Ravens revel in a decade of memories

OWINGS MILLS – In only a decade, the Baltimore Ravens have transformed themselves from reviled pariahs in Cleveland into Maryland's ultra-popular football team.<br><br> To commemorate approaching their 10th season in Baltimore, the Ravens reveled Monday in how they built a rich tradition that includes the validation of a Super Bowl title.

They hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy into a packed team meeting room that included diehard fans like the self-proclaimed "Captain Defense."

They unveiled a jersey patch celebrating their 10th anniversary that features a black and silver X in the middle, the years 1996 -- the team's inaugural season -- and 2005 along with the team's logo.

They played a video tribute that showed moments from the Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants on Jan. 28, 2001, Vinny Testaverde scoring the team's first touchdown, the first days in Baltimore after moving from Cleveland and the transition in ownership from football patriarch Art Modell to businessman Steve Bisciotti and a $31 million team headquarters.

"Ten years have flown by so fast, it's beyond belief," said Modell, 79, from his Florida home where he retains a 1-percent ownership share in the Ravens. "I am in Florida now, but my heart is still in Maryland and with the Baltimore Ravens."

From general manager Ozzie Newsome recalling what a struggle it was to win four games in 1996 under severe financial restraints to the words All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, the team's first draft pick, to the presence of veteran kicker Matt Stover, -- the last remaining original Brown who vowed that the team would have to rip his jersey off his back -- it was a day for remembrance.

There were photos sprinkled throughout the auditorium, including shots of Brandon Stokley dusting Jason Sehorn in Super Bowl XXXV, first-ever head coach Ted Marchibroda, current guru Brian Billick and perennial All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis.

There was even a humongous chocolate cake for Newsome, Bisciotti, Stover and Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts running back Lenny Moore to slice into.

For Newsome, it sparked a look back at the progression since the dark days of 1996 after uprooting Cleveland's civic treasure. During the first season, the Ravens had no-frills uniforms and not enough cash flow to recruit a full practice squad.

"We won four games, but I'm not sure how we did it," said Newsome, the Hall of Fame Browns tight end whose team arrived in Baltimore without a name or colors. "We had no chance when we look back on it. I can recall listening to Alan Page.

"He talked about running a double marathon. He got to a point in the marathon that the only thing he could think about was putting one foot in front of the other."

For the Ravens, that meant drafting Ogden and Lewis with their first two picks and eventually acquiring enough veteran talent like Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe and Michael McCrary to win a Super Bowl.

One building block at a time.

"As I think back to those 10 years, I thought that's the way we started this franchise," Newsome said. "We just kept putting one foot in front of the other to the point that we gained the respect of this community, we gained the respect of the NFL and it all came to glory for all of us with the Super Bowl."

The Ravens are holding a contest for fans through the team's Web site www.baltimoreravens.com to nominate the Ravens' top 10 players, plays and team moments.

Nominations will be accepted through May 27 with voting open from June 7 to Aug. 8. The top 10 in each group will be announced in a countdown at the team's 10 total preseason and regular-season games at M&T Bank Stadium.

Ogden, a likely future Hall of Fame selection who appeared via videoconference from Las Vegas, is a lock to be among those top 10 players along with Lewis.

"Going from 4-12 that year and then making it to the top of the mountain, that was the ultimate for me and the guys," Ogden said. "I have so many memories. The biggest was the Super Bowl win. The hardest thing was the losing years."

The Ravens have gone 72-71-1, owning the second-best winning percentage (.503) over the first 10 years of NFL existence behind the Jacksonville Jaguars (.512).

The Ravens are the first new/expansion team since 1976 to win a Super Bowl in its first decade and have produced 42 Pro Bowl selections in nine seasons.

Moore shared the experience of watching the Ravens' AFC title game win over the Oakland Raiders with his terminally ill son, Leslie.

"He was their No. 1 fan," Moore said of Leslie, who died the next morning of a rare tissue disease.

Moore noted how the Ravens embraced the old Colts when it seemed as if they had been completely forgotten.

"The greatest thing about the Ravens is that they never forgot us, the old Baltimore Colts," Moore said. "They've always made me feel welcome."

Just as Modell still is. His life-size portrait hangs in the lobby of the Ravens' training complex and he has an office next to Bisciotti, who invited him to attend the NFL draft.

"Ten years have flown by," Modell said. "We didn't have unanimous support when we came in. Some of the old Colts fans, and some of the old Colts were resentful that we came in as new kids on the block.

"They didn't know us from a hole in the wall. That changed quickly."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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