Ravens regular-season moment No. 22: Win or “get run out of town”

May 12, 2020 | Luke Jones

Check out the No. 23 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

My father cried when the Colts moved to Indianapolis.

My grandparents felt the all-too-familiar twinge in their stomachs at any mention of the Indianapolis Colts or one of their players breaking a franchise record previously held by Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, or Lydell Mitchell. Losing the franchise was bad enough, but the stolen identity and history cut even deeper.

Long before the Ravens arrived in 1996, Baltimoreans vowed to win another Super Bowl before the Irsay family and the Colts would bring one to Indianapolis.

Those types of reactions and sentiments were commonplace, and the wound still hadn’t healed — if it ever would, really — when the Colts returned to Baltimore to play the Ravens on Nov. 29, 1998, 15 years after their final game at Memorial Stadium. The Colts had gotten the best of the Ravens in the teams’ first meeting in Indianapolis two years earlier, but this would be the first time Baltimore fans could root against the once beloved horseshoe in person. And they were ready.

The problem was the Ravens weren’t in the first half as a defense still another year away from greatness gave up an unseemly 339 yards and trailed 24-13 at intermission. Rookie quarterback Peyton Manning was having the best game of his infant career while Pro Bowl running back Marshall Faulk had two long touchdowns in that first half to put the Colts in front by double digits.

A last-place Indianapolis team with just two wins on the season slapping around the Ravens was a difficult pill to swallow, but the home team battled back in the second half. After the sides exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter, Baltimore quarterback Jim Harbaugh found Floyd Turner in the corner of the end zone for a 22-yard score to open the last period and trim the deficit to 31-28. An energized Ravens defense then forced a three-and-out, and Priest Holmes raced 36 yards for the go-ahead touchdown moments later as nearly 69,000 fans basked in the first lead of the day with 13:07 to play.

A ball-control drive resulting in a Matt Stover 47-yard field goal increased the advantage to 38-31 with 2:49 to go, giving Ray Lewis and the defense the opportunity to seal the most meaningful win in team history to that point. Manning and the Colts drove to the Baltimore 24 with 1:13 remaining as Ravens fans held their breath and cringed at thoughts of overtime as Indianapolis took its final timeout.

On second-and-1, Manning’s pass to the left flat caromed off Faulk and into the arms of reserve safety Ralph Staten, who then offered more drama with his fumble that was recovered by Ravens cornerback DeRon Jenkins.

Game over.

Nothing could erase the past and Manning would become a painful thorn in the Ravens’ side in the years to come, but Baltimore had its measure of revenge that was 15 years in the making. Moments after the final kneel-down, Harbaugh presented the game ball to Unitas, who was a fixture on the sideline at Ravens home games in those years.

The gesture was a scene out of a movie in which past meets present. It was perfect.

“I could tell how much it meant to the fans,” said Harbaugh, whose older brother would one day become the winningest coach in Ravens history. “They turned on the Colts shortly after they came out there. They turned on us shortly after that. It was either get run out of town, laughed out of town, or win the game.”

The Ravens would win only one more game that year as Harbaugh and head coach Ted Marchibroda — both with former ties to Indianapolis — would move on in the offseason, but no one could take away the entire city’s satisfaction in handing the Colts a loss on the football field.

Two years later, Baltimoreans would cry tears of joy as the Ravens won their first Super Bowl and the city’s first in 30 years. Indianapolis wouldn’t have its first until after the 2006 season.