Only a person who was there on the Ravens' opening day of operations 25 years ago can truly appreciate how much the franchise has accomplished in its brief history in Baltimore.
The training facility in Owings Mills was being renovated and contractors were still putting up drywall for offices and installing phone lines. The trainer, Bill Tessendorf, doubled as an architect and often walked around with a hard hat and tool belt. The locker room was a mess, the building smelled like dust and the two practices fields were both gray and balding.
And at the team’s first practice, the Ravens came out wearing white pants, black jerseys with no names on the back and helmets that didn’t have a decal or logo.
Ladies and gentlemen, your Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens have evolved into not only one of the NFL’s top franchises, but one of the best in sports. They’ve been to the playoffs 12 times and appeared in three AFC title games.
They’ve won two Super Bowls (2000 and 2012), and that might not be impressive to some but there are 12 teams that haven’t won that title and four franchises that never played in that game.
It’s not hard to name the four: Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville and Houston.
The Ravens, though, have restored Baltimore’s legacy as one of the NFL’s most storied franchises up there with Green Bay, Dallas, the New York Giants, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
It’s fitting the Ravens play the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the franchise that left Baltimore in the evening hours on March 28, 1984. The Colts gave some of us special memories that we still cherish like “The Greatest Game” ever played in 1958, or NFL titles in the 1959 and 1970 seasons.
Those teams gave Baltimore Sunday heroes such as Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, John Mackey, Lenny Moore, Artie Donovan, Jimmy Orr and Mike Curtis.
It was hard to believe any team could come in and connect with fans like the old Colts. Honestly, the Ravens haven’t, but it’s a different time and era. The Ravens have established their own special place and identity and given us new stars while also having a tremendous impact on the league.
Former and late Ravens owner Art Modell was castigated for moving his team from Cleveland to Baltimore, but it served as a starting point for the modern stadiums that were to come. In Baltimore, Memorial Stadium was a cherished monument but obsolete and rundown when the Ravens started playing there. In 1998, the Ravens began play in 70,000-seat M&T Bank Stadium, which despite being more than 20 years old, is still one of the finest facilities in the country. The team also moved into a 32-acre training facility in Owings Mills in 2004.
As for stars, the Ravens have already produced three Hall of Famers in offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. There might be two more on the way in linebacker Terrell Suggs and guard Marshal Yanda.
That’s a pretty good bunch in only 25 years, not to mention that Hall of Famer tight end Shannon Sharpe, safety Rod Woodson and cornerback Deion Sanders played for the Ravens at the ends of their careers.
The key has been the ownership. Modell and current owner Steve Bisciotti had different styles, but both are highly competitive, loyal to their employees and seem to have this knack for finding appropriate leaders.
Modell was more of a mom-and-pop owner. That’s not a knock, but his team was his only business. He made everyone feel as if they were a part of his team from the players to the media. Modell hired Ted Marchibroda as his first coach and Ozzie Newsome as his general manager.
Marchibroda wasn’t a big name back then but he was a great bridge having coached the Colts in the mid to late 1970s. He wasn’t going to win in Baltimore because the Ravens didn’t have a lot of cash, but he helped make a peaceful transition.
Newsome, the first Black general manager in the NFL, turned out to be superb. His first two draft picks were Ogden and Lewis. Not only was he the architect of two Super Bowl-winning teams, but his influence and guidance helped create opportunities for several African American head coaches and coordinators.
With Newsome’s assistance, late team president David Modell hired Brian Billick as the head coach after the 1998 season. Billick was exactly what this team needed. He was an eloquent speaker and dynamic leader. The Ravens plastered his face with his name spelled out in all capital letters, “BILLICK!!!!,” on billboards throughout the city.
Bisciotti has a different style. He is corporate and more in the background than Modell, but he knows the pulse of his team, which is why he hired John Harbaugh as head coach in 2008. The Ravens needed a disciplinarian, a coach who was more involved with a team concept instead of the star system.
Bisciotti also hired Dick Cass as president 17 years ago. Like Bisciotti, Cass works in the shadows but is the guy I refer to as the “Quiet Storm.” He is the most powerful guy in the organization and well respected throughout the league.
The Ravens have continuity. It transcends from ownership, to coaching, to the front office, from Newsome down to the person who replaced him two years ago, Eric DeCosta.
It’s a stability that has taken root on the field.
Before the season started the Ravens had compiled a 214-169-1 record in Baltimore, including going 15-10 in the postseason. When you look over that period, few teams except the New England Patriots, have had that kind of success.