“Why Is A Raven Like A Racing Horse?” By Ger Sayers –
I am a Baltimore Ravens fan, let’s get that out of the way. I started watching football from the early 2000’s and I picked Baltimore. One reason why I made my choice is they were a young enough franchise so, to me, it was like following a team from the start but the history of Pro Football in Baltimore goes back so much further than 1996. In fact, it’s as old the NFL. So, Vault Boys and Girls, let’s get into the Delorean, fire the Flux Capacitor and head back to when it all began.
Well It’s A Two Horse Race!
Football can really be taxing on the brain and I don’t just mean the CTE. Baltimore is home to what can only be described as one of the most screwed up stories about how a football team found a home, even worse than The Raiders, and it happened more than once for this city. The NFL is just a handful of years shy of being 100 years in existence and Baltimore through the most thinnest of lineage can trace its roots to Day 1…sort of.
In 1920, the Dayton Triangles became one of the original founding teams of the NFL. As the 20’s rolled on, they became one one of only three surviving charter teams, Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals and Decatur Staleys (now Chicago Bears). They even became a Road Team, i.e. a team with no home games, for a bit before being sold to a New York syndicate who moved the team to Brooklyn and renamed them The Brooklyn Dodgers, no relation to the Baseball team FYI, in 1930.
By 1944, they had changed the name to The Tigers. Due to player shortages due to a minor disagreement known as World War II, you may have heard of it, they merged with The Boston Yanks during 1945 to become The Yanks. No city name, just The Yanks. Make your own jokes.
The teams would split up in 1946, with the New York half moving to the rival football league, The All-American Football Conference. The Boston half would have three losing seasons before NFL chiefs allowed owner, Ted Collins, to shut down the club and start a new one in, of all places, New York, to form the New York Bulldogs in 1949.
In 1950, the AAFC had been absorbed into the NFL and the Brooklyn Tigers, now The Brooklyn-New York Yankees due to its merging with a rival AAFC team, The New York Yankees, (once again, nothing to do with the more famous Baseball team) were disbanded and had part of its roster join the New York Giants and the rest joining their former Yanks teammates in the Bulldogs to form the New York Yanks. Again, make your own jokes.
The NY Yanks were a financial mess, with it being sold back to/taken back by the NFL and Ted Collins walking away from them in 1951. Its place in the league would be sold to a Texan syndicate who would establish the worse team in NFL history, the Cleveland Brow…just kidding!
That honor belongs to The Dallas Texans. In their one year in the league, they went belly up like a goldfish when unable to secure $200,000 to finish the slate of game. With several games still to go, the team HQ was moved to Pennsylvania and played its last “home” games in Ohio and Detroit to end the season. This disastrous season gives them the titles of being the last NFL team to cease operations and the team with the worst winning percentage ever after a 1-11 season.
But what the hell has that got to do with Baltimore, I hear you scream. Well, it’s complicated.
Baltimore would get its beginning in pro football in 1947. They were a team who started in 1946, in Miami as The Seahawks who were granted the franchise as one of the first teams in the AAFC. This occurred due to former Heavyweight Pro-Boxer Gene Tunney, a prospected team buyer, not being able to secure a deal for use of a stadium in Baltimore. As seems to be the running theme throughout this story, The ‘Hawks amassed massive amounts of debt which the team owner, Harvey Hester, simply couldn’t pay and declared bankruptcy.
AAFC top brass took the team away from him and sold it to a group of businessmen from Washington who would go on to set up the Baltimore Colts but we’re still not at the Baltimore Colts everyone remembers!
The first Colts, named to link up with the history of horse racing in Baltimore, would compete in the AAFC until it was absorbed into the NFL but by 1951 it would fold. The name would be kept alive when the remnants of the Dallas Texans were purchased by Carroll Rosenbloom and the Colts we know today was born. It’s from this point Baltimore’s love of pro football would grow and grow.
Legendary players and coaches such as Johnny Unitas and Don Shula would guide the Colts to success. Carroll Rosenbloom would lead the club until 1972 when disagreements with the city of Baltimore over the old chestnut of stadiums, led him to trade the team for the LA Rams to the man who would become the most hated man in Baltimore’s football history.
In 1972, Bob Irsay would buy the LA Rams and trade the team with Carroll Rosenbloom so he could take control of the Colts. 1972 was a terrible season for the Colts with the team’s first losing record in 16 years. At the end of the season, Legendary Colt QB, Johnny Unitas, was traded to the San Diego Chargers.
1973 to 1977 would be successful enough, making it to the playoffs three times. Things went south rapidly from here for the team’s fortunes leading to the darkest days in the history of the Baltimore Colts. Enduring losing season after losing season from 1978 to 1983, including highlights like 1981’s points (533) and yards (6,793) allowed followed by 1982’s winless season, which to be fair was cut short because of a player strike. Denver Broncos current GM, John Elway, famously said he wouldn’t play for the Colts when drafted in 1983 which led him to be traded to the Broncos and the rest is history.
This Is My Team
1983 saw a winning season return to Baltimore but by the start of the 1984 season, the Colts didn’t. Years of disagreement with Baltimore public officials and the team finally came to a decision which still angers some Baltimore residents who lived through it.
Even before Irsay was involved with the team, The Memorial Stadium was a dump. It wasn’t suitable for football or baseball let alone hoisting both the Colts and MLB’s Baltimore Orioles. Carroll Rosenbloom had even said he would move the Colts if the stadium wasn’t improved upon. He briefly considered spending his own money and build a new stadium in Baltimore, so desperate was he to leave the stadium. In 1972, when Irsay arrived, he was under the impression a new stadium would be in the pipeline.
The proposed new stadium, The Baltodome as it would become known, was to be built near Camden Yards in the Inner Harbour area of the city but due to politics of the day would eventually put this project on the back foot. The fallout of the 1960’s race riots, a teacher’s strike, and The Vietnam Wars to name but a few problems that were occupying the mind of the local government in early 1970’s Baltimore. In the end, one piece of legislation crumbled the Baltodome quicker than any natural disaster ever could, Question P, in 1974. To put it simply, it asked if voters wished for the government to spend money on new stadiums or to be spent somewhere else like teachers’ salaries. The answer declared the 33rd Street stadium as a memorial to war veterans and banned the use of city funds from building any other stadium.
Despite declaring his love for the Baltimore, Irsay began fielding inquiries from cities about moving his team in 1976 including Phoenix, LA, Memphis and Jacksonville. Irsay even said in 1980, he was “97%” sure the Colts would be playing in LA the following season. This was before Raiders owner, Al Davis, beat him in signing a deal with the LA Memorial Coliseum.
Knowing Irsay was being woo’d by other cities, Baltimore made on last attempt and issue $23 million in bonds to refurbish the decaying mess that the Colts would have to call home if they wished to stay in Baltimore. Irsay signed a deal for a two year extension on the lease in 1981 but disagreements between the Colts and Orioles over how the stadium should be improved meant the money was never spent.
Irsay claimed he was a patient man and could hold out for a new stadium when Question P was put to the vote. When another ill-advised move by local officials saw them seek permission to seize the Colt by an eminent-domain procedure, the writing was on the wall for the Baltimore Colts. This piece of legislation basically meant if the city found out Irsay was moving the team, the city could seize the team from under him but it would pay him “fair market value” the same way as if they were taking land off someone to build a road.
Colt’s General Counsel, Mike Chernoff, described it as “They not only threw down the gauntlet, but they put a gun to his head and cocked it and asked, ‘Want to see if it’s loaded’?” Irsay used this gun to his head as a starting pistol for the move to Indianapolis.
Finding that his ownership could be in trouble if and, eventually, when it was passed into law, he contacted Mayor William Hudnut in Indianapolis and began serious negotiations to move the Colts to the newly built Hoosier Dome. At 10 pm on the 28th of March, 15 moving trucks from the Mayflower Transit company arrived at Owings Mills in Maryland and gutted Colts HQ of everything to do with the team in 6 hours.
All 15 trucks took different routes away from the facility so Maryland Police couldn’t stop all of them and delay them, when they got back to Indiana, they received a police escort from the Indiana Police to Indianapolis. They reason for the overnight long haul and police involvement, on the 29th of March the legal framework for Baltimore to seize the Colts would be approved and signed into law. It was truly a case of locking the stable door after the horses had bolted.
Football Is Football, Right?
Baltimore was now in a post-pro football apocalypse. The sky had fallen and the bombs dropped. Not helping the pain was when the USFL came knocking on the door. The 1984 champions, the Philadelphia Stars, moved to Baltimore but unable to use The Memorial Stadium until 1986, set up camp down the interstate at Byrd Stadium at the University of
Maryland for the 1985 season. The USFL would later fold in the offseason meaning the Stars never played in Baltimore.
In 1994, an attempt to bring the Baltimore Colts back had begun except this time in would be in the Canadian Football League. After a lawsuit from Mr. Irsay, the name was changed to the Baltimore Stallions. Baltimore would have one of the best crowd attendances in the league, averaging over 30,000 fans a game and would go on to win The Grey Cup, CFL’s Lombardi Trophy, becoming the only non-Canadian team to win it. All this being said, the win wasn’t really celebrated due to another major football announcement.
Dawg With A Bone
In 1990, after severely misjudging how much money his team was generating on their side of a stadium-sharing deal, Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, gave his blessing to what would become the Gateway Sports And Entertainment Complex. The complex granted a new home to the Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers and left the Browns in the Municipal Stadium where Modell would no longer have to split revenues generated with the Indians. With higher wages in the league and a big fall in revenue when the money generated by co-tenant Indians left for Jacobs’ Field, he lost $21 million between 1993 and 1994. Knowing he was, at least, the second biggest draw to the city, he decided to go somewhere he could be No.1.
A 1995 press conference in Camden Yards, Baltimore, gave birth the Baltimore Ravens. This was in November, midway through the ‘95 season. With lawsuits coming in daily to try and keep the Browns where they were, the deal was struck to allow Modell to move his team under the condition the old Browns’ logos, history, win-loss records, and colours stayed in Cleveland for when the Browns would be reactivated in the future.
The joy in Baltimore for having the NFL back was the exact opposite, as expected, of what was going on in Cleveland where angry fans tore up seats on the last game of the season and threw them onto the field in anger at the loss of their team.
With his Baltimore team now being an expansion team with a clean slate, Modell moved on to the one thing he wanted in football, a Lombardi. After the first four years were unsuccessful, The Ravens arrived at the beginning 2000 season.
And His Eyes Have All The Seeming Of A Demon’s That Is Dreaming
The unusual move by the NFL to force Art Modell to sell almost half his team to Steve Bisciotti in order to relieve the financial pressures on the team before the season started seemed to have the Ravens in a bad light. In 4 years, they had 3 losing seasons and an 8-8. They were on their second head coach in Brian Billick, who was in his second year in charge and they had a defence for the ages.
Stats for the 16 games regular season stand at 970 rushing yards (60.6 per game) allowed, 5 rushing touchdowns allowed, 2.7 yards per rush attempt allowed, 165 allowed points and 26 recovered fumbles. Finishing second in the AFC Central Division, the Wild Card Ravens marched through the Playoffs to Super Bowl XXXV. Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden, Shannon Sharpe, RodWoodson and future Hall of Famer, Ray Lewis, all played for the Ravens with Lewis earning MVP honour is the smashing of the New York Giants 34-7. Modell Got his Lombardi.
Is Joe Elite?
The Ravens would have mixed fortunes in the year’s post Super Bowl win and would not make it back to the Big Game under Modell or Billick despite some promising regular season form. Art Modell would sell his remaining stake in Bisciotti in 2004. Billick lasted until 2008. He guided the team to it’s greatest single season record of a 13-3 season in 2006 but after falling apart to a 5-11 record, new blood was drafted in.
John Harbaugh, whose brother Jim was a Ravens QB, took over in 2008 along with Franchise QB, Joe Flacco, and Running Back, Ray Rice, being drafted in the same year. Between 2008 and 2011, the Ravens would compete in the Playoffs and twice make it to the AFC Championship game where they would come up short against hated divisional rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008 and would come agonisingly close to beating the New England Patriots in 2011 but a dropped pass and missed field goal would end the season.
In 2012 the Ravens once again made it to the playoffs with a big announcement that spurred the team on. Ravens’ On-Field General and face of the franchise, Ray Lewis would announce he would retire at the end of the season and was taking his “last ride” through the playoffs.
Former Ravens’ coach and then Indianapolis Head Coach, Chuck Pagano, took his Colts into the M&T Bank Stadium which built for Art Modell in 1998 in Camden Yards. This was Ray Lewis’s last home game for the Ravens. Roared on by a home crowd who still hurt from when the Colts left and knowing the team leader would never return, the Ravens beat the Colts with Lewis taking to the field on the last play of the game, Joe Flacco’s victory formation knee, to carry out his signature “Squirrel Dance” one last time at The Bank.
The Ravens moved on to Denver to take on the Broncos, after four quarters and overtime couldn’t separate the two teams, Broncos’ QB, Peyton Manning, threw an interception in the second period of overtime which lead to the Ravens’ Kicker, Justin Tucker, kicking the winning field goal and sending the team to take on The Patriots in New England. The Ravens would avenge their loss to the Pats from the previous year’s playoffs and would compete for their second Lombardi against the San Francisco 49ers, coached by John’s brother and former Raven, Jim Harbaugh. The Ravens would run out to a 21-6 lead by halftime but a third quarter collapse after a power outage in the New Orleans Superdome almost costing them the game with the final score 34-31 in the AFC Champions favor.
It’s One Thing Getting To The Top
Since the second Super Bowl win, the Ravens haven’t been as near as successful. They have only made the playoff once and had their first losing season under Harbaugh but Baltimore’s love for football hasn’t been dampened. With improvements being carried out on the stadium over the past and next few years, the Ownings Mill training facility currently being overhauled, an owner who grew up a Baltimore Colts fan and a newly assembled defence which, on paper anyway, looks to be rivalling the 2000 defence, the future of football on Baltimore looks to be more assured than ever