Ravens Rivalry Not What We Expected

Les Levine takes a look at a rivalry that was supposed to be red-hot, but has turned out a little different than NFL planners expected. Plus, some thoughts on what the off-season might hold, as well as the team's big miss on the best Miami player ever (maybe)...<BR><BR>

When the Cleveland Browns got back into the NFL in 1999, there were a lot of people who thought that the Browns-Baltimore Ravens rivalry would replace the Browns-Steelers in the minds of many Cleveland fans. 

After all, the Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry didn't get heated up until the early 1970's, when the Steelers finally got good.  Prior to that, the Browns could count on two wins a season, plus a bunch of drunk Pittsburgh fans coming to town for Saturday night games, pumping money into the local economy.

When Art Modell shipped his team to Baltimore, the former radio flagship station of the Browns continued to carry the Ravens games, and the local television stations made sure that the bulk of the Ravens games were carried locally.  Local fans rooted for them to lose every game, but there was a curiosity to see how Modell's team would fare, coupled with a desire to see the former Browns players do well. 

It continued when Brian Billick turned down the Browns offer to coach the expansion team, but it died down quite a bit as time went on.  For the most part, after the first year or two, Cleveland fans put the Ravens out of their minds, to the point that when they won the Super Bowl, it wasn't as big of a problem for Cleveland fans as you would expect.

And now that Modell is out of the picture, and only former Browns Matt Stover and Orlando Brown remain on the Baltimore roster, the Ravens are just another division team on the schedule. 

While there were many reasons to root against Art and David Modell, it is pretty hard to root against Ozzie Newsome.  In fact, most fans around here think that Newsome would be the answer to the front office problems. 

I doubt that Randy Lerner could get permission to talk to Newsome about returning the Cleveland, and because of his popularity here, it is doubtful that Butch Davis would think very kindly about his return.  But just such a hire would inject some much needed confidence in the Browns front office structure.


 

As the Browns return after their bye week, they face a stretch of five games that will make or break the rest of the season. 

At last Monday's press conference, Butch Davis looked and talked like he had just returned from an all-out street fight.  That is what tough overtime losses to do players and coaches, especially ones who are fighting for their jobs. 

This week the Browns are in Baltimore for a nationally televised ESPN Sunday night game, followed by games against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, New York Jets, and the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.  Although it is not always a true indication of the outcome of the games, they will not be favored in any of these games, including the home games.

The off-week, especially at this point of the season, gives coaches, players and owners a chance to take a look at where things stand. 

Unfortunately for the Browns the overtime loss to the Philadelphia Eagles magnified the outlooks of all concerned, especially the negative ones.  A win would have put the record at 4-3, instead of the other way around, and it would have been a lot easier to prepare for this rugged stretch of games. 

 I've got to believe that any loss taken in that stretch of games will be harder for Butch Davis to justify, and for owner Randy Lerner to accept.   He clearly very passionate about the team that he owns, and his frustration level probably will rise.

I wouldn't expect any major changes to be made during the season, but I do believe that Lerner has a re-structuring plan in mind once the season ends.  It began last off-season, and will continue this off-season.


 

While Butch Davis has been known for drafting former Miami players, or players that he recruited while there, isn't it ironic that the best player out of Miami might be Ben Roethlisberger, although he is from that other Miami (O.).

After an almost unprecedented five straight wins coming out of the box, the Browns and their fans figure to match up with Big Ben twice a year for the next ten years or so. 

Granted, he has been give a better running game and set of wide receivers than the Browns have given their QBs in the past six seasons, but it has been a long time since a rookie quarterback has looked this good from the beginning. 

Butch Davis was criticized for not ‘throwing the kitchen sink' at him in their first meeting, blitzing on four times by Butch's count, but Bill Belichick didn't fare much better last week, when every possible defense was utilized, and Roethlisberger looked like he was a ten year veteran.


‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and 11pm-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15.  E-mail through the website, www.leslevine.com


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