Football returns to Baltimore Staff

For a city that had waited patiently for more than a decade for the return of pro football, for so many whose last memory of the NFL in Baltimore was of watching their beloved Colts roll out of town under the cover of darkness, 1996 was a very good year indeed.

Just a few years after a failed attempt to secure on NFL expansion franchise, Baltimore's wait ended when Art Modell packed up his Cleveland Browns franchise and relocated it to Charm City. And, in a nod to Baltimore's football history, one-time Colts coach Ted Marchibroda was picked to coach the soon-to-be-named Baltimore Ravens.

Football was back in Baltimore.

In a season of firsts, it was the Ravens first draft that would lay the foundation of the franchise for years to come. With their first-ever selection, No. 4 overall, Baltimore chose UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. Twenty-two picks later the Ravens took Miami linebacker Ray Lewis.

Baltimore's on-field accomplishments were less noteworthy.

A crowd of 62,124 fans – at the time the largest ever for a Baltimore pro sports event – turned out on Sept. 1 for the season opener at Memorial Stadium against the Oakland Raiders. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde scored on a 9-yard run for the first touchdown in franchise history, and the Ravens won their first-ever regular season game by a score of 19-14.

Baltimore went on to lose its next two games and finished its inaugural season with a 4-12 record. Despite boasting the league's second most prolific passing attack, the Ravens often found themselves involved in shootouts, including a 46-38 loss to New England in Week 6 and a 45-34 setback at Denver two weeks later.

The Ravens' four wins – the opener against Oakland, a 17-10 victory against New Orleans in Week 4, a 37-31 overtime win over St. Louis in Week 9 and a 31-17 victory against Pittsburgh in Week 14 – all came at Memorial Stadium. The game against the Steelers, played in the pouring rain, was highlighted by a memorable performance by Derrick Alexander, who caught seven passes for 198 yards and a touchdown.

"They didn't want to play, man," Ravens safety Bennie Thompson said after the game. "They talked a lot of trash, but couldn't back it up. They didn't think a 3-9 team could play this hard."

The Ravens wrapped up the season with a 24-21 loss to the Houston Oilers, a game in which receiver Michael Jackson accounted for all of Baltimore's points by catching three touchdown passes from Testaverde.

Testaverde's play was one of the bright spots for the Ravens during their first season. The former Heisman Trophy winner became the eighth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30 touchdowns and 4,000 yards in a single season, and the first to do so for a sub-.500 team. He totaled 4,177 yards and 33 touchdowns – both still franchise records – and was named to the AFC Pro Bowl team.

Safety Eric Turner also made the Pro Bowl, though Baltimore's defense gave up more passing yards than any other team in the league (4,115) and ranked 28th out of 30 teams in points allowed.

"I'm disappointed. We were a lot better team," offensive tackle Tony Jones said after the final game of the season. "We had talent. We showed spurts of it, but we weren't consistent."

Season Highlights

  • Testaverde established several franchise passing records that still stand, including the Ravens three highest single-game passing totals – 429 yards (Oct. 27 vs. St. Louis), 366 yards (Nov. 24 vs. Jacksonville) and 353 yards (Oct. 6 vs. New England).
  • Rookie linebacker Ray Lewis led the Ravens with 142 tackles in 14 games (10.1 per game), including 16 in a Week 9 win against the St. Louis Rams.
  • Ogden caught a 1-yard touchdown pass for the Ravens first score in their 31-17 win against Pittsburgh in Week 14.
  • Michael Jackson had the best season by a receiver in franchise history, catching 76 passes for 1,201 yards and 14 touchdowns. All three totals remain club records. He caught at least one touchdown pass in five consecutive games in Weeks 8-12.
  • Pro Bowl safety Turner intercepted a pass in five consecutive games in Weeks 9-13.
  • Baltimore's defense allowed 441 points, the most in franchise history, including a club-worst 46 points on Oct. 6 against New England.

The Year in the NFL

  • NFL MVP Brett Favre threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns to help the Green Bay Packers defeat the New England Patriots, 35-21, in Super Bowl XXXI, their first Super Bowl victory since 1968. Desmond Howard returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and totaled a Super Bowl record 244 all-purpose yards to claim MVP honors.
  • After joining the NFL in 1995, two expansion franchises, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, defied expectations by reaching their respective conference championship games. The Panthers went 12-4 during the regular season to win the NFC West, but lost the NFC Championship game to Green Bay, 30-13. Jacksonville got into the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the AFC with a 9-7 record, but upset Buffalo and top-seeded Denver before falling to New England, 20-6.
  • Detroit's Barry Sanders led all NFL rushers with 1,553 yards on 301 carries, the eighth consecutive season in which he rushed for at least 1,000 yards.
  • In his only season with the Arizona Cardinals, former Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason threw for 522 yards and three touchdowns in 37-34 win against the Washington Redskins.
  • The Associated Press selected Houston Oilers running back Eddie George as the Offensive Rookie of the Year after George rushed for 1,365 yards and 8 touchdowns. George was the third running back selected in the 1996 draft, behind St. Louis' Lawrence Phillips (No. 6 overall) and Carolina's Tim Biakabatuka (No. 8). Arizona's Simeon Rice, the No. 3 overall pick, won the award on defense.
  • Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle died at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., on Dec. 6. Rozelle led the NFL for 29 years, from 1960-1989.

The Year in the World

  • Bill Clinton was elected to his second term as President, winning 31 states and 379 electoral votes to defeat Bob Dole, who carried 19 states and 159 electoral votes.
  • A pipe bomb exploded at Olympic Park in Atlanta during a rock concert on July 27, killing one person and injuring 111 others.
  • Two major domestic commercial plane crashes cause concern about airline safety. A ValuJet plane crashed in the Florida Everglades on May 11, killing 110 people. On July 17, TWA Flight 800 crashed off of Long Island, killing 230 people.
  • Unabomber suspect Ted Kaczynski, the subject of a famous FBI sketch, was seized from his remote Montana cabin. The Unabomber, who usually mailed his bombs, was believed to be responsible for at least 16 attacks that killed three people and injured 23 others over a span of 18 years.
  • A truck bombing at an apartment complex housing U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia killed 19 U.S. servicemen and wounded hundreds more.
  • People everywhere were doing 'The Macarena' as the song by Los Del Rio went to No. 1, stayed there for weeks and inspired a dance craze.
  • Summer blockbuster 'Independence Day,' a movie about an alien invasion, opened on July 4 and ruled the box office, grossing $304 million. 'Braveheart' took home the Academy Award for Best Picture, with Mel Gibson winning Best Director honors for the film as well.
  • Rapper Tupac Shakur died as the result of gunshot wounds suffered during a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas.
  • After many turbulent years, the 15-year marriage of Charles and Diana, the prince and princess of Wales, ended in divorce.
  • Shoppers lined up to get their hands on the must-have Christmas gift of the year, Tickle me Elmo, the chuckling, fluffy, red 'Sesame Street' character for $30.
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