getting to a team's page is usually just a matter of clicking from a list of clubs on the main page. At NFL.com, all 31 team logos run across the top of the page.

Depth charts and rosters are generally more readable than in the newspaper, with each player's bio and stats linked. CNN/SI offers a touch any true gridhead would love: Its depth chart shows X's and O's; click on a position and see the names of the starter, backup and third-teamer.

CNN/SI produces "Flags and Flattery," a series of quick takes on the NFL that shows some attitude. ESPN makes good use of on-air commentators such as Sean Salisbury and Mike Golic, while CBS Sportsline -- overall, the best of this bunch -- has good staff-produced material and extensive game preview packages.

Gamme previews also make The Sporting News site (www.sportingnews.com) worth visiting. (The Sporting News, like The Sun, is owned by the Times Mirror Co.) Offensive and defensive game plans are summed up, with edges noted for the superior offensive line, quarterback and so on. You'll also find key matchups.

Other sites can give you the basics, too -- Yahoo! Sports (sports.yahoo.com), MSNBC (www.msnbc.com/news/spt_Front.asp) or Fox Sports (foxsports.com) -- but their content isn't deep.

And let's not forget SunSpot, The Sun's site (www.sunspot.net), which contains all that news missing from other sites, plus this cute touch -- click on a Raven's roster entry, and up pops a football-card window for that player.

Most sites update games in progress with running scores, play-by-play recaps, drive charts and statistics. Some feature splashy graphics; others are as plain as a copy of a typewritten page. But on any given Sunday -- as the NFL cliche goes -- how useful are these updates? What in the world is a real fan doing in front of a computer instead of the TV?

After the games, sure, go check on those stats. Pore over the drive charts. Revel in the play-by-play. None of the sites has a particular edge here, with the exception of Sportsline's drive charts: Click on the time each drive began, and you get a color-coded graphic with bars running across the field to show what happened on each play.

Pretty cool, sure, but where is the map showing how Spencer Folau's mom traveled from Wyoming to Tonga?

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