“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a signed contract in hand! The Browns are indeed coming to Baltimore.” – Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, Nov. 6, 1995
With those words, two football-steeped cities’ fates changed forever. For Cleveland, it was a death knell whose ringing never could have been predicted. But for Baltimore, it was shocking relief to a city that could commiserate; it too had lost a team. Twelve years after its residents watched their beloved Colts flee in the dark of a snowy March morning in 1984, the NFL was returning to the city again.
It took months for the team that eventually became known as the Ravens to form an identity and win over some dyed-in-the-wool Colts fans, and the road they took that first season was quite rocky. Comically so at times.
“A season of wins it was not,” Ravens offensive guard Wally Williams said.
And little did the people involved in that inaugural 4-12 season of 1996 know it then, but the team that had a shoddy defense, a third-rate facility, a crumbling stadium (with an elevator that stopped in the middle of a game) and a healthy dose of bad luck that season was less than five years away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Buoyed by an incredible staff that featured six future head coaches and four future general managers, they engineered the greatest first-round drafting ever – picking eventual Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis – and weathered the storm to build a Super Bowl team and one of the most enviable and stable NFL franchises.
From the craziness of Cleveland to the improbability of Baltimore, here is the long-forgotten maiden voyage of the 1996 Baltimore Ravens – on their 20th anniversary – through the words of more than 30 people who watched it unfold.
By 1995, Art Modell felt burned by Cleveland when the NBA’s Cavaliers and MLB’s Indians had new stadiums financed, and yet his Browns — long the toast of the town — were left to wait. The Browns played in old, broken-down Municipal Stadium (built in 1933) and Modell could not afford to build a new stadium himself. As tensions rose and rumors spread, Cleveland’s worst fears were realized that November day: The Browns were moving to Baltimore.
Mary Kay Cabot, Cleveland Plain Dealer writer: “I remember [Browns general manager] Mike Lombardi telling me at some point before the start of the season, ‘Well, Art’s going to move the team anyway. He’s going to move it to Baltimore.’ I didn’t believe him at all. To think that you could move the Browns out of Cleveland was to think that you could rip the Terminal Tower out of its foundation.”
George Kokinis, Ravens scout: “There were some rumors going around for sure. Everyone in the building was talking about it.”
Mary Kay Cabot: “It just didn’t register with any of the people covering the team. It was just preposterous to think that could happen. … It was just absolutely unfathomable that the Cleveland Browns could move out of this city.”
Kirk Ferentz, offensive line coach: “I figured … it’s the Cleveland Browns. They’re never going to move. That just isn’t going to happen.”
Governor Glendening’s “signed contract” speech came a day after the Browns got hammered in a 37-10 home loss to the Houston Oilers, a defeat that dropped their record to 4-5. Cleveland would try to keep its team, but that ship had sailed. The players and coaches, led by head coach Bill Belichick, were expected to do their jobs the remainder of the season as if nothing had changed. Modell and his family fled Cleveland amid heavy protesting from fans.
David Modell, Browns executive and Art Modell’s son: “I moved on the announcement day, which was November 5 or 6, so I was [in Baltimore] before others were. There were a few of us who got here and never returned. That Monday morning, I left my house in Cleveland and never came back.”
Phil Savage, college scouting director: “It was obviously a lot of uncertainty from that Saturday morning, through when the announcement was made public. Everything from that point going forward was very shaky on all levels of the team.”
Eric Mangini, offensive quality-control coach: “We were predicted [by Sports Illustrated] to go to the Super Bowl that season. Everything was positive. And then the move got announced. It’s hard when you have protestors outside the facility greeting you when you get to work every day and also when you leave.”
Nestor Aparicio, Baltimore radio personality: “They had built a Taj Mahal [at the Browns headquarters] in Berea [Ohio] — and it was surrounded by fans who were trying to pull Art out of the building. I mean, literally. Art had death threats.”
Scott Pioli, pro personnel director: “Art had to fly the coop. He left and couldn’t come back. There were real death threats. It wasn’t just, ‘Hey, we want to kill you.’ There was crazy stuff going on. We were getting security briefs like daily.”
Vince Newsome, area scout: “For me, having finished my career as a player [with the Browns] and then continuing on as a scout, it was surreal. It was like, ‘Really?’”
Steve Everitt, center: “Everyone loves to use the word surreal.”
Eric Mangini: “You had no control over what was happening. You felt horribly for the people of Cleveland.”
Brian Kinchen, tight end and long snapper: “That was pretty miserable. The thought I’ve had was, I would not want that on my worst enemy.”
Steve Everitt: “I think I might have held out hope the longest that the NFL was somehow going to step in and not allow it to happen. You kept hearing through the fall, ‘Oh, something is going to happen. They’re never going to let this happen this way.’ This is one of the foundations of the league — the connection Paul Brown had to the beginning of everything.”
Brian Kinchen: “I think it was our second or third game back in Cleveland Stadium after word got out about the sale, I remember the Browns fans were booing us on the field and cheering the Steelers. I understood why they were doing it. It just … it really disturbed me.”
Michael Jackson, wide receiver: “We were never told or helped on how to handle it. We literally had no control over anything that was happening, but we were the ones the fans and media were asking every day, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ We knew as much as they did. We had as much say as they did, which is to say none.”
Benny Thompson, special teamer: “We as players were just like kids in a divorce. We had nothing to do as far as with Art Modell making that move. That’s the best way I can describe it.”
Brian Kinchen: “I felt like it was very unfair [of the fans]. I don’t think they could appreciate what we were going through. They had a lack of understanding of what was going on, and we had to go out and play. I remember distinctly from that point on that year that we were more comfortable on the road than we were at home, which is hard.”
Derrick Alexander, wide receiver: “You also wondered while this was all going down around you [in Cleveland] … so what exactly are we playing for?”
Kirk Ferentz: “Long story short, from that point on that season — aside from the final game at the stadium against the Bengals — the way I would describe the team was that it felt like it was in exhibition mode. Guys came in and they practiced and they played, but it wasn’t with any purpose. It wasn’t like a team. It was a punch-card mentality.”
Few who were there will forget the final Browns home game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium against those Bengals. It was Dec. 17, 1995 and the Browns — who had lost every game since word got out about the move — played one of their most inspired games of the season. It was like a city paying its final respects to its beloved relative while the team was taking its last breaths.
Earnest Byner, running back: “That game was for pride. But it was such an eerie day.”
Eric Mangini: “That last game of the season, we couldn’t even go into the Dawg Pound. Every time we got to the 50-yard line, [the referees] would turn us around. People were throwing like M-80s and stuff.”
Scott Pioli: “M-80s … thrown on the field at people. At an NFL game. Unbelievable.”
Eric Mangini: “The craziest thing was, you heard the stadium go from pretty quiet at one point to really loud at the start of the fourth quarter. We didn’t know what it was at first. But it was people taking the stands and the seats out of the stadium. Pulling the seats out one at a time.”
Phil Savage: “The stadium looked like it had been burned out. They spray-painted signs black and they looked like they had been burned. It looked like something out of a war-torn country or something.”
When the game ended, no one — Browns fans, players or coaches — knew what to do. A few headed toward that Dawg Pound, where the referees kept them away from … and didn’t want to leave.
Mary Kay Cabot: “There were players who were devastated because they knew what it meant to this city. Steve Everitt was one of those players. Steve is the poster boy for a love affair between the Cleveland Browns and its fans. I just remember him hugging the fans. They couldn’t let him go, and he couldn’t let them go. It was surreal and horrible and powerful and sad.”
Steve Everitt: “If there ever was a fan base that came close to [the University of] Michigan for me, it was the Dawg Pound. It was crazy. That atmosphere? I loved playing in front of those guys. I just wanted to be with them at that moment.”
Earnest Byner: “I think we were still all in shock that this was it. No more games in this stadium. No more home games for us in this city.”
For most who made the move to Baltimore, that meant uprooting entirely — and everything that goes along with such a sudden displacement.
Steve Everitt: “So I bought Michael Dean Perry’s old house. I had one of those agreements to buy where we actually weren’t going to sign the papers for like six months or something. He had all his stuff out. I was ready to move in. I ended up going into the Browns’ facility and telling Kirk Ferentz that I bought a house. I told Ozzie [Newsome] I bought a house. I saw the Modells, and I told them I bought a house. I get, ‘Congratulations!’ from David Modell. I can remember him shaking my hand and saying, ‘You’re going to be here for a long time!’ But looking back on it, they knew full well they were moving the team at that point. The timeline, knowing what I know now of what they knew at the time, it just makes me sick.”
Wally Williams, offensive lineman: “We were shocked by the announcement. It’s a good reminder about best-laid plans and all that.”
Steve Everitt: “I ended up having to buy that house. I had to sign even though I knew we were leaving. I was so bitter. … They didn’t help us with [relocation] or anything. That’s the way [Art Modell] ran his team. But I guess that’s why they had financial troubles.”
Wally Williams: “I can’t say we came in excited. We had just come off a very emotional season in Cleveland. It wasn’t welcomed by the majority of the players, I can tell you that.”
Steve Everitt: “I sold the house to [Indians player] Julio Franco, and I actually made some money for that, so maybe I should thank the Modells for that. Jose Mesa was like the across-the-street neighbor, and they were best friends. Franco signed with the team and wanted to be neighbors with Mesa, so I knew I had him.”
CLEANING HOUSE BEFORE BALTIMORE
Whether the players liked it or not, it was onto Baltimore. The team was mostly greeted warmly — after all, it had been starved for an NFL team for more a dozen years. But it was a baseball town for the time being, and there were some dyed-in-the-wool Baltimore Colts fans who needed convincing to support this new club coming to town.
Nestor Aparicio: “The Orioles owned this town back then. Cal Ripken did his beauty tour in September 1995, and there was no thought in the world we were ever going to get a football team. A few weeks later, Art’s in the parking lot over here saying the Browns are coming. It was insane. It’s inconceivable — it’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’ — that it ever happened.”
Bob Eller, Browns public relations and operations: “I don’t know if I felt that, but I knew Baltimore had stadium issues as well. That was a factor. The state had established the Maryland Stadium Authority, and they had produced a jewel in Camden Yards with a footprint allowing a football stadium to be built as well. The foundation was laid.”
Scott Garceau, Ravens play-by-play announcer: “The fans here not only lost a team but were stomped on after that every time a team slipped through the city’s hands. Getting one finally was a huge deal.”
Nestor Aparicio: “From the fans’ perspective, it’s a [expletive] miracle that there is a team here. People take that for granted now. The fact that the Ravens exist is a miracle. Nothing less. No one wanted Baltimore back in the NFL. No owner wanted it, and Art seemed like the one guy who could get away with it because he was so desperate. The other owners would not have let any other owner move a team to Baltimore.”
Then came the matter of picking a coach, rounding out the staff and revamping the front office before the move. Art Modell fired head coach Bill Belichick and general manager Mike Lombardi in February of 1996, and after Don Shula passed on Modell’s offer to be the head coach (imagine that now) he settled on Ted Marchibroda, who coached the Baltimore Colts in the 1970s and had just been fired as the Indianapolis Colts’ coach despite guiding them to within a failed Jim Harbaugh Hail Mary pass of making a Super Bowl a few weeks prior.
Rob Burnett, defensive end: “Bill Belichick thought he was going to Baltimore. We had a final team meeting where he’s talking about moving his family there, because he was raised there near Annapolis. But I don’t think he was too pissed off about [the team leaving Cleveland] because the fans there had mixed emotions on him ever since the Bernie Kosar incident. And a lot of the fans thought, well, we don’t want him around here either. But I think Art knew he couldn’t bring Belichick to Baltimore.”
Phil Savage: “We had gone to all the all-star games already by that point and were getting our assignments from Bill Belichick and Mike Lombardi. We even had gone to the [NFL scouting] combine. Can you imagine?”
Scott Pioli: “That was the part where it started to get a little weird.”
Ozzie Newsome, director of football operations: “I was at the combine with Bill [Belichick] and Mike Lombardi when I got a call to go to Baltimore to meet with Art. I wasn’t sure why Art wanted to see me now. He had already invited me to join him in some capacity with the team a few months earlier. It was awkward to leave Bill and Mike.”
Phil Savage: “They were left hanging on a string for months.”
Marchibroda retained Ferentz, Pat Hill, Mike Sheppard and Scott O’Brien from Belichick’s staff, along with two eager, young and then-unknown quality-control coaches: Mangini and Jim Schwartz. Several new assistants joined, including defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who had been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebackers coach. They had a good nucleus with quarterback Vinny Testaverde, a solid offensive line, safety Eric Turner and a few other parts — but also some major needs and lots of questions.
Ozzie Newsome: “The day after Art gave me the job, we hired Ted Marchibroda. Ted was a real comfort for me. Ted had seen a lot and been through a lot in his career. His wisdom was key for my transition. He put me at ease about our team.”
Marvin Lewis: “I went up to Cleveland and interviewed with Coach Marchibroda, and he was putting the staff together at that point. Retaining some people, adding others from outside. The whole thing was unique. There was a lot of chaos, but it was my first coordinator job and I was excited about it.”
‘IT WAS A DUMP. A TINY DUMP’
Awaiting the cobbled staff and the front office — headed up by Ozzie Newsome, who was calling the shots for the first time after retiring from playing in 1990 — was a less-than-adequate facility. It had been the home of the Baltimore Colts when they left town in 1984, and it was used as a police training academy in the interim but had been vacant for some time when this yet-to-be-named franchise arrived.
Don Strock, quarterbacks coach: “Guys heard about the old police academy being there, and all you could do was make jokes about the movie. It was pretty broken down and nothing seemed to work right, which seemed fitting.”
Ed Sutter, linebacker: “Went from top of the line in Cleveland to bare bones in Baltimore.”
Donny Brady, cornerback: “It had a dungeon-like feel.”
Rob Burnett: “Lockers stacked on top of each other. Not a lot of meeting rooms. Not a lot of square footage.”
Jim Schwartz, defensive quality-control coach: “From the size of the locker rooms to the fact that it didn’t have a weight room. It had three racquetball courts but no weight room.”
Scott O’Brien, special teams coordinator: “Obviously, it was too small. It couldn’t handle everything we needed. The aquatics went into the racquetball court I think. It was crazy.”
Francine Lubera, public relations assistant director: “We took the players’ head shots for the media guide in the racquetball courts. The lighting in there was terrible.”
Kirk Ferentz: “Once they tore the shag carpet out of Mr. Modell’s office, it was a little better. I think it was orange. It looked like ‘Austin Powers.'”
Scott Pioli: “I remember fire alarms kept going off. I can’t remember how many times we had to exit the building.”
Bob Eller: “I remember the HVAC was always breaking.”
Chuck Cusick, director of facilities: “A month after we opened at the building, the water bills hadn’t been paid for seven or eight years. They showed up with a massive bill and wanted us to pay it. They figured, it’s an NFL team, they’ll cut us a check. Yeah, right. Obviously, that didn’t fly.”
Derrick Alexander: “They had like half a turf field. You’re thinking, is this really the NFL?”
Wally Williams: “It was a dump. [laughing] A tiny dump.”
Chuck Cusick: “There were some interesting critters that were living in the building that we were finding, especially around the groundskeepers area. I think you needed a hunting license to go after some of them.”
Scott O’Brien: “I know before we got there, Bill Tessendorf, our head trainer, did a lot of work with the crew on that place. I can’t even imagine what it looked like before they started on it.”
Nestor Aparicio: “When I think of Bill Tessendorf, I think of Schneider from ‘One Day at a Time.’ Bill had this construction belt around his waist with like a hacksaw hanging off it.”
Scott Pioli: “The weight room was in one of the racquetball courts. It was partitioned off, like some rat maze. I watched [Ravens tackle] Orlando Brown trying to stretch his calves and he put his hand right through the wall they made. We were always laughing and saying, ‘This is the National Football League! It’s 1996, for crying out loud!'”
Ozzie Newsome: “We were a relatively small group and didn’t need a lot of space. We were fine.”
AMERICANS, MARAUDERS OR RAVENS?
Meanwhile, the team was trying to connect with its community and start anew with its identity. That meant picking a new team nickname, a new logo and team colors.
David Modell: “We had no name. We had no colors. We had no history.”
Tony Cordwell, season-ticket holder since 1996: “I have a friend from college who is a Redskins fan but he will break out his Baltimore Browns T-shirt every now and then. They exist.”
Steve Everitt: “I remember they were trying to buy back the Colts name. Modell tried to buy the Colts name for $5 million, and [Jim] Irsay said $25 million, and Modell just laughed at him. If you’re really serious about the name, then it’s not about the money.”
Ed Sutter: “We didn’t have a name until late spring. We didn’t have uniforms. It was hard to feel like we were a real team for a while there.”
Michael Jackson: “I didn’t really care about colors, names or any of that stuff. It was a corporate decision, and it didn’t really matter what we thought to them. We’re hired help.”
Rob Burnett: “As long as that shield was behind it, I didn’t mind. We could have been the Maryland crabcakes for all I cared at the time. As long as I knew we were an NFL team and had the chance to win the Lombardi Trophy like everyone else, that was good enough for me.”
The nickname selection was turned into a contest run through the Baltimore Sun. The finalists: the Americans, the Marauders and the Ravens. The Ravens won in a landslide, earning 21,108 of the 33,288 votes.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) March 29, 2016
Kevin Byrne, public relations director: “David Modell liked the Americans. A giant train engine called ‘America’ was built in Baltimore in the first days of trains. We wanted something historical.”
David Modell: “I was all up in the Americans. I was thinking locomotives, American flag … I am even envisioning the first press conference, saying, ‘As of today, who really is ‘America’s Team?’ That would have gotten Dallas all crazy, which would have been great publicity for us.”
Derrick Alexander: “My high school team was the Ravens. So I was cool with that.”
Bob Eller: “I did kind of like the Ravens from Day 1. I liked having two birds in the same town as mascots. That was pretty cool.”
Eric Mangini: “No one would think twice about Ravens now. At that point, it was like, ‘Wait, what is this? It’s a poetry thing?'”
Rob Burnett: “To be honest with you, the whole [Edgar Allan] Poe connection … it kind of rang a bell a little bit. But I didn’t know until they told me for sure.”
Francine Lubera: “We all had to get used to the name after not having one for so long. I was beat one day and the phone rang. I was distracted and I answered the phone, ‘Baltimore Raisins.’ It was Art Modell! He said, ‘Baltimore RAISINS?!’ I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to do. He just totally cracked up and asked, ‘Is Kevin [Byrne] there, dear?'”
ONE GUY WANTED JONATHAN OGDEN, THE OTHER GUY WANTED LAWRENCE PHILLIPS
They also had a few other important choices — including two first-round draft picks, Nos. 4 and 26 overall. The Browns had traded down in Round 1 the year prior, as Bill Belichick picked up an extra first-rounder in 1996 from the San Francisco 49ers. He never got to use it. That pick was made by Ozzie Newsome, who was in charge of the draft for the first time. No pressure.
David Modell: “It was our first draft in Baltimore. We had two first-round picks. We’re trying to show our chops to our new constituents. We knew we had to be pretty tight. We had to nail it.”
Vince Newsome: “Ozzie said, ‘We have no choice. We have to make this work.’ We all rallied behind Ozzie. We said, ‘We won’t let him fail.'”
Scott Pioli: “We moved March 29 and had to run the draft. We had to move the draft room, the draft board, all of our documents. Hooking up computers wasn’t as easy as it is now.”
Phil Savage: “In those days, we had what they called Super VHS tapes. We hadn’t yet moved to digital. We had nothing on computers like we do now.”
George Kokinis: “The hallways were filled with game tape. We had thousands of tapes just on the floor. You’d have this log with this numbering system, and you’d go, ‘OK, I want to watch Florida State at Miami.’ So that’s tape No. 1005.”
Phil Savage: “We had thousands of tape of college games, and they were all documented and numbered back in Berea. But in the new facility, we had no place to store them.”
Scott Pioli: “Boxes of them. We couldn’t find anything. You’d have tapes 1 through 525 in this box here but 526 through 740 over there. You’d hear guys yelling, ‘Where is that box?!’
Phil Savage: “Those tapes were stacked literally on the floor up the walls. The coaches were trying to watch them, the scouts were trying to watch them. It was a mess. We in essence took tapes No. 1 through 3,000 or whatever and lined them up on the outside edge of that hallway all the way, and then when we got back on the front we went around the inside and went back around the other direction.”
George Kokinis: “You’d see people like roaming the hallways looking for their tape number, like, ‘Oh, OK, here it is!’ Every hallway was just filled with tapes, and it felt like there were more every day as we got closer to the draft.”
As the draft approached, the picture became clearer. Keyshawn Johnson and Kevin Hardy were expected to be the first two picks to the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively. The Arizona Cardinals picked third, and some felt UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden was the player they’d select, but they kept their intentions close to the vest. The Ravens needed a running back, and Art Modell knew all about Nebraska’s Lawrence Phillips — that was the player he wanted.
Phil Savage: “The day before the draft, [Ozzie] brought ownership in. Very small group in there to discuss Lawrence Phillips and Jonathan Ogden — what would happen if it came down to those two with the pick.”
Scott Pioli: “Art got really emotional. He said, ‘I just had to move this franchise. We need to sell tickets and win football games.’ And he knew about Lawrence Phillips. He loved Lawrence Phillips.”
Phil Savage: “We had Ogden rated over Phillips. Art and Ted Marchibroda really sort of favored the running back. They thought that would be the bigger splash and thought it would give the team some energy and give the fans a player they could recognize right away.”
Scott Pioli: “Art said to Ozzie, and I’ll never forget it: ‘Ozzie, he’s an offensive tackle. This is the fourth pick overall. Tackles don’t sell tickets, Ozzie.’
Scott Garceau: “Lot of fans wanted [Phillips]. There’s nothing sexy about drafting an offensive lineman first.”
Phil Savage: “Of course, Phillips had an incredible bowl game against Florida. He won a national title. We had that discussion about him. When Ozzie had asked me what I thought, my words were: ‘Look, if we take Lawrence Phillips, we’ll never be able to put our head on the pillow at night without knowing 100 percent sure what we’re going to wake up to the next day.'”
Newsome told Modell if Ogden and Phillips were on the board at No. 4, Ogden would be the pick. On draft day, Johnson went first, Hardy went second and Simeon Rice was a bit of a surprise pick at No. 3 to the Cardinals, who had written “Jonathan Ogden” on a fake draft card in New York with the hopes that the Ravens would panic and trade up. Newsome did not. Ogden would be the first draft pick in franchise history.
Phil Savage: “It was 15 minutes per pick back then. When that happened, Art turned to Ozzie and said, ‘You’ve got time to reconsider.’ Ozzie said, ‘No, Art. We made our choice yesterday. The scouts are behind it. We’re not going to make an impulsive decision on the clock. We’ll take Jonathan Ogden.'”
Scott Pioli: “Ozzie Newsome had the strength, the guts, the courage to tell Art, who was his boss, who was a father-like figure, and say, ‘Art, I hear you, but you hired me to do a job and this is what I believe.’ Think about the courage that takes.”
Ozzie Newsome: “Art knew we needed a running back and he gave us the OK to draft Lawrence Phillips — after he had dinner with Phillips — if it came to that. But, it was never a question on draft day. Ogden was there. It was easy.”
Scott Pioli: “To me that story isn’t to show Art is a buffoon. It’s to demonstrate the strength of Ozzie Newsome.”
MAKE SURE YOU SPELL ‘RAY LEWIS’ CORRECTLY
The Ravens’ work that draft day was far from over. They had another first-rounder coming up soon. Linebacker was a position the team hoped to upgrade early in the draft.
Phil Savage: “We had about five or six linebackers that we liked. All of them got picked. There was a guy who went to Detroit, [Texas A&M’s] Reggie Brown, that we liked a lot.”
Eric Mangini: “I remember them talking about Ray Lewis as we got closer to the pick. Ted saying, [impersonating Marchibroda in high voice] ‘You know, he’s a heck of a football player! He’s a heck of a player, this Ray Lewis!'”
Hardy was the first linebacker taken at No. 2. John Mobley went 15th to the Denver Broncos and Brown landed at No. 17 with the Lions. After the Philadelphia Eagles took Texas A&M-Kingsville offensive lineman Jermane Mayberry, the Ravens saw one name atop their draft board: Ray Lewis, linebacker, Miami. Mangini called in the pick to New York, spelling out each letter in Lewis’ name slowly, one letter at a time, just to be sure. The Green Bay Packers, picking 27th overall, had Lewis on the phone and were ready to select him when the Ravens turned in their choice.
Eric Mangini: “[laughing] I was the guy calling to New York. I remember Art making fun of me because the camera was in there. He said I was too tight. My first time in a draft room on draft day and they’re having me call in the picks. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t the one who screwed it up.”
Phil Savage: “We took Ray and there was no fanfare or anything. He was just sort of the next player on our board. We’re picking 26th and Ray was the last linebacker that we actually liked.”
David Modell: “And can you imagine the luck? I am sorry, but it is luck. Ray Lewis at the [26th pick]? It’s luck. … You get lucky. We were pretty lucky on that day.”
PENN STATE RAVENS
Ogden, Lewis and the rest of the seven-man draft class joined the veterans at the first joint minicamp practice shortly thereafter. The fate of the franchise had shifted dramatically, even if no one realized it. After all, at this point the team still didn’t even have colors or a logo.
Scott Garceau: “I remember going out to minicamp and they didn’t have colors. They had these white things. I don’t think they had the brown helmets; I think they had spray-painted those by that point.”
Derrick Alexander: “We had white uniforms. Everything was all white. White helmets, no name. We were just an NFL team in the city of Baltimore.”
Rob Burnett: “These gray shorts and gray sweats. It really just had ‘Ravens’ on them. I still have my shirt.”
Phil Savage: “Our uniforms were just black and white for those minicamps. It reminded guys of that movie, ‘The Longest Yard.'”
Bob Eller: “We came out in black and white uniforms. We kind of all nicknamed ourselves the Mean Machine.”
Phil Savage: “They would chant, ‘Mean Machine, Mean Machine’ on the sidelines during practice.”
Nestor Aparicio: “They looked like Penn State. Dark colors, blank helmets.”
Marvin Lewis: “Even the stuff the coaches wore, whatever they gave us, that was just black and white at first.”
Phil Savage: “It was sort of like semipro football. That’s what it felt like at first.”
TOO BAD ANDRE RISON AND LEFT EYE COULDN’T STICK AROUND
Other change was afoot. Ogden and Lewis stood out right away. But there were some overpriced veterans who didn’t fit the youth movement and were not long for a team that was having money problems.
Eric Mangini: “With Ray Lewis, we had a pretty vocal captain at that point who was older and pretty established and institutionalized there.”
Benny Thompson: “That would be Pepper Johnson. I think they wanted Pepper to take a pay cut. Pepper didn’t believe in taking a pay cut to help the team with the salary cap. Pepper told them no, so they cut Pepper.”
Phil Savage: “Pepper Johnson was going to be the ‘Mike’ [middle linebacker] and Ray was going to be the ‘Will’ [weak side]. But by the end of [May], Pepper was overweight.”
Eric Mangini: “I remember Ray coming out that first practice and taking control of the huddle when he got a chance. As much as this other guy [Johnson] tried to fight it, Ray sort of ran the defense. From Day 1.”
Marvin Lewis: “From the day Ray walked in the facility, Pepper [Johnson] was there and there were interesting dynamics. There were a lot of veteran players and they were kind of unhappy with the move. Pepper was very strong-willed and he was one of [the unhappy ones]. He came the first day of minicamp and then didn’t show up the next day. Eventually, we released Pepper. Ray became the leader of the defense almost immediately.”
Phil Savage: “It just became apparent that, you know, this Ray Lewis … we’re going to stunt his growth as a player and a leader if we don’t just go ahead and put him at the ‘Mike.’ That’s what happened.”
Benny Thompson: “Andre Rison made the trip with us. But then they cut him and Pepper I think on the same day? Rison was crazy, man. I remember the year before in Cleveland, they signed him and gave him a $13 million check and he kept it in his locker for months. I said, ‘What are you going to do with that check in your locker?’ And he didn’t even remember he had it in his locker. He looked at it and said, ‘Oh. This ain’t nothing.’ I said, ‘What’s wrong with you, man?'”
Nestor Aparicio: “They couldn’t pay anyone. They had to cut Andre Rison and guys like that. They couldn’t recruit any [free agents]. They were loading up for 1998.”
Rob Burnett: “You know, they had guys coming in that were, literally, that I didn’t even know were still playing. They had to sign them the way the hard [salary] cap was and the fact that folks really didn’t know how to maneuver it. We had — you hear people talk about ‘thin money?’ We had a whole bunch of it. So we really couldn’t do much.”
Nestor Aparicio: “A lot of guys, especially on that defense, it was their last stop in the league. A lot of those guys didn’t play again after Baltimore. That should tell you something.”
Wally Williams: “We knew it was a team in transition with salary cap problems. Some things went on behind closed doors that people don’t even know about. We couldn’t even afford a developmental team. I played first-team offensive line, and then I had to play third-team defensive line to give the second-teamers a breather. We did what we knew we had to.”
Benny Thompson:“I was mad Rison didn’t stick around. [Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes] used to come to training camp back in our Cleveland days. I remember him telling me they were out in his car, doing what they do. We couldn’t have the girls in the dormitory. So Andre just took her out to his car. There were some interesting characters back in those days.”
THESE ROOKIES AREN’T PLAYING AROUND
As much as losing the veterans bothered some older players, it was impossible not to notice what Lewis and Ogden were doing in the early going.
Eric Mangini: “Ray made it clear right away he wasn’t going to take any [expletive] from anyone either. He wasn’t being disrespectful. He wasn’t being flippant. It was just who he was. Here’s how it’s going to be. That sort of thing.”
Marvin Lewis: “[The veterans] recognized right away Ray’s ability. And they recognized his maturity, too — especially for a 20-year-old.”
Phil Savage: “[Strength coach Jerry Simmons] had an assortment of tests — bench press, vertical jump, that sort of thing. But Jerry did these towel pull-ups. They throw two towels over the bar and the guy would do pull-ups.”
Nestor Aparicio: “Ray came in the first day and … first thing he says is, ‘What’s the record?’ And whatever the number was — let’s say, 27 — he said, ‘I am going to do 28.'”
Phil Savage: “I don’t remember how many he did. That sounds low, actually. It might have been 40 or more. Lionel Vital was one of our scouts at the time. He was the recorder for the towel pull-ups segment. Ray shows up, peels his T-shirt off and says, ‘What’s the record?’ LV is like, ‘Dude, we don’t have any records. We’re a new team!’ Ray jumped up and said, ‘Well, I’ll set the record.'”
Nestor Aparicio: “So he jumps up there, bangs them out and says, ‘Boom. New record.'”
Phil Savage: “LV came straight upstairs and said, ‘This Ray Lewis, man, this is a natural-born leader. This guy is going to take over his team. He’s powerful.'”
Vince Newsome: “He took over from the time he had to do one exercise. He exuded this confidence. That smile — he flashed it Day 1. We didn’t know what he would become, of course. But you were saying to yourself, ‘This guy is pretty special.'”
Ferentz felt the same way about Ogden. He had watched tape of the UCLA tackle in college and was blown away when Ogden made his way downfield on a counter trey run play to blow up a defensive back.
Kirk Ferentz: “I remember watching that play and just shutting off the projector and saying, ‘OK, hold it. This guy is 6-8 and 340 pounds.’ It looked like a guy running who was maybe a 200-pound athlete. So smooth and graceful. People can’t do what I just saw him do on film. It was kind of a Kodak moment, like, you know … it looked so easy to him. You maybe just don’t appreciate how special it was, what I had just witnessed.”
It carried over to the Ravens, who had moved Ogden to left guard for his rookie year. It didn’t take long in minicamp to realize the move would work out fine.
Phil Savage: “There was a situation where there was a slot receiver on the left side. So the corner over that slot guy came on a blitz. J.O. recognized it and kicked all the way out there as a guard in space. I’ll say it again: A left guard slid out and picked up a slot corner blitz.”
Kirk Ferentz: “This guy was a unique talent. And I know what that word means. It means there’s one of him.”
Phil Savage: “We used to [go jogging] with Kirk all the time. Kirk was like, ‘Guys, this Ogden is going to be special. This guy has never even lined up at guard and [he] scanned all the way out to the nickel back and picked it up.’ Kirk didn’t tell him to do that; he did it on his own. He said, ‘This guy is going to be rare.'”
Kirk Ferentz: “Like when someone says, ‘Oh, you coached Jonathan Ogden.’ My sister could have coached Jonathan Ogden. That’s not coaching. That’s so easy. Freakishly athletic, highly motivated … what else do you need?”
Eric Mangini: “One of the strongest memories of him that I have is the first minicamp — the first time the veterans and rookies together. Here’s Jonathan, fourth pick in the draft. All the hype and the money and all the accolades and those things. Well, we had some pretty good defensive linemen back then. And all these guys are licking their chops to try to teach the young kid a lesson [in one-on-one drills], you know how the NFL works and all that. The first guy that lines up to go against him, Jonathan slides out and just stones them. It’s not even close. That guy goes to the back of the line. Next guy pops up, and this was a starter. Same thing happens. I swear, the next day nobody wanted to line up over there. None of the veterans, anyway.”
‘LET’S TALK ABOUT THE CATS’
The team made one more addition to the scouting staff (recent college grad Eric DeCosta) and kept going all systems ahead with an eye on Sept. 1 — the day the Oakland Raiders came to town for the first NFL game in Baltimore in almost 13 years. But there was a lot to get done.
Bob Eller: “It’s just amazing the amount of things that needed to get done in a very, very short period of time.”
Francine Lubera: “I told myself at the time, ‘Savor every minute of this.’ This was a truly unique experience. No one got to do the creative things we were asked to do that year. But you worked 12- and 14-hour days every day. It was nuts.”
Chuck Cusick: “We didn’t have a lot of money to spend. To say we were on a budget would be understating it. It was funny at times. We were actually trading our business credit cards to see if someone had anything left on theirs to use in some other area. But we made it work.”
One issue was Memorial Stadium. The “Asylum on 33rd Street” was a legendary haunt and the Colts’ home from 1953 to 1983. The Orioles also had played there until 1991, and it fell behind the times even as it was home to minor league baseball and the CFL’s Baltimore Stallions in 1994 and 1995.
David Modell: “We had a stadium that had 4-foot weeds growing in the middle of the field when we got there.”
Bob Eller: “I’m not sure I remember it that way. It had been used the year before [by the Stallions]. But it did have its share of challenges.”
Nestor Aparicio: “It was maintained at about a Triple-A level. They had a lot of work to do over there. The CFL didn’t have money for improvements. They just brought in hammers and nails and boarded stuff up. The stadium wasn’t dramatically in disrepair. It was like Oakland is now. Same idea. Old. Not terrible. No luxury boxes. No amenities. Nowhere to make a crab cake in there. Nowhere to hang signs.”
David Modell: “There was a reason the Baltimore Colts left and went to Indianapolis. That reason was Memorial Stadium. It was not an NFL-caliber facility by the time we got there.”
Bob Eller: “Just trying to retrofit everything, trying to get it into working order, knowing we were going to only be there for a couple of years. I remember one of our stadium operation guys, Jobie Waldt, he was jury-rigging the scoreboards because they didn’t even make the bulbs anymore. He was doing everything he could to make the down and distance and play clock work.”
Chuck Cusick: “Let’s talk about the cats. I think the cats had been living in there longer than the Colts had. There were cats living everywhere. That was fun. You definitely had to throw on a light when you walked into a room, otherwise the bottom of your shoes would be a mess.”
Eric DeCosta: “The video guys wanted me to go to the stadium with them before the season to check it out because on game days I was going to be making [still shots of plays] for the coaches. I am thinking this is going to be a really awesome experience. This is the NFL. This is Memorial Stadium. So we go down there, and it’s pretty run down honestly. They open this little door, which I am going to be in, and it’s dark and it smells awful. We finally get the electricity going and the lights turned on, and there are all these dead rats inside. So I think to myself, ‘This is the NFL? I don’t know if I can do this.'”
THEY’RE NOT A SOCCER TEAM
Then there was the work on the fans. Some — especially the old Colts guard — weren’t buying into this new Ravens thing, and the color purple didn’t win them over right away.
Phil Savage: “When we went out as scouts the first year, a lot of people didn’t even know who the Baltimore Ravens were. We’d get to a school, and they’d say, ‘Oh, the soccer offices are down at the other part of the building.’ Or, ‘Wait, what team is that again?’ That sort of thing.”
Eric Mangini: “I think it’s like anything where, you’re used to seeing the same names for years and when you have a new team and a new name and new colors, it all feels a little Arena Football initially. It’s just so different. No one would think twice about Ravens now. At that point, it was like, ‘Wait, what is this? It’s a poetry thing?'”
Francine Lubera: “I was in a grocery store, and our media guide had just come out. We were selling it at this grocery store. There was a lady in front of me and she says, ‘Who are the Baltimore Ravens?’ I thought, ‘Oh my god, we have to do something.’ There were so many people we had to reach.”
Eric DeCosta: “I remember trying to get an apartment and filling out the application and putting ‘Baltimore Ravens’ under place of employment. The woman looking at my application didn’t even know what that was. She had no clue. ‘What is that?’ she asked. I said, ‘It’s the football team. NFL.’ She said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we’re here now.’ It was totally foreign to her.”
Kevin Byrne: “There was some skepticism from the media. Columnist John Steadman wrote that we had basically ‘Irsayed’ Cleveland. We thought otherwise and we put Art Modell on every outlet we could so he could explain why we were here. Art was wonderful in these interviews. As the community got to know him, hear his story, the tone changed.”
Nestor Aparicio: “There was a really big story written by Mike Littwin for Sports Illustrated about how the old-line Colts, guys in their 60s, how they hated the Ravens because they were not the Colts and they hated the NFL too. There was a whole legion of people here who wanted to keep the CFL team here.”
Scott O’Brien: “It was very weird with the old Colts fans and the new team and the new fans. It felt weird for a while.”
Tony Cordwell: “There were older people who struggled to embrace them. Those were the Colts diehards. It was Colts or nothing for them. Then there was my younger generation. We knew a little about the Colts. But the Ravens are now what we know and love. We got into them a little quicker.”
THAT SWEET OLD MAN’S BRUTAL TRAINING CAMP
Things were falling into place before the opener. But just when the players thought Ted Marchibroda was some sweet, old man … he dropped the wrath of training camp on them.
Earnest Byner: “Ted Marchibroda kicking our ass. [laughing]”
Scott O’Brien: “Oh, it was crazy what we were doing out there every day. Just crazy.”
Wally Williams: “Oh yeah, camp was terrible. One of the all-time worst. That 1996 training camp was — and we had gone hard under Belichick — the worst. We had a month of two-a-days. He didn’t care who got hurt. It was rough. I guess he had to weed out all our non-believers.”
Derrick Alexander: “He was working us hard. Like old-school hard. Marchibroda, he seems like this sweet guy, and he’s telling us, ‘OK, we’re going to practice twice a day’ and all this stuff. It was interesting.”
Earnest Byner: “Two-a-days, we were lifting in between, conditioning after practices … and these were two-a-days in pads. It was real two-a-days, not what they have now.”
Scott Garceau: “That was the rap — ‘Ted’s too nice a guy.’ But his training camps were brutal. They beat the crap out of each other. Twice a day. That was the old school in Ted. You gotta hit and be tough early.”
Kirk Ferentz: “[laughing] Ted was an unbelievably nice person. But he ran a good camp, I can tell you that. That team needed it, too.”
Michael Jackson: “It wasn’t the best gift, as a veteran, that I could think of.”
Earnest Byner: “I remember one day, we were laying out and stretching. That sun seemed like it was beaming right on me. I can remember saying, ‘Man, it’s hotter than hell out here!’ That’s the day I pulled my hamstring. [laughing]”
ONE LAST PROTEST FOR CLEVELAND
The Ravens made their Memorial Stadium debut in the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 3 — less than five months after the move to Baltimore was fully legal and stamped. There was still work to be done to the field a few hours before kickoff.
David Modell: “That was our soft opening, if you will. And it was soft, let me tell you.”
Chuck Cusick: “We worked [on the field] maybe right up until kickoff that night. And after kickoff, we were still doing a million other things. I am not sure I watched a single play.”
That game maybe was best known for Everitt coming out from halftime wearing a Cleveland Browns bandana — the same won he wore the season before — as a symbol of protest for the Browns ending and his dislike for the Modells. Everitt was fined $5,000 by the NFL’s uniform police for the display.
Steve Everitt:“It was a preseason game when I did the bandana. I was so happy all day, just laughing to myself. I think I went into a back stall at halftime and put it on under my helmet. I put my helmet back on and came out on the field. … Once I took my helmet off and the bandana was showing, a guy came up to me in like five seconds and was like, ‘OK, you made your point. You’re going to be getting fined for that. You can take it off now.’ I was like, ‘You can just continue to fine me because it’s not anything to me.'”
Earnest Byner: “I never saw it when it happened. I heard about it later. Some of the Cleveland guys were talking about it afterward.”
Steve Everitt:“Believe me, I had about a million things planned to just torture the Modells every day of the year that fall. But then I thought about, would the 50-year-old version of me want me to have dialed it back and not say some of the things I said? I mean, I still sign footballs to this day with some horrible stuff about the Modells on them. Browns fans will come up and they’ll ask me to do it. I can’t deny them that. They want me to do it. People don’t forget. I don’t forget.”
Wally Williams: “That was Steve. Couldn’t hide his dislike of [the Modells] then and still can’t to this day.”
Steve Everitt:“Going into that season I really, really wanted to somehow get on the field with my Browns helmet. But there was no way I could pull that off. Our equipment manager, as cool as he was, there was no way he was going to go for it. I had friends who were coming up from Miami who were going to keep my Browns helmet on the sideline like in the stands. I was trying to come up with a way just to give a shout-out to Cleveland and show people there that everybody hadn’t just moved on. That was my No. 1 thing: to be on the field with a Browns helmet and blow people’s minds. Unfortunately, I caved and never pulled that off.”
David Modell: “Steve is allowed his opinion. The expansion really ended up being very good for countless numbers of folks directly and indirectly. I hope Steve can allow those people to have enjoyed the experience thus far.”
A BLESSING FROM JOHNNY U
Less than a month later, opening day had arrived. Baltimore was hosting its first NFL game in 4,641 days, and the sold-out crowd of 64,124 fans was the largest for a Baltimore pro sports event at the time. The Raiders had arrived for the game, as had NBC whose announcers — Bob Costas and Bob Trumpy — couldn’t help but bash Modell moving the Browns and point out the irony of once-bitten Baltimore being the beneficiary of Cleveland’s loss.
Nestor Aparicio: “Trumpy had [bashed Modell and the Ravens] in Sport Magazine … and I had the sign ‘Dump Trumpy’ made up and gave the signs to 50,000 people in the stadium that day.”
Bob Eller: “It’s certainly understandable. It’s really unfortunate for a city to lose a team. For all the circumstances that led up to that, it’s still a fans’ team. Not to mention the long history of the Cleveland Browns — it just magnified the hurt.”
But most were tickled that football was back. Perhaps none more so than the members of the Baltimore Colts band, which had stayed together even after the franchise left the city, and played on the field before the game.
John Ziemann, Baltimore Colts band director: “We’re lined up and we came marching in. We didn’t know what to expect. The place exploded. I couldn’t even hear the drum cadence. We marched around the side on the track. People just went out of their minds. That’s when I broke down. Tears coming down my face. I looked around and said, ‘Dammit, the fans deserve this.'”
Francine Lubera: “We knew the sensitivity of the Colts fans there. We knew we had to respect their history and what happened to them. We really needed to bring the Colts’ history into the present and make it part of what the Ravens were. The band was a huge part of that.”
But it wasn’t just the Colts band — more than 50 former Baltimore Colts players were part of the pregame festivities. This was another way to bridge the past and the present, and much of Baltimore was watching to see what the most famous Colt of all, Johnny Unitas, was going to do that day.
Kevin Byrne: “Having the former Baltimore Colts embrace us was huge. That helped separate us from those wanting to call us carpetbaggers. Those months leading up to opening day were so chaotic, I was just happy we kicked off on time on opening day.”
Scott Garceau: “People were saying, ‘If it’s all right with Johnny, it’s all right with me.’ You could feel it.”
Wally Williams: “That night I started to feel that with Baltimore. I relished the fact that, you know, Raymond Berry is right there. John Unitas is right there. These guys are here in their uniforms welcoming us to the city. That’s when you got the feel of, man, we just ran out of the tunnel that Johnny U ran out of.”
Kevin Byrne: “We had commitments from over 50 Baltimore Colts to come to opening day. We would give them jackets that said ‘Baltimore Colts’ on the back. The jackets were reversible, and after we had introduced them all, we asked if they would turn the jackets around and that back of the jacket had ‘Baltimore Ravens’ printed on it. The symbolism would be great. It was like telling Baltimore it was OK to root for the Ravens.”
Steve Everitt:“I talked to Johnny Unitas that day. That was like one of the highlights of my life. I just remember him being so irritated with our uniforms. He could not get over the fact they were purple. He said they looked like lollipops.”
Bob Eller: “I’ll never forget the opener against the Raiders. Just the feeling of all the hard work that everyone had put in to try to make this happen in a short period of time. It was a day that those of us who are still here will never forget.”
Tony Cordwell: “I remember just seeing grown men acting like children. There was this one guy a few rows in front of us who was flapping his arms like he was a raven. People didn’t know what to do. It was just kind of a wild scene.”
Jim Schwartz: “I was [a Baltimore native] in high school when the Colts left. I remember it like it was yesterday. I cried. So that game meant a lot to me and my family. The Colts and Orioles were all we had growing up.”
Francine Lubera: “There was the main press box and then the baseball press box where we had overflow media. Of course, that was open-air so you’d have birds flying in during the game. It was a crazy setup. Next to that was the booth where the visiting owners were. Al Davis’ wife insisted on bringing her puppy into the stadium that day.”
Vinny Testaverde: [to Baltimoreravens.com] “I remember driving to the stadium that morning and thinking about all the great players and games that had been played there. … I was high-fiving with as many [Colts legends] as I could, but the one I looked for was Johnny Unitas. He was one of my heroes growing up. I found him, and we slapped fives, and I’ll always remember that. It was a special moment for me.”
Ray Lewis: [to Baltimoreravens.com] “Opening day at Memorial Stadium. Football is back in Baltimore. … I remember everything from that. Looking around and watching those fans that had football taken away from them. I saw excitement. I saw teammates’ faces. I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is the League. This ain’t college or high school. This is the NFL, and I did it.'”
Kevin Byrne: “The atmosphere was electric. The crowd went wild with the former Colts and helped us win that day. They were loud and energized. It was a party with a football game as the centerpiece.”
Testaverde and Lewis would be the stars of the game. Testaverde opened the scoring with a 9-yard touchdown run, the first score in franchise history. Lewis intercepted Billy Joe Hobert in the end zone in the second quarter after the Raiders stole back momentum. And Byner capped the scoring with a fourth-quarter TD in a 19-14 Ravens win.
Phil Savage: “Ray had 12 tackles and a pick that day. Even though we didn’t have a very good season, first impressions go a long way. He was the real deal.”
Earnest Byner: “That was a career highlight for me that day, scoring that touchdown.”
Chuck Cusick: “It was so loud that day. Earthshakingly loud. It made us feel like we had done what we had come to do.”
Scott Garceau: “There was just something special in the air that day. You had the old fans, the new ones. A new team making its debut, and doing it against the Raiders made it even more interesting. Al Davis on the sidelines. The band was back on the field with the Colts legends. In Memorial Stadium, no less. A gorgeous day. Just a great day in Baltimore sports.”
David Modell: “Maybe there was a momentary sigh [of relief].”
Chuck Cusick: “I don’t know that any other team could have done what we did with all the constraints we had and go out and win the first ballgame. It was just so surreal that we had come so far in so little time and beat the Oakland Raiders in Baltimore on a Sunday afternoon.”
David Modell: “We still had so much ground to cover.”
A LITERAL NOSEDIVE
The Ravens stood at 2-3 entering Week 7. Testaverde and the passing game were humming, but the defense was struggling. Facing the Ravens that week on a Sunday night TNT game was a stiff test — the 4-1 Indianapolis Colts on the road. It had about every storyline you can imagine: old Baltimore franchise vs. new one, the first crack at revenge against Colts owner Robert Irsay, Marchibroda facing the team that dumped him nine months earlier … and the Baltimore Orioles were playing in an elimination game against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. That was the Jeffrey Mayer series. At 7:04 p.m. ET on Oct. 13, the Orioles’ season ended —three minutes after the Ravens kicked off in Indy. Three hours later, they had suffered a brutal loss — with one of their best defenders, Rob Burnett, tearing up his knee — to the franchise that had ditched them in the dark of night.
Nestor Aparicio: “The Orioles got eliminated that day, and then the Ravens lose to the Colts. It was a pretty dark day.”
Rob Burnett: “After 80 straight starts, I tear my ACL and PCL. And it was non-contact, too. I had changed shoes for the turf there, and the shoes were actually really good in Houston a few weeks prior at the Astrodome, which had a rodeo there probably the day before we played the Oilers. But these shoes were really tacky and they felt great. But that surface in Indianapolis was new and it was entirely different. I stepped, planted, spun — Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback — and threw my knee out. To this day I remember the day: October 13.”
Donny Brady: “That was the first really bad game I remember. It kinda went [downhill] from there.”
At the time, the Ravens had little clue what was ahead of them. The 5-1 Denver Broncos, led by John Elway and Terrell Davis, were the next opponent on the road. But there was a tough opponent before they even arrived.
Eric Mangini: “We are flying out to Denver and midflight the team plane suddenly drops.”
Scott O’Brien: “Everyone was thinking bad thoughts. Even those of us who don’t usually think those things. There were some guys who were pretty white-knuckled. Me included.”
Steve Everitt:“Oh, hell yes I remember. There were guys who were not buckled in who were hitting the ceiling almost.”
Eric Mangini: “After we dropped, when the pilot put the nose of the plane down, we started descending rapidly. There was no communication. He didn’t come on right away. We dropped and it just feels like you’re going straight down.”
Derrick Alexander: “That was actually pretty scary. It felt like we were actually just in free fall out of the sky.”
Michael Jackson: “Derrick said to me, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’ So I told him I had no clue and just pointed to this fuel shooting out of the plane. You could see it coming out. That’s where the panic set in.”
Don Strock: “All of a sudden we weren’t heading west either. Then they said, ‘We’re trying to get to Pittsburgh as fast as we can.’ As fast as we can? That’s not disheartening or anything.”
Eric Mangini: “I think it was [Jim Schwartz] sitting behind me. I was like, ‘Where are the emergency exits?’ He said to me, ‘Are you kidding me? We aren’t getting to any exits. I like your thoroughness, but … this is it.’ You thought it was over. This is the end. I am telling you, it was crazy.”
Jim Schwartz: “I thought, well, at least I got to coach in the NFL.”
Scott Pioli: “That whole season was crazy! That was just another day.”
Francine Lubera: “I was sitting next to Kevin Byrne on the plane. I was a white-knuckle flyer. I had just been through an awful flight to New York right before that, too. So all of a sudden, there’s this announcement that we’re going to be dumping fuel. It was sheer chaos. But one of the guys across the aisle from us continued to eat his meal. Like nothing was going on.”
Kevin Byrne: “We had just been served our meal with filets as the main course. I looked across the aisle at [VP of football administration] Pat Moriarty and, as we slanted to our demise, he put his arm near the back of the food tray to hold it in place. I saw him put a piece of steak in his mouth. When we landed safely, I noted to Pat what I had witnessed. He responded, ‘I didn’t want to waste a good steak.'”
Francine Lubera: “And, of course, he was the skinniest guy on the plane.”
The plane made an emergency landing in Pittsburgh safely. But for the coach who had just come from there, the symbolism couldn’t have been any clearer.
Marvin Lewis: “I knew the airport well because I had just been with the Steelers. And of course, we pull up to the gate right next to the one where the Steelers used to fly out of. They were flying out the same day [to Houston], so there were two NFL football teams at the gate there. I briefly considered my career options at that point. [laughing]”
Eric Mangini: “We all get off the plane. And then they made us get back on the plane. The pilot had to get back on the intercom and say, ‘Look, I’ve got five kids. I wouldn’t get back on this plane if it wasn’t safe.'”
Marvin Lewis: “I think we had a player who refused to get back on.”
Eric Mangini: “Orlando Brown did not want to get back on that plane. He was like, ‘[Expletive] this!’ And he’s a huge man. You think I am going to get him back on there? He was just going off.”
Derrick Alexander: “Zeus had a rough time with that. He was already not really a flier to begin with. He hated the plane flights in the first place. It took a lot of convincing to get him back on the plane. I mean, a lot.”
Eric Mangini: “There was another player who had real problems after that. I mean, real problems. Like he didn’t get over it right away, even after we [got to Denver].”
Francine Lubera: “Two of the biggest guys, Orlando Brown and [defensive lineman] Mike Frederick, had the hardest time getting back on.”
The Ravens made it to Denver but perhaps wished they had not. With a defense down five key contributors, they had no answers for Terrell Davis, who ripped off a 71-yard TD run five minutes into the game and finished with 194 yards rushing and two scores in a 45-34 Broncos win.
Steve Everitt:“Worst part of that whole trip for me was not the flight there though. I shredded my pec in the fourth quarter of that game. We lost in this crazy shootout game. Jumpy Geathers, this badass nose guard for the Broncos, had a move called the ‘human forklift.’ He would just put it on guys and he had arms that were like a foot longer than everyone else’s. He would put them around your body and you’d start out like a foot parallel to the ground and he’d pick you up off the ground and basically throw you on the quarterback. You either basically let him bull rush you and walk you back into the quarterback, or you get your [pectoral] torn in half. So I got my pec torn in half. I think I missed the last couple drives. The plane ride home I was all drugged up. Those were two terrible flights for me actually. [laughing]”
STUCK IN AN ELEVATOR
The Ravens rebounded with an overtime win at home over the St. Louis Rams. But they fell to 3-7 after blowing 11-point fourth-quarter leads against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Another loss, at the San Francisco 49ers, dropped the Ravens to last place in the AFC Central. The Jaguars came to Baltimore in Week 13 for the rematch game. Once more, a mechanical failure trumped the Ravens’ performance during the game.
Eric Mangini: “It’s halftime, and [the coaches who were up in] the booth go down to meet with the team. But both teams get stuck in the elevator on the way back up from the locker room.”
Jim Schwartz: “We had our halftime chat, got back on, went up and the elevator got stuck. Between floors. I think all told, there were about nine or 10 of us in there.”
Eric Mangini: “There were like 20 guys in there.”
Among the Ravens assistants that were in there were Schwartz, Mangini, Marvin Lewis, Mike Sheppard and Pat Hill, plus two Jaguars coaches. The Ravens were leading 16-10 at halftime, and the coaches remained stuck as the third quarter began.
Jim Schwartz: “I still remember, we’re sitting there and there was nothing we could do. One of the policemen had a radio, and we were sort of listening to what was going on in the game.”
Kirk Ferentz: “Ted didn’t know what the heck was going on. None of us did either.”
Eric Mangini: “There were two elevators if I remember. I think they were working on the wrong elevator for a few minutes there.”
Marvin Lewis: “The announcers drew little stick figures of where we coaches should be in the press box.”
Kevin Byrne: “We joked that it might help our defense if those coaches were in the elevator. Heck, old Memorial Stadium still had many fewer game-day headaches than Cleveland Stadium, which had become unsafe.”
Jim Schwartz: “We pried the doors open, halfway in between floors, and someone reached their hand down. I was the first guy. I just reached up, and they pulled me up and through.”
Marvin Lewis: “They eventually pried it open. We literally had to crawl through a 3-foot space. We got boosted up, got up on our feet and then run up there.”
Eric Mangini: “But we found out later, they never shut off the electricity when we did it. I don’t know what would have happened if it ever came back on, but someone might have lost a head.”
Jim Schwartz: “I didn’t even wait for anybody. I knew the stadium well from going to so many Baltimore Orioles games. I just started running through the concourses to get to the press box.”
Marvin Lewis: “All I know is we scored while we were in there. Then we gave up the lead when we came out.”
Jim Schwartz: “I think when we were on the elevator we went three-and-out on defense. I think when we got back we gave up a touchdown. But giving up a touchdown wasn’t new for us.”
Marvin Lewis: “We eventually lost the game and everyone said, ‘We probably should have just left them in there.'”
The Ravens blew a 15-point lead after three quarters this time, and led by eight with the ball with less than three minutes to go. A fumble, a missed game-winning field-goal try and another fumble and the Ravens lost 28-25 in overtime to fall to 3-9. They were outscored 18-0 after the coaches escaped the elevator.
Eric Mangini: “Those experiences — the elevator, the plane — were kind of indicative of how the whole year went. It was a lot of great things operating amid a lot of chaos.”
The defense was also a big reason why. Four seasons away from fielding one of the best defenses in league history, the 1996 unit — which would rank dead last in yards allowed — was holding the Ravens back.
Phil Savage: “Our defense wasn’t very good. We gave up a lot of leads.”
Nestor Aparicio: “Their defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed. Marvin would say, ‘Our guys are playing hard, they just can’t play.'”
Scott Garceau: “That defense around Ray was horrible. Just horrible. The secondary was terrible. Eric Turner was great, but they had nothing else around them.”
Wally Williams: “We knew our defense was struggling. Some of the guys they signed … Jerrol Williams, I’m pretty sure he had been out of the league a couple of years. Mike Croel, guys like that. To this day I still don’t have a clue who the hell Keith Goganious is. But he was with us.”
VINNY AND THAT PUNTER WHO PAINTED HIS FINGERNAILS
But Testaverde, then 32, was having a career resurgence. He and pass catchers Michael Jackson, Derrick Alexander and Brian Kinchen were having their best statistical seasons. After a terrible start to his career as the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a few rough years in Cleveland, Testaverde was one of the few highlights.
Mary Kay Cabot: “He wasn’t Bernie Kosar, so he was just never going to have a chance in Cleveland. He was like ‘the other woman,’ you know?”
Don Strock: “I mean, I played with Dan Marino. [Testaverde] has the purest throwing motion I have ever seen. I mean, whew! Grace, man. Just smooth. No struggle, nothing.”
Earnest Byner: “Vinny probably had one of his better years. It seemed like the older Vinny got, the better he got.”
Michael Jackson: “Baltimore was huge for Vinny. I think he needed that fresh start, all he had been through before. He was one of the guys who made the most of the change.”
Scott Garceau: “I remember Vinny telling me, he said, ‘I’ve been in the league a long time. I really never learned how to watch film until I got with Ted [Marchibroda].’ He taught him so much, so many little things he never saw before.”
Testaverde would make the Pro Bowl by season’s end, along with Turner. The quarterback promised his offensive linemen a special gift for helping him get to Hawaii.
Steve Everitt:“He had an incredible year. We kept him pretty clean. I love the guy, but I can’t just let him off the hook.”
Wally Williams: “I think at the time he promised us we were getting SUVs or something.”
Steve Everitt:“This is me calling Vinny out. I love Vinny. But to this day, I still think Vinny kind of owes me like a Land Rover or something. We haven’t talked in almost 20 years, but if we do talk it’s the first thing that’s going to come up. [laughing]”
Wally Williams: “I think he got us watches or something. I know I didn’t get an SUV.”
Steve Everitt:“See, I don’t remember the watches. I seem to remember he was going to get us all like tailor-made suits. I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t want a suit!’ It’s going to sit in my closet forever and never get worn. I think I talked him into getting a trenchcoat instead. It was a sweet-ass trenchcoat, actually. I still have it.
Everitt was one of the biggest characters on a roster full of them. Several people mentioned him and Benny Thompson as two of the more outrageous personalities. But there was one clear winner for that award. The punter.
Benny Thompson:“Greg Montgomery. No question. By far.”
Wally Williams: “Greg Montgomery, no doubt.”
Nestor Aparicio: “Greg Montgomery. Crazy dude. Painted his fingernails black and the whole deal.”
Benny Thompson: “The fingernails, the toenails, all different colors.”
Rob Burnett and others called him G-Money. Scott O’Brien remembered him as Monty. Whatever his nickname, it was clear that Montgomery — a former Pro Bowler with the Houston Oilers who was out of the league the year prior — was not your average NFL player.
Wally Williams: “G-Money was above everyone else in that category. Everyone else was a distant second compared to him. For a punter — and punter are outcasts anyway — Greg was even out there by punter standards. Every day he showed up looking like he had just come from a binge somewhere.”
Scott O’Brien: “He could have been going off to meet Dennis Rodman in South Beach for all I knew. Who cares? As long as you do your job, I don’t care.”
Wally Williams: “Black nails, green hair … you know who he kind of looked like? Who’s the guy from Stone Temple Pilots who passed away … Scott Weiland? That’s exactly who he modeled his look after.”
Benny Thompson:“I still don’t understand what the hell that guy was doing. Ever.”
Wally Williams: “He’s 6-4, so he’s no small dude either. And he’d be coming around like, ‘Hey, man, let’s get it done! Where’s the party at?’ Only fitting that our punter from that team was the guy who was most looking for a party. The city wanted to party with us. ‘Come out,’ they said. ‘Come party with us. We want to meet you and buy you drinks. We want to get to know you guys. We want you to see Baltimore.’ The guy they got to know best might have been Greg Montgomery. He knew all the spots. I never knew a kicker who knew what was going on more than him. We started going to him eventually, ‘Hey, man, what’s going on tonight? Where is the party at?’ He was the lead guy. We didn’t know exactly what it was. But it was every bit of Stone Temple Pilots.”
Brian Kinchen: “Most of those guys [kickers and punters] are odd guys anyway. … But those two, Greg and Matt Stover, couldn’t have been more polar opposites.”
Bob Eller: “He and Matt Stover — the odd couple.”
‘LET’S GO GET ‘EM … COLTS!’
Marchibroda, who died this past January, had a tall order with this roster full of misfits and a patched-together staff. Not everyone loved the head coach’s style, but few had bad things to say about one of the more respected offensive coaches of his era.
Rob Burnett: “Ted — God rest his soul — is a great guy and a very, very competitive man. You could just see his frustration having to deal with all this uncertainty.”
Eric Mangini: “He had such a great, fatherly way about him.”
Scott O’Brien: “Ted didn’t have a lot of ideas about a lot of things that happened outside the building. It was like talking to your grandfather sometimes.”
Benny Thompson:“We were getting our butts whipped one game early in the season, I think it was by Pittsburgh [in Week 2]. Ted came in [at halftime] to the locker room, he was yelling and screaming. So you know those bins in the locker room you throw the dirty laundry in? Well, he tried to flip over one of those bins, and there were no clothes in it or nothing, and he tripped over the basket.”
Michael Jackson: “He starts saying, ‘They don’t know what they don’t know! Boy, are they going to be surprised!'”
Benny Thompson:“So he stands back up and says to all of us in this high-pitched voice, ‘Let’s go out there and win this football game.’ And he threw this little fist pump up there and said, ‘Let’s go get ’em … Colts!'”
Wally Williams: “He did that a couple of times. ‘Good job, Colts!’ or ‘Way to play tough, Colts!’ He had just come from the Colts and he was always getting confused.”
Michael Jackson: “Benny and I are just looking at each other in disbelief. And then he says, ‘Colts’ and we just lose it. We still joke about it now whenever we talk or see each other.”
Wally Williams: “He would be coaching us hard, and then he’d call us ‘Colts’ and we just lost it. You couldn’t keep serious when he said it.”
Benny Thompson:“Everybody said, ‘Colts? What are you talking about? Colts?!’ Someone said, ‘Ted, we the Ravens now!’ You should have seen Ted’s reaction. Michael Jackson and I still laugh about that one.”
Wally Williams: “You know what? [Marchibroda] was just as confused as the rest of us. [laughing]”
Eric Mangini: “I remember we were at practice one day, and he needed a watch. So he borrowed my watch. This was an old Timex watch, maybe $35. About a month passed and he was still wearing my watch. He didn’t say anything, but one day he comes up to me and says, [doing best Ted impression] ‘Hey, uh, Eric, this is a pretty good watch, eh?’ He starts showing me all the features on it — it’s scratchproof, it’s waterproof, it’s got a light — which I of course already knew all about. ‘How much this thing cost you?’ he asked me. I said, ‘I think it was like $35 maybe.’ He pulls out $35 from his wallet and says, ‘Go get yourself another one.'”
Benny Thompson:“Ted would walk right by me every morning with a cup of coffee in his hand at the facility and say, ‘Good morning, Ray! How are you?’ I’m like, ‘Ray?!’ He thought I was Ray Lewis.”
Eric Mangini: “One other time, he came up to me at the facility and says, ‘Hey, Eric, have you seen the sign on the billboard for that new breakfast sandwich?’ I said yes. He said he hadn’t eaten breakfast that day. ‘It has ham and cheese and a croissant and everything,’ he said. What am I supposed to say? ‘Wow, that sounds great.’ I think that’s what I said. He pulls out his wallet again and gives me money. ‘Why don’t you go grab us a couple?’ So I got Ted a breakfast sandwich and I had one too that day.”
Don Strock: “One of the best guys you’ll ever meet. Just a gem of a guy.”
Eric Mangini: “Ted was just so nice.”
Bob Eller: “He was one of the nicest men anyone could ever meet.”
Don Strock: “But very intense, too. He’d be in his office but with the lights off just watching film at night. For hours at a time. You’d think he was gone, but you’d look in there and see his glasses reflecting in the light.”
Scott Garceau: “I got to be close with Ted. I did the ‘Ted Marchibroda Show’ with him. I told him once, ‘Ted, if the worst thing they can say about you is that you’re too nice a guy, that’s not all that bad.’ He laughed about it.”
Ozzie Newsome: “I can’t say enough about Ted’s calming influence. He gave us the prototype for what Ravens players are. He said, ‘Give me players who have a football temperament.’ Guys who like football and all that goes with that. The preparation, the weightlifting, the physicality, the grinding of the work. Bill [Belichick] wanted the biggest, fastest guys at that time. Ted wanted guys who loved the game and were willing to take players who might be a little different size and speed. That started our mantra to ‘Play like a Raven.'”
THE TEAM THAT PAID THE TAX FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP
The Ravens would win only one of their final four games, but it came against the rival Steelers, who were in a playoff race, even if visiting fans had made the game feel as if it was in Pittsburgh.
Nestor Aparicio: “It was the first time the Steelers came to Baltimore. Our fans just gave their tickets up because we were 3-9. It was cold and rainy and horrible.”
David Modell: “That first Steelers home game, it was probably 80 percent Steelers fans there. I thought I was going to kill myself.”
Steve Everitt:“There seemed to be like 30,000 or 40,000 Steelers fans in the stadium. That made me sick to my stomach. There was a [magazine] called the Ravens Report, and I wrote like a weekly article in that. Up to that, it was mostly soft and fuzzy stuff. But I couldn’t take it that game. So I wrote an article blasting the Baltimore fans. I was like, ‘What in the hell is wrong with you people? You were dying for a team to show, and now all of a sudden you’re scalping your tickets to Steelers fans.'”
Earnest Byner: “It was tough when you saw that. But I had my best game in forever and was just fired up. I lost my mind after scoring a touchdown that game. I ran back to the sideline and screamed the coaches, ‘Give me the damned ball!’ I might have been 34, but I was still competitive!”
They’d end up losing seven games by one score in a tough first season in Baltimore. But there were signs that good times were ahead — namely in Lewis, Ogden and a great staff, which would form a championship foundation. The Ravens beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV less than five years after arriving as a ragtag bunch from Cleveland. Who would have thought at the time?
Marvin Lewis: “We had Vinny. We had some good talent. But it was such a tumultuous change from Cleveland, and everything they had experienced the year before, it was almost like there had to be a period of cleansing before the franchise could get righted again.”
Michael Jackson: “We helped lay the groundwork. Someone had to be the first, and that was us. The work we did sometimes goes unnoticed, and it’s sad. If you forget about the birth of the team, how can you celebrate the adolescence?”
Donny Brady: “We didn’t win a lot of games, but I am going to tell you what: We were a good team.”
Ozzie Newsome: “We were an unselfish group. We supported each other and I think that remains important today. It’s who you hire and how you work together to achieve winning.”
Eric DeCosta: “The thing that’s pretty cool is that we all came up together, and the common bond was Baltimore. And as guys became more successful, they didn’t necessarily change — they were just guys who had a common experience.”
Michael Jackson: “Those men should be recognized for their work. Yes, they should remember the 2000 team that won it. But I think it’s an injustice to the original cast of characters to forget what that ’96 team did.”
Vince Newsome: “We thought after that first year, after 4-12, that we did have something there. But we knew we needed a lot of work. We had the linebacker — we had to build around the linebacker. We started to get those hogs we needed up front on defense. [Tony] Siragusa, Sam Adams and those guys.”
Marvin Lewis: “There were some people who questioned Ray Lewis. I still have a Post-It note from [Baltimore Sun columnist] John Eisenberg. It was a phone message where he was questioning me hard about Ray Lewis. I’ve kept that Post-It along with a photo Ray sent me of him and LT [Lawrence Taylor] and LaVar Arrington. That’s always a good reminder.”
Nestor Aparicio: “No one was paying attention by that point. But Marvin and Jim Schwartz would turn on the tape of Ray and say, ‘He’s running around the field like no one we’ve ever seen.'”
Phil Savage: “Ray would earn his legacy as a football player and as a Baltimore Raven, and it started right away that first season.”
Steve Everitt:“There was no doubt [Ogden] was ready the second he walked onto the practice field. He did stuff the right away. He was a little goofy and funny, but he was also pretty wise for a young guy. He knew how to approach it.”
Kirk Ferentz: “Talk about an are-you-kidding-me play … he was playing guard and we ran a little screen. And all of a sudden, Jonathan gets out into space …”
Earnest Byner: “I look and Jonathan Ogden is in front of me.”
Steve Everitt:“I know exactly the play you’re talking about. He’s out there running down the field faster than Earnest.”
Eric DeCosta: “We had a lot of talented players when we first got here, but it just didn’t come together. Looking back, you could see that maybe we were doing some of the right things before that. We had some of the right people in place, but it just takes time.”
Phil Savage: “It certainly was a big transformation from what we were in 1996 to what we became in 2000. But we really did start to come together as an organization that season. Those were the first real seeds after we came over from Baltimore, and you could see them just starting to sprout that first year.”
Francine Lubera: “Never in my wildest dreams after that first season did I think we’d be winning the Super Bowl five years later. But there was a lot of hope, a lot of belief that we were doing something really big there. I just felt it.”
Jim Schwartz: “The glory that came from that 2000 Ravens Super Bowl … there was a tax that was paid for that.”
Marvin Lewis: “We laugh now … to win a Super Bowl starting from where we started, that’s what made it made it so special.”