Blog & Tackle: Sweet tune could return

August 06, 2010 | Chris Pika

A familiar tune, played with pride during some of Baltimore’s greatest football moments, and mournfully after one of the city’s darkest, could return to herald Ravens touchdowns in M&T Bank Stadium this season if fans have their way.

The Ravens through their website, are giving fans the chance to decide whether the current fight song, written in 1998, should remain, or if an alternate version rewriting the words of the old “Baltimore Colts Fight Song” to fit the current club should replace it — with the melody familiar to generations of Baltimore football fans.

According to Baltimore’s Marching Ravens band director John Ziemann, the fight song has been a part of Baltimore football history since it was written in 1947. “Six pro teams used it,” he said. “The 1947 (AAFC) Colts, the 1950 (NFL) Colts, the 1953-83 Colts, the USFL’s Baltimore Stars in 1985, the CFL’s Baltimore Stallions in 1994-95 and the Ravens in 1996.”

BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 29:  The band of the Baltimore Ravens performs before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 29, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Steelers 20-17. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

When the melody was played by the Colts Marching Band, it was as familiar to Colts fans as “Fly, Eagles, Fly” in Philadelphia, “Skol, Vikings” in Minnesota and even “Hail To The Redskins” in D.C. The tune was recognized among football fans nationwide as almost no NFL Films piece on the Colts was produced without the melody playing in the background.

When the Colts left in 1984, the band played on — as they did when the original NFL Colts left after the 1950 season — and the fight song was performed wherever they traveled to play, especially in NFL cities for pregame and halftime shows, carrying the torch of a love lost and hope of a new start.

That bond between the city and the melody became even stronger when the band played it in front of the Maryland State House in 1987 before a key vote on stadium complex funding. The emotional response of seeing the band carry the tune helped the measure to pass.

The NFL did return in 1996 when the Browns moved to Baltimore, and the club, out of respect for the previous history, did not adopt the song as the Ravens played at old Memorial Stadium — but the band played the tune during the ’96 season to celebrate Baltimore’s return to the NFL.

“In 1998, the Ravens decided they wanted their own identity, and a great fight song was writen by John Modell (son of Ravens’ owner Art Modell),” Ziemann said. The same year, the name of the band changed to Baltimore’s Marching Ravens as the team moved to the new downtown facility the band had helped secure in a small but meaningful way almost a decade earlier.

BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 22:  A band member for the Baltimore Ravens plays the tuba before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on November 22, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Colts defeated the Ravens 17-15. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

The organization did its best to ingrain the current fight song with the fans. But it never really seemed to fit in a city that reveres its history — especially when it comes to football. Over the years, fans contacted the Ravens about restoring the beloved melody.

The opinion of the organization changed when movie producer and Baltimore native Barry Levinson became part of ESPN’s “30 for 30″ documentary series. Levinson chose to spotlight the band and its’ contribution to the city in great football times and especially in the years without the NFL. Just as Levinson had used the “Baltimore Colts Fight Song” to effect in his movie “Diner,” the ESPN movie, “The Band That Woudn’t Die,” gave new life to the melody in an unexpected way.

“The Ravens organization has always had a close ear to the needs and views of the fans,” Ziemann said. “And last year, when the premiere of the ESPN movie was shown at M&T Bank Stadium, the Marching Ravens did a pre-concert on the field. We played the ‘Baltimore Ravens Fight Song,’ and it got applause. But when the ‘Baltimore Colts Fight Song’ was performed, the place went wild. This started the Ravens rethinking about restoring the song.”

That was just the start. New words were needed to fit the melody, making the appropriate changes while keeping some of the historical aspect of the original. “New words were written by musical director Todd Clontz and myself, and focus groups were formed for opinions on it, taking all the necessary steps,” Ziemann said.

The “Baltimore Fight Song” was born, again. But the Ravens organization did not want to make the decision to restore the song on its own. It would be up to the fans to voice their opinions.

“The Ravens, to be fair to the fans, have put it up for a vote on their website,” said Ziemann. And if the song is restored, it will be performed August 12 at the first home preseason game (vs. Carolina).”

This potential switch in fight songs will not sell one more ticket or another piece of merchandise for the Ravens, but the change would return a sweet tune back where it belongs in celebration of a city and its football heritage.

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