Johnson's dance steps up team's emotions


ATLANTA -- For the record, Patrick Johnson wasn't doing the Dirty Bird.

"Nah, that's something I made up in practice," he said of his touchdown dance.

"The 'Let-Go-Of-Some-Frustration Raven,' " Qadry Ismail said.

Johnson is a charming kid with a boyish smile, probably the last Raven you would expect to taunt an opponent.

But yesterday, he was Cassius Clay to Ray Buchanan's Sonny Liston, Chuck Bednarik to Buchanan's Frank Gifford.

Johnson not only changed the game with his 52-yard touchdown reception and WWF-style altercation with Buchanan, but he also might have changed the Ravens forever.

His act wasn't the kind of thing you want your kids to emulate. You could even argue that it represented everything wrong in sports.

But why preach?

This is the NFL. If you're looking for manners, turn the channel.

The Ravens finally showed life yesterday in their 19-13 overtime victory over Atlanta. A little too much life perhaps, but there's no arguing with the result.

Johnson's glorious display of poor sportsmanship was matched, if not exceeded, by the body slam he received from Buchanan. And rest assured, the NFL will issue its own form of punishment, hitting Johnson in the wallet.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was in attendance at the Georgia Dome, probably wishing Baltimore had built a museum.

Too late, Sun King.

A new species of dirty bird is alive and well in Baltimore.

"It definitely fires you up," linebacker Peter Boulware said of Buchanan's retaliation and subsequent ejection. "When emotions start flying like that, it's not just a game. It almost turns into a war."

And until yesterday, the Ravens almost always surrendered.

The defending NFC champion Falcons were down to their third quarterback and third running back at one point, but it didn't matter who the opponent was. The Ravens finally overcome their worst enemy -- themselves.

They managed only 6 yards passing in the first half. They produced their usual missed field-goal attempts, stupid penalties and botched snaps. They finished with both starting offensive tackles and both starting defensive tackles injured.

But, for once, they prevailed, evening their record at 2-2.

"You guys [reporters] talk about changing the attitude of this team, that I need to change the attitude, that they're used to losing and get comfortable with that," coach Brian Billick said.

"As a coach, you really can't do that. All you can do is put them in situations where they believe in what they're doing. And then you've got to hope that things like this start to get them to believe."

Maybe yesterday was a turning point for a team that had been 5-20 on the road, a team that had made a habit of losing to backup quarterbacks, but this time knocked one out of the game.

Linebacker Ray Lewis said: "There was never a time the team got down." Quarterback Stoney Case told his teammates: "Don't worry. I'm going to get it right. We're going to win this game." Running back Errict Rhett shouted at the Falcons: "I'm like a damn truck running up in there!"

Such bravado seemed hollow after the Falcons took a 13-3 lead on a 30-yard shovel pass from Danny Kanell to Jammi German with 3: 32 left in the third quarter.

But then Case threw his touchdown pass to Johnson on the fourth play of the next possession, and the fun began.

Johnson, who is from Gainesville, Ga., had 35 relatives in attendance. He had been nursing a strained calf muscle since the opener. Ismail said coaches and veterans had been riding him all week in practice.

Great art often results from great angst.

The "Let-Go-Of-Some-

Frustration Raven" was no different.

Buchanan lay flat on his back in the end zone after the touchdown, arms outstretched in disappointment. Johnson boogied practically on top of him, unveiling a dance he had first performed for teammate Billy Davis at practice.

"Maybe I could have controlled the situation a little better," Johnson said. "This is only my second year. This is the first big touchdown in the regular season I've had. I shouldn't have stood so close to him. I didn't mean to taunt him."

But just as Johnson prepared to spike the ball, Buchanan sprung from the turf, slammed him to the ground and began punching him -- a sequence that impressed Ismail, and would have impressed Vince McMahon.

"What I appreciated about it was he had great position," Ismail said. "He just scooped [Johnson] real quick. There were referees around. Everybody was going to come around. But he did it so quick, what could they do?"

Rhett was less amused.

"I think that hurt them as a team," he said. "It was so unsportsmanlike. You don't do that. You've got to humble yourself. He [Buchanan] is not even that kind of a person. But we don't need that. That's the worst thing you can do in the NFL."

Buchanan was unavailable to comment, but Falcons safety Eugene Robinson rose to his defense, saying: "Frustration gets the best of all of us. You don't condone what Ray did, but I will go to war with him any day."

Well, the war ended with the Falcons 0-4.

Johnson's touchdown alone would have inspired the Ravens. His emotional outburst took them to another level.

The suddenly possessed Jamie Sharper drilled Winslow Oliver on the ensuing kickoff. Kim Herring and Lional Dalton then dropped Byron Hanspard for a 3-yard loss. Rob Burnett forced a fumble and Herring recovered two plays later, leading to the tying field goal.

Who would have believed it?

The dirty bird has migrated to Baltimore.

Pub Date: 10/04/99

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