Based in Baltimore in the deep eastern state of Maryland, the Baltimore Ravens ply their trade in the AFC North Division of the National Football League. As is the way with so many of the current NFL roster, the Ravens are a very young franchise, having been established in 1996. However, in their short lifetime, they have already made a significant impact on the landscape of American Football.
Establishing themselves in the big leagues
If you look a little closer at the history of the Cleveland Browns, you’ll notice a brief period of inactivity in their otherwise long history, starting in 1996. It was during this short interlude that the Baltimore Ravens rose like the phoenix from the furore caused by the-then Cleveland Browns’ owner, Art Modell, who, coming off the back of a hugely disappointing run with Browns and utterly dissatisfied with Cleveland Stadium, looked to Baltimore for a fresh start.
Although a clear precedent for such a move existed, it was only after a protracted series of legal discussions that a settlement was struck that year and the terms were certainly unconventional. Under the agreement, the name, history, colours and practically everything substantial would remain associated with Cleveland, and the new franchise would represent a pseudo-extension of that organisation.
This understanding was naturally fraught with danger and it was no surprise that, with Cleveland Browns resurrecting themselves in 1999, Modell’s new venture moved away from this rather curious status and developed into a unique entity in its own right.
Part of the reason for their successful establishment was the goodwill and support of the Baltimore population. Prior to the Ravens, the Baltimore Stallions had represented the city in the Canadian Football League for two years, before moving to Montreal and becoming the Montreal Alouettes.
The success of the Stallions had, however, whetted the appetite of the Baltimore folk and the prospect of an NFL team in their city was one they were more than willing to encourage. A huge campaign was initiated to decide on the team’s name and, after narrowing it down to the Americans, the Marauders, and the Ravens, the latter was chosen as a tribute to Edgar Allan Poe, who had spent some time in the city.
Modell was encouraged by the city’s support and set about establishing what he hoped would be a winning team, composed of former Cleveland Browns’ tight end, Ozzie Newsome, as director of football operations and Ted Marchibroda, who had enjoy success with the Baltimore Colts in the 1970s.
The connection with the Browns was also overt in the personnel, with Rob Burnett, Eric Turner and Anthony Pleasant all making the jump to Baltimore from Cleveland. Unfortunately though, their first season proved something of a disaster, as their new boy status showed in performances and results. By the end of the season, the Ravens were rock bottom of the AFC with a record of just 4 victories and 12 losses.
Things improved somewhat during their second season, thanks largely to the new boy Peter Boulware, a draft pick for the Ravens. On his way to picking up the AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year title, Boulware helped the Ravens to an improved record of 6 wins with 9 losses and 1 tie, a good achievement considering their debutante status.
Bizarrely, although their return of 6 victories and 10 losses in 1998 was worse than the previous campaign, their position in the table improved and showed that the Ravens were making some strides in the game. This feeling was encouraged further, courtesy of their move from the temporary Memorial Stadium to the brand spanking new Raven Stadium.
Making further strides
The changes extended far beyond the stadium, as the Ravens briefly operated a revolving door policy in the 1998 season, bringing in quarterback, Eric Zeier, defensive back, Rod Woodson, and bringing through legendary running back, Priest Holmes. Changes were also forthcoming off the field, as coach Marchibroda was replaced by Brian Billick.
These moves brought improvements in 1999, reflected in results and in the AFC table. By the end of the season, the Ravens had finished a very respectable third place with a record of 8 victories and 8 defeats.
Much of this was due to another new signing, quarterback Tony Backs from the St. Louis Rams, and wide receiver, Qadry Ismail’s incredible 1,000 yard season. The improvement was only tainted by the agony of being so close to reaching the play-offs, until defeat during the final week spelt an early end to their season.
The Super Bowl season
2000 marked a continuation of this rise in the Ravens’ fortunes. With a fine record of 12 victories and just 4 losses, the Ravens marched their way into the play-offs in second place. Whereas the previous season had been marked by the offence, the 2000 team was based around fine defence, as linebacker, Ray Lewis, was Defensive Player of the Year, ably assisted by Rod Woodson.
Such was their miserly approach to the game, that they held their opposition over the course of the season to a cumulative total of just 165 points, smashing the-then record.
In the wild card round, the Ravens dispatched the Denver Broncos 21-3, with their defence again shining, and found themselves before the Tennessee Titans. Although the Titans had finished ahead of them in the regular season, the play-offs were another matter altogether, as the Ravens blew them away 24-10 and competed for the AFC Championship against the Oakland Raiders.
Befitting the trend of the campaign, more remarkable defence made the game a relatively easy affair, with the Ravens taking the title after a 16-3 victory.
Super Bowl XXXV beckoned, with the New York Giants waiting. However, by this point, the Ravens’ defence had entered into legend and they simply had too much for the Giants. A series of sacks and turnovers devastated the Giants, with one such turnover resulting in a straight touchdown for defensive back, Duane Starks.
No matter what the Giants threw at them, the Ravens replied with twice the power, and the contest was a foregone conclusion, the final score an emphatic 34-7 victory. Within just five seasons, the Ravens had gone from new boys to champions.
The Super Bowl hangover
After the euphoria of 2000, injuries and declining form contributed to a relatively disappointing season in 2001, with a 10-6 record meaning another hard ride in the wild card game against the Miami Dolphins.
Despite taking the game against the Dolphins with panache, the Pittsburgh Steelers were a different proposition and the season ended after a disappointing defeat, marked by a series of interceptions for the Steelers.
The decline continued in 2002, thanks largely to major salary cap problems, which forced cuts to the team’s successful personnel. This was reflected in decidedly mediocre performances and the table spoke volumes as the Ravens missed out on the play-offs.
Things then took yet another dramatic turn, this time for the better. After slipping to third place in 2002, the Ravens were energised by the phenomenal performances of Ray Lewis in defence and Jamal Lewis on offence and marched to their first AFC North division title.
Things looked good for the play-offs but, sadly, this time it was not to be, as the fans were subjected to an agonisingly tight defeat to the Tennessee Titans, with the final result 20-17 in their favour, courtesy of a very late field goal.
The end of the 2003 season came simultaneously with the end of something far more significant, as Art Modell transferred majority ownership to local businessman, Steve Bisciotti, and brought the curtain down on his time with the Ravens (although he still has a role as consultant).
Disappointment followed in 2004, as the Ravens spent most of their time embroiled in legal wranglings with two other NFL sides over the future of star wide receiver, Terrell Owens. Although they finished second in the table, their record proved insufficient to qualify for the play-offs.
The 2005 season provided further disappointment, as the Ravens ended in third place with a very average record of just six victories. However, 2006 was an entirely different affair, as the Ravens, relying on the miraculous performances of quarterback, Steve McNair, the irrepressible Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap, dominated the AFC North division and took the title comfortably with 13 wins.
Now established as a favourite for the Super Bowl, they faced the challenge of the Indianapolis Colts (formerly the Baltimore Colts) in the second round of the play-offs. In an incredible contest which was, fittingly, dominated almost entirely by the two sets of defensive lines, it was the Colts that proved superior and took the game 15-6, based solely on field goals. It had been a franchise-best regular season but, depressingly, the Super Bowl was one step too far.
It seemed this disappointment was weighing heavy on the minds of the Ravens’ players and coaching staff in the 2007 season. Compounded by the curious decision to let Jamal Lewis depart, the Ravens went from a franchise-best showing to one of their worst, as they plummeted to the bottom of the table with just five wins all season.
The showing marked the end of the legendary coach Billick’s time with the Ravens, as he was fired that year to be replaced by former Philadelphia Eagles defensive backs coach, John Harbaugh. The times are marked with uncertainty at the M&T Bank Stadium but, with Super Bowl pedigree and a history of up and down showings, the Ravens could end up rock bottom or on top of the world with the Vince Lombardi trophy by the end of the 2008 campaign. Either way, it’s sure to be quite a spectacle.
- Super Bowl Championships – Winners (2000 (XXXV))
- AFC Championships – Winners (2000)
- AFC North Championships – Winners (2003, 2006)