Check out the introduction to the top 25 regular-season moments in Ravens history HERE.
The Colts were the beloved relative many of us never got to meet.
That was just reality for anyone currently under the age of 40 and growing up in Baltimore in the 1980s and early 90s without the NFL. Yes, we cherished stories from our parents and grandparents, but tales of Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti, and John Mackey felt more like mythology than reality when we hadn’t experienced it ourselves, seeing them only in their post-playing days.
Every autumn Sunday, we were left to ponder the thought of football returning one day while being subjected to Washington Redskins games on local TV.
To their credit, the Stars and the Stallions served as brief diversions while the Cardinals, Patriots, Buccaneers, Rams, Raiders, and Bengals were among the teams mentioned as relocation candidates at one time or another. A sellout crowd for a 1992 New Orleans-Miami preseason game at Memorial Stadium seemed to bode well for expansion hopes — always the preferred path for football’s return — before the NFL would pick Charlotte and Jacksonville in 1993 and Paul Tagliabue would callously suggest the city build a museum or a plant with its stadium resources.
It still didn’t feel real when Art Modell shockingly announced he was moving his Browns to Baltimore on Nov. 6, 1995. Emotions were quite conflicted about Charm City doing to Cleveland what Indianapolis had done in stealing the Colts more than a decade earlier, but the league and its owners had forced the city’s hand after efforts to secure a new team the right way were ignored.
The method was far from ideal, but we would finally have an NFL team again, complete with a new name, new colors, and a new stadium next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards a couple years later.
Many even outside of Cleveland were unhappy about the idea of these new Ravens with Bob Costas and Bob Trumpy — both part of the NBC broadcast for that 1996 season opener — standing out with their disdain. The uniforms were ugly, a far-past-its-prime Memorial Stadium was short on amenities, and the Ravens weren’t any good, especially on the defensive side of the ball with a rookie Ray Lewis — who would have an end-zone interception in that first game — being the only long-term bright spot.
But they were ours.
Having led the Baltimore Colts to three division titles from 1975-79, Ted Marchibroda served as a bridge between old and new as head coach. The Baltimore Colts Marching Band was there, just as it had been throughout the struggle to bring back football. And the legendary Unitas presented the first game ball with many other old Colts on hand as the Ravens kicked off their inaugural season against Oakland on Sept. 1, 1996.
After the teams traded punts to open the game, Vinny Testaverde connected on a 48-yard bomb to Derrick Alexander to put the Ravens deep in Raiders territory late in the first quarter. Five plays later and facing a third-and-6, the lead-footed Testaverde broke the pocket and scrambled up the middle for a 9-yard touchdown as more than 64,000 fans erupted.
“The city supported us, and we felt it,” said Testaverde about that first season earlier this year. “It was like, ‘Man, we are ready to go.’”
It was the first Baltimore touchdown in the NFL since Mike Pagel’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Pat Beach on Dec. 18, 1983, three months before the Colts would leave town in the middle of the night for Indianapolis. The journey to bring the NFL back to Baltimore was anything but organic, but the reaction spawned by that Testaverde score was as real as it gets.
And no one — not Robert Irsay, Tagliabue and the league, or any other critics — could take that away.
The 19-14 win was a bright spot in a 4-12 season, but that 1996 team’s record didn’t matter.
Baltimore was back, and many memories were ahead for younger generations to finally call their own.