20 Years of Ravens: Prologue – Give Baltimore the Ball
This year marks the Baltimore Ravens 20th season of existence. We will take a look back in time, a retrospective if you will, at the history of the club over a series of installments during this off-season, starting with this entry. An introduction to the first signs of the NFL returning to Baltimore.
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January 7, 1992
The NFL has already proposed to add two expansion teams to the league in the coming years. Baltimore, having their beloved Colts taken from them under the dark of night following the 1983 season, has long awaited the chance to bring football back to the city. The “Give Baltimore the Ball” promotion was named after the famous words of Baltimore Mayor, Kurt Schmoke who said “Give Baltimore the Ball, and we’ll give you NFL History.”
On this day. It was announced that the Miami Dolphins, and New Orleans Saints, would play their fourth exhibition game at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street in Baltimore. It was scheduled to be a Saints home game, but both teams and head coaches agreed to the move to Baltimore to participate in the campaign to bring NFL football back to Baltimore. It was an easy sell as the Saints were coached by Jim Mora, who was the head coach of the Baltimore Stars of the USFL. Although the Stars played their home games at Byrd Stadium in College Park. On the other side, Dolphins head coach, Don Shula, played for the Baltimore Colts from 53′-56′, and was head coach of the Colts from 63’-69′.
Tickets for the fourth exhibition game, where starters rarely if ever participated, were sold out the same day they went on sale, which happened to be the day before Super Bowl XXVI. Baltimore could announce to the world on the day that the entire world watches the NFL’s feature event, how passionate the city was to bring the NFL back here. Tickets were priced at $25.
The highlight of that August night in Memorial Stadium, was the Baltimore Colts players of the past lining the sidelines to watch NFL Football take place on their hallowed ground for the first time in nine years.
March 18, 1992
The NFL, seeking to expand for the first time since 1976, narrows down the list of candidate cities for its two new franchises from 11, down to seven, then to five. They were: Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, Jacksonville, and the Carolina area.
October 26, 1993
The NFL owners unanimously select the Carolinas as the 29th member of the NFL. Panthers owner, Jerry Richardson, a former NFL player, had met with a group of investors and entered the bidding to join the league in 1987. They had held sold out preseason games in Raleigh (NC), Chapel Hill (NC), and Columbia (SC) in the early 90s to help support their cause. Baltimore, considered one of the favorites, has to win out over the other four cities in order to bring a team back home.
November 30, 1993
League officials and team owners met in a Chicago area hotel to vote on which of the remaining four cities would be given the 30th team. A month prior to these meetings, Jacksonville had dropped out of the running. They were urged to re-enter the running by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, League President, Neil Austrian, and League Vice President, Roger Goodell. The reason Tagliabue gave was, “the southeast has become a tremendous area for expansion.”
When the meetings happened, the three top league officials put together presentations with the pros and cons of each of the four cities, and then held a vote. Some feared that Baltimore was too close to Washington, and Redskins owner, Jack Kent Cooke, was allegedly quietly lobbying against giving the ball to Baltimore.
Another team close to Baltimore, the Philadelphia Eagles, was owned at the time by Norman Braman. Braman was the lone owner to give his vote for Baltimore. There was one vote for St. Louis. The rest of the league was clearly swayed by the trio of Tagliabue, Austrian, and Goodell, to the tune of 26 out of 28 votes, to place a team in one of the smallest cities, and the second smallest television markets in the league. Jacksonville.
Before becoming owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Malcom Glazer was in the bidding group for ownership of the Baltimore team. He was moved to tears upon the news.
“I’m going home and cry. Baltimore has a group of fans you can’t find anywhere else in America, Glazer said.
Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass was another Baltimore bidder. He was the founder of clothing retail stores “Merry-go-Round”, and his younger self was portrayed in the Baltimore cult classic, “Diner” by Mickey Rourke. Weinglass left the Chicago hotel immediately upon the naming of Jacksonville.
He was quoted as saying on his way out, “I’m sorry, I’ve had enough. Enough.”
No one knew if expansion would happen again, and Baltimore was now at the mercy of a team owner wishing to move because they are dissatisfied with their stadiums, local support, etc… In 1993, those teams rumored to fit that bill were the Los Angeles Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
April 4, 1994
Just over four months has passed from the heartbreaking news that Baltimore would not be given the ball by the NFL. Its baseball’s opening day. Might as well be a national holiday as so many in Baltimore play hooky to attend opening day. Mike Mussina allowed one run on two hits through eight strong innings. Mike Devereaux and new Oriole, Rafael Palmeiro, blasted home runs to earn a 6-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Football is in the rear view mirror as the Orioles are back. Baseball is front and center as the O’s celebrate their third season in still new Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and are one year removed form hosting the Mid-Summer Classic.
372 miles west of Baltimore, the Cleveland Indians host the Seattle Mariners in brand new Jacobs Field. Cleveland Browns owner, Art Modell, owned the Indians former home, Cleveland Stadium. Though still home to his Browns, the Indians landlord is now missing out on 81 days and nights worth of rent from the baseball franchise.
Little do folks in the Baltimore area know the impact this baseball move in Cleveland would have for Charm City in the years to come.