Before 1996, Johnny Unitas was the face of Baltimore football. The crew cut, the white and blue jersey and just all around good guy, Johnny U was the reason why Baltimore residents went to a cold Memorial stadium to watch him lead the Baltimore Colts to a win. He was in a generation that still lived in the communities they played and worked in during the off season (because contracts weren’t enough to live off of). When The Colts left for Indianapolis in the dead of night, in 1984, Baltimore felt like a bride that was left at the altar. Even when the city requested a team in the early nineties, then commissioner, Paul Tagliabue said that the only way football would come back to Baltimore was if the city built a museum for it.
Paul’s comments struck Baltimore fans in the heart strings, who was he to tell us that we didn’t deserve football when Baltimore had greats like Johnny U, Raymond Berry, John Mackey and Lenny Moore playing in Memorial stadium? Even with the Colts leaving, those greats still considered themselves Baltimore guys, not what the NFL said their records were now going to be recorded. So, when Art Modell announced that he was moving the Browns franchise to Baltimore in 1995 (Season starting in 1996), Baltimore felt like a kid again. We didn’t have a team name or colors yet, but the excitement was palpable as the Baltimore Sun put out surveys on what the team name should be.
Then came the Ravens first draft in 1996 where Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis were drafted. While J.O. was the first Raven to go into the Hall, Ray’s induction means a little bit more to the city of Baltimore. Ray created a brand of football in Baltimore that embodied the spirit of the city; it was grimy, dirty, beautiful and hard working all at the same time. Ray helped to create one the best football rivalries of the last 20 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers (namely Hines Ward) and Baltimore squarely on his back.
In 2000, only 4 years after becoming an NFL franchise, The Ravens won their first Super Bowl against the Giants and finished one of the best seasons by a defense in NFL history and officially coronated Ray Lewis as it’s captain. From that point on, Ray led a defense that featured Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Peter Boulware just to name a few. Having our own superstar in football since Johnny left in 1972, gave Baltimoreans a since of pride, not only was he Defensive MVP and a Super Bowl Champion, he was one the best Linebackers in the history of the game.
Ray made this city his second home as Baltimore was like him; an afterthought, outcast, just not quite good enough. Just like Ray, Baltimoreans always believed in themselves; we never needed affirmation from the NFL, ESPN or any other sports outlet to tell us we were good, we already knew it. Ray getting inducted to the Hall of Fame has put Baltimore back into that echelon of great sports towns that we always knew we were, it just took everybody else to this long to figure it out.
About The Author:
Born and raised in Baltimore, graduate of Woodlawn High school and graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Avid Orioles and Ravens fan since day 1 and just all around sports junkie. I’ve been writing articles for 2 years now and I also host my podcast “Live from the hammock” on Facebook and Youtube during the NFL season. Follow me for all things Ravens and Orioles and my articles on Instagram (agent_beige) and Twitter (@miwelsthegreat)