20 years of Ravens – Chapter 1: Art Modell gives Baltimore, the Ravens
Be sure to check out the first part of this series celebrating the Ravens 20th anniversary, Prologue: Give Baltimore the Ball
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October 27, 1995
Maryland Governor, Paris Glendenning, and Cleveland Browns owner, Art Modell, sat alone together on board a parked airplane at Baltimore’s BWI Airport. In that very spot, Modell and Glendenning signed the agreement that would bring his football franchise to Baltimore for the 1996 season and beyond. In return, Modell was given a $200M, publically financed stadium to be ready for play starting in 1998. In addition, the profits from all parking, concessions, and advertising within the stadium, and up to $80M worth of personal seat licenses to be sold.
It was a deal that Modell couldn’t refuse.
Two days later, the Browns would beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 29-26 in overtime. It would be followed up with six straight losses
November 6, 1995
The news became public, as Modell and Glendenning made the announcement at a pep rally on the site that would later become what is now M&T Bank Stadium.
Art Modell dodged some other bullets that would have shot down the deal before it would become official, such as preventing the team to move before the city of Cleveland could hold a hearing. Also, league owners could prevent the move by earning just seven votes against it of the 30 owners.
Paul Tagliabue claimed when the deal was announced, “I can’t say it’s all over for Cleveland. From the league points of view, it’s just the beginning.”Despite the Commissioner’s likely meddling, just like the kind that took place that convinced the owners to put a team in as bad a market as Jacksonville, Tagliabue didn’t sway the owners this time. The Browns were moving to Baltimore at seasons end.
Cleveland would win their final home game in front of the faithful fans, 26-10, again versus the Bengals. The Browns would finish their tenure in Cleveland on a losing note the next week on Christmas Eve, 24-21 against the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. A team that could have very well been placed in Baltimore.
March 29, 1996
After two months of focus groups, fan polls, and extensive research, Baltimore’s football team had a name. They could have been The Baltimore Americans, honoring the writing of the national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, right here at Fort McHenry, and the U.S.A defending that fort against the British in the War of 1812. The Baltimore Mustangs, keeping with the horse theme from the Colts, and honoring the horse racing heritage in the state. The Baltimore Railers, honoring the historic industry, workers and trains on the B&O railroad. The Baltimore Marauders, which just sounds intimidating I guess. But one name came out strong with over two thirds of the fans vote.
The Baltimore Ravens, named after the famous work of legendary poet, and Baltimore native, Edgar Allan Poe.
It wouldn’t be until June that the colors and uniform design would be revealed. Purple and black with gold trim. Colors found in the famous poem from which the Ravens got their name. The Maryland flag would also become a prominent part of one of the Ravens logos. The Crest logo, first appearing on the hip of the pants. Then replacing the “outspread wings” Raven on the sleeve a few years later.
” ….And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
”Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more.’….
….Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, ‘art sure no
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’….”
April 20th, 1996 – Draft day
A team without a uniform or a logo yet, has their first draft as the Baltimore Ravens. A pick that looked to be right in the Ravens wheelhouse, a sexy, skill position player to build a new cities team around, to sell a boat load of jerseys of, was RB Lawrence Phillips out of Nebraska. To say Phillips had a checkered past would be an understatement.
Unlike today, where teams are beginning to show less and less tolerance for off-field issues, notably including violent acts, Phillips talent outweighed his headaches according to Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne. Phillips averaged 6.1 YPC, and scored 33 rushing TDs in his three years as a Husker. He would be suspended by Osborne during his junior year, for dragging his girlfriend, a member of Nebraska’s women’s basketball squad, down a flight a stairs. He faced a lot of scrutiny when the school, and public cried for Phillips to be permanently kicked off the team. Osborne would stand by his player and he would be reinstated, and contributed in a big way to Nebraska’s run at their second straight national championship.
Fortunately, Ravens General Manger, and former Cleveland Browns legend, Ozzie Newsome, decided to go another route with the first pick of the franchise. The unsexy, offensive lineman, who doesn’t sell many jerseys. A guard at the time, out of UCLA. Outland trophy winner, Jonathon Ogden. Ogden would move to left tackle after his rookie season, and became a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2013. Ogden played in 177 games spanning 12 seasons in Baltimore. He was named to 11 straight Pro Bowls from 1997-2007, and a 9 time All-Pro (1997-2004, 2006). Ogden was also named to the 2000’s All-Decade team, and would go down in history as one of the best offensive tackles in league history.
Lawrence Phillips was as good at breaking the law as Jonathan Ogden was a football. His rap sheet is as long as Jonathon Ogden is tall at 6’9”, and his criminal record might weigh close to Ogden’s 345 pounds. Phillips was drafted two picks after the Ravens selection of Ogden by the St. Louis Rams, who to make room for Phillips, traded away Jerome Bettis to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He would play in 35 games for three different teams between 1996 and 1999, routinely failing to stay out of trouble, and never getting along with anyone who coached him. After short stints in the Arena Football League, and the Canadian Football League, he had burned all of his bridges, and football was not a life choice for him anymore.
Phillips continued down the road, living the life of crime and domestic violence. Most notably receiving seven counts of felony assault with a deadly weapon as he tried to run over a group of teenagers with his car after a dispute during a pickup football game. While serving a ten year sentence, he was also convicted and sentenced in a previous case of choking his girlfriend out to the point of unconsciousness. Combined, he would be sentenced to 31 years in jail. The earliest Phillips could be released is the year 2034. That is unlikely to happen, as in April of 2015, he was the lead suspect in the murder of his own cellmate who was found choked to death. Phillips is most likely spending the rest of his life behind bars.
With a second pick in the first round, Newsome understood that the team needed an upgrade on defense. They unknowingly just drafted one first ballot hall of famer. What are the odds that they would nab two with the first two picks in the franchise’s history? It will be blasphemous if Ray Lewis, the Ravens 26th overall pick in their inaugural draft, is not indeed a first ballot choice in 2018.
Lewis played in 249 games, over 17 seasons with the Ravens, at the most demanding position on the defense, middle linebacker. He is the only player in NFL history to notch 40+ sacks and 30+ INTs in a career, and tack on 19 forced fumbles and 20 fumble recoveries in a career as well.
Prior to the draft, Lewis received high praise across the board, but was passed over because of his less than ideal size. He was the fifth middle linebacker drafted. In 1996, he led the Ravens with 110 tackles, and led the NFL with 15 tackles for loss proving that size doesn’t matter, although he would bulk up throughout his career.
His workout regiments are well documented. Each year, he noted you have to push yourself harder and faster than the year before, because someone else is going to be bigger and faster the next year. In addition to pumping iron, he spent one offseason swimming incredible distances to boost his cardio, and in another offseason, he would bike over 40 miles a day, to keep his body in top condition well into his late 30’s.
His 13 Pro Bowls are an all-time best among middle linebackers. His 10 All-Pro selections are tied for the most among linebackers with Lawrence Taylor.
The two-time defensive player of the year (2000, 2003) also set a record in his final postseason. The 2012 postseason started with Lewis announcing his retirement, and that the upcoming home game against, who else, the Colts, would be his final game in Baltimore. The Ravens traveled to Denver and New England, throughout their historic run to a title (which will be well documented later in this series). Both places eagerly plastered up billboards, and signs, and radio advertisements, claiming that these games were to celebrate Ray Lewis’ retirement party. Insinuating that he would play his last game on those nights as the Broncos, tried, and then the Patriots tried, to advance to the next round, and send Ray Lewis off a loser. We know, this was not the case. In that incredible run, at age 37, Lewis set a record for the most tackles made in one postseason with 51 in four games. 12.75 per game, and a pace of 204 tackles had you spread that out over 16 games worth of a season. To put it in perspective, he posted 184 tackles in 1997, the most in a season for his career.
Lewis would walk off a winner following Super Bowl XLVII. Something not many players have the luxury of being able to do.
September 1, 1996 – Kickoff
The bridge from one era to the next is finally complete. The Colts moved following 1983. Many fans, though ecstatic to have football return to their home, were hesitant because it wasn’t their blue and white clad Colts. Over 40 former Baltimore Colts took to the field during the pre-game ceremonies, dressed in Colts shirts. They donned Ravens jackets, in order to cover up the Colts garb as if to say, “Its okay Baltimore. This is your team now. You can root for them, just like we will.”
In addition to the former Colts players, the famous Baltimore Colts marching band, who in the dark years played during halftime at other teams NFL games, would become the “Marching Ravens”. Another sign of the changing of the guard.
The pregame festivities were made complete when Johnny Unitas presented the first ball at the 50-yard line. The Ravens kicked off their franchise history on the field against the Oakland Raiders. Formerly the Los Angeles Raiders, and formerly of Oakland once before. It was Art Modell who was against the Raiders move back to Oakland. Ironic that he would later move a team, and face Al Davis and his Raiders in the inaugural game in his new home.
64,124 people attended the Ravens first game. The largest crowd in Memorial Stadium’s storied history.
Baltimore was led by head coach, Ted Marchibroda. A former Baltimore Colts head coach, and the Indianapolis Colts head coach the year before. Marchibroda replaced head coach Bill Belichick who was the last coach in the Browns tenure.
The Ravens first franchise TD was a rushing score of nine yards by quarterback Vinny Testaverde. In fitting fashion, the Ravens would score 19 points, matching the jersey number of the Colts legend, Johnny Unitas, for one last tie in with the football team of the past. They would reign victorious, 19-14 over Oakland…and the Ravens were officially out of the shadows of the Baltimore Colts, and left the city of Cleveland in the rear view mirror. On to week 2, it’s just the Ravens.
Despite finishing the season 4-12, the Ravens would begin their history of owning one of the top home field advantages in the NFL. All four of the Ravens victories came at Memorial Stadium.
Bucking the usual Ravens trends however, the offense was one of the top units in the league, with the defense leaving much to be desired. In years to follow, defense was supreme. Testaverde would be voted to the Pro Bowl after throwing for 4,177 yards and 33 TDs. Receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander both went well over 1,000 yards, with 14, and nine TDs respectively.
Notable draft picks
1996: Jonathan Ogden (1st round, 4th overall), Ray Lewis (1st round, 26th overall), Jermaine Lewis (5th round).
1996: Scott Pioli (Pro Personnel Coordinator), Marvin Lewis (Defensive coordinator), Eric Mangini (Quality Control, Offense), Jim Schwartz (Quality Control, Defense).