After losing two straight home games, first-year head coach Brian Billick said yesterday that he is glad the Ravens will play three straight road games but questioned whether his team would get proper and fair treatment from the league Sunday in Cleveland.
Ravens owner Art Modell owned the Cleveland Browns franchise from 1961 through 1995 but moved the team to Baltimore for the 1996 season. After a three-year absence, the league granted Cleveland a new Browns franchise, which began play this season.
"I know darn well we're not going to get a call in Cleveland, no way, no shape, no form, no how. The league would really like to see Cleveland beat us," Billick said at his weekly news conference yesterday.
After spending several hours viewing game film, Billick didn't back off his statements last night.
"The league clearly would like for Cleveland to do well," Billick said. "The league helped them to bring football back to Cleveland, and they want to stem teams from moving. The league also gave Cleveland a lot of latitude in the drafts and free agency. At least with Jacksonville and Carolina, they had to compete with each other, and it was kept under control. In the case of Cleveland, a lot was given to one single entity."
Billick said he expected a sellout crowd in the new 72,500-seat Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday and expected the game to be an emotional affair. But that's his concern, according to Billick. He fears the officials may get caught up in the emotions of the game and the Browns may be the recipients of a lot of favorable calls.
"In no way am I intimating the league or the officials are putting a fix in for the game," Billick said. "But the emotions will be very high. The officials want to be neutral, but it's not against human nature to assume that they may get caught up in the emotions of the game. It would be very easy for anyone to get swept away."
When asked if he were doing some pre-game lobbying of the officials, Billick said his remarks are no different from the visiting coach meeting with the head official before the game to discuss concerns.
"We, as coaches, do it all the time," Billick said. "It is no different than the officials asking you the night before about certain concerns. You might alert him to a team that is adroit at holding or a veteran quarterback who may head-bob during a hard count. You have to put a bug in their ear. It's all part of the home-field advantage. You expect to get more home-field calls. Is it valid? I don't know, but as coaches, we think in those terms sometimes. To me, it's very realistic to think there will be a time when the officials will get swept up, and I want them to be very alert for it."
Billick said he expects Browns president Carmen Policy and vice president Dwight Clark to take the proper measures to ensure the safety of his team. The Browns and the fans will feed off each other, according to Billick.
"This is a huge game for them, the players and the fans," Billick said. "When the emotions run high on one side of the ball, it tends to pick up on the other side. Cleveland players will want to show their fans that they will fight to the end, and I expect that. But I don't want this to turn into a brawl.
"I fully expect Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark to do everything possible to make it competitive out there. But that they won't let anything happen that will embarrass their franchise or the city of Cleveland with anyone taking their exuberance too far, much like this franchise did last year here against Indianapolis," Billick said.
Billick expects to get a lot of boos Sunday, too, because he turned down the Browns to take the job with the Ravens last January. The Browns lobbied Billick until he decided to visit Baltimore first before flying to Cleveland.
"I tried to rent the little 'Popemobile,' the one the pope has with the glass shrine, for me to come out, but unfortunately we can't get it here on time," Billick said, laughing. "That's what this game is about in terms of going in having this type of emotion from a team that is 2-5 and 1-6. It will be the Super Bowl for both sides, and that aspect is a lot of fun."
The Ravens will practice with a lot of crowd noise piped in this week. The Indianapolis Colts had trouble getting plays off last year in the first quarter of the game at PSINet Stadium.
"I think they are going to keep it up for longer periods of time," Billick said. "You go into some stadiums, depending on success, and the noise may wear out or wane a little bit. I suspect they will maintain it for a long period of time."
Billick said he preferred playing on the road because the challenges would be a test for his team. After Cleveland, the Ravens travel to Jacksonville and Cincinnati. Billick will start Tony Banks against the Browns but seemed to suggest he wouldn't hesitate to use Stoney Case if Banks struggled.
"We're going to fight to the end. I don't know where this is going to end, but I looked down the roster last night and didn't see one player who is going to tank this thing right now," Billick said. "It's good to go on the road right now, win some and show our fans that we're not going to quit."
Overall, Banks didn't perform badly in his first start of 1999 against the Buffalo Bills. He showed some rust, but clearly showed he could make the kinds of passes necessary to run the offense. His downfall was two turnovers in the fourth quarter, which led to 10 points and a 13-10 Buffalo win, but the interception was excusable, according to Billick.
Banks completed only 13 of 34 passes but had to throw several away because there weren't any open receivers.
"We're not going to shuttle quarterbacks back and forth," Billick said. "We're going to work to develop two quarterbacks [Banks and Case] in a quarterback-starved league. We're going to start Tony Banks and stay with him as long as he is learning, staying within the profile of the offense, making the proper reads and progressing. We're not into the rotating system."
Despite some slightly harsh criticism of Banks on Sunday after the game, Billick said he had a good relationship with Banks and criticized him more openly than Case because he expected more from Banks.
When Banks was asked about his relationship with Billick, he paused for about five seconds. "I think we get along," Banks said. "It's not the best relationship I've had with a coach, but when you're No. 2 or No. 3, there is not much time for a conversational relationship. It will probably get better now because we have to communicate more on a daily basis."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Site: Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Series: Ravens lead 1-0
Last meeting: Ravens won, 17-10, on Sept. 26 at PSINet Stadium
Line: Ravens by 3