Leaving the past behind Redemption:

As the curtain went up on Baltimore's new NFL act, the characters who had played roles in the 13-year drama of political intrigue and financial largesse were spread from the upper decks of Memorial Stadium to the beaches of France.

The debut of the Ravens at Memorial Stadium marked the official end of one of Baltimore's most intense municipal struggles. It began with the departure of the Colts in 1984 and spanned a dozen years of bitter disappointments and, yesterday, sweet success.

Along the way, it touched the administrations of three governors, three mayors and the lives of thousands of fans, and changed forever the relationship between the NFL and the cities it inhabits.

"The important thing is we have football back here," said John Mackey, who, as a tight end for the Baltimore Colts from 1963 to 1971, played a big part in the city's football history.

Mackey was one of about 40 former Colts who participated in pre-game ceremonies, taking the field in Colts jerseys and then donning Ravens jackets.

He lives in Los Angeles and runs team-building seminars for corporations. He also was an investor in a group headed by novelist Tom Clancy that filed, then canceled an application to own an expansion team in Baltimore.

"All my kids were born here. . . . They were nine special years," Mackey said.

Johnny Unitas -- the greatest Colt of all time -- also was there yesterday, running in the game ball. His gait was slower, but his round-shouldered slouch was instantly recognizable as he waved the ball to the crowd and handed it to the referee. He still lives in the area.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke watched the game from the mayor's box and recalled his own Memorial Stadium memories: He quarterbacked City College in its annual games against Poly in 1964 and 1965. Later, as mayor, he supported the winning fight )) for stadium funding in Annapolis and the losing battle for an expansion franchise.

"Obviously, I'm thrilled for the whole community and very pleased I didn't approve the demolition of Memorial Stadium," Schmoke said.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, whose administration was only 10 months old when the Browns agreed to move to Baltimore, pronounced, "I am a Ravens fan."

It was the second conversion in the Glendening family in recent weeks. His wife, Frances, recently switched party affiliations to her Democratic husband's, and he has suspended, at least for now, his long-standing support of the Redskins.

His predecessor, William Donald Schaefer, also was there, making the rounds of the pre-game talk shows and soaking up the atmosphere. He was mayor when the Colts left and, as governor, assembled the stadium funding package that convinced the Browns to move here.

"Maybe it was the one-two punch. Schaefer softened them up, and we went in for the kill," said Glendening, who watched the game with his wife from a set of midfield, mezzanine seats.

Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag, the lobbyist who finally got a team to take Baltimore's lucrative offer, tried to hide his tears behind sunglasses at the opening kick. He viewed the game from 50-yard-line, upper-deck seats with his wife and daughters.

"It was intense. Look at this crowd, it's a real Baltimore crowd," said Moag.

Moag moved to Baltimore as an 8-year-old, to a house two blocks away from Memorial Stadium, where he parked cars in his backyard and sneaked into games through a back fence.

Among Baltimore's biggest supporters in the NFL, former Eagles owner Norman Braman yesterday was wrapping up his extended summer stay at his house in France, outside Monaco. He returns today to Miami, where he runs a chain of auto dealerships.

"I'm really happy for the fans and the community. It took a long time," said Braman, who sold the Eagles after expansion.

Another youth who sneaked into Colts games was Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, who went on to found a chain of clothing stores and earn a fortune.

"I'm now a Ravens fan," Weinglass announced last week.

Weinglass, who was an applicant to own an expansion franchise had Baltimore won the competition in 1993, said he is still sorry he didn't get the team. But he has bought season tickets -- upper deck, 50-yard line -- and plans to attend as many games as he can. He had planned on attending yesterday's game, but had to change plans at the last moment and remained in his home in Aspen, Colo.

"Naturally, I would have loved to have brought the new franchise. But I found out in life you can't always get what you want," he said.

Moag's predecessor, Herbert J. Belgrad, said he planned to attend yesterday's game. He's a civilian now, having given up his volunteer stadium authority post to return full-time to his law practice, and gives Moag a lot of credit for finishing the job.

Clancy planned to watch the game from his Calvert County estate overlooking the Chesapeake. He said he's "in recovery" from the publication of his ninth book, "Executive Orders."

Angelos was in Seattle yesterday, watching his baseball team, the Orioles, play the Mariners last night.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue opted to spend yesterday in Charlotte, N.C., where the Panthers opened their new stadium. Charlotte and Jacksonville, Fla., at the urging of Tagliabue, beat out Baltimore for the two expansion franchises the league owners awarded in 1993.

"Baltimore's NFL fans have always been among the most knowledgeable and passionate in the country," Tagliabue said in a statement released by the league. He said the Ravens' future was "very promising."

Tagliabue's predecessor, Pete Rozelle, planned to spend yesterday at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., with his bTC daughter. He said he'd have three television sets going, one of them carrying the Ravens game.

"Anyone who knows me is aware of how I was personally distressed when the Colts left Baltimore and the league was powerless to do anything about it," said Rozelle, who was commissioner when the Colts moved to Indianapolis.

Rozelle, 70, is battling cancer.

"It would be nice to have the city have a winner," Rozelle said last week.

Ravens owner Art Modell, following a long-standing tradition, refused to comment to reporters on game day. He watched the game from the owners box with his wife and some top officials of the team. His son, David Modell, Ravens executive vice president, watched the pre-game ceremonies on the field.

"When Johnny U came out with the ball, it was all over for me. It was just one of the special experiences I'll ever have. I'll remember that forever," the younger Modell said.

William Hudnut, who was mayor of Indianapolis and negotiated the deal to move the Colts in 1984, recently left the Chicago taxpayer watchdog group he had worked for and has taken a job as a fellow with a Washington trade association representing developers, the Urban Land Institute. He was scheduled to be moving yesterday.

Robert Irsay, the Colts owner who started Baltimore down the road of denial and redemption, still lives in Indianapolis, where he has been gravely ill after suffering a stroke. A team spokesman would not say last week whether the team owner would be at home or a hospital when the Colts opened their season at home against the Arizona Cardinals.

"This is not a topic that needs involvement from us," the spokesman said of Baltimore's return.