Ravens primed to face the Colts

OWINGS MILLS -- Nearly a quarter-century after those Mayflower vans snuck out of town on a snowy night and broke Baltimore's heart, the Indianapolis Colts are poised to return. By virtue of their 23-8 wild-card victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Colts will face off with the AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in a divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium.

The buzz emanating around Maryland from former Colts fans still stinging from the betrayal of the Irsay family moving the Colts on March 28, 1984, in a day that lives in infamy with those who idolized the likes of Johnny Unitas, Gino Marchetti and Lenny Moore, wasn't lost on the Ravens even before learning that they would be playing the Colts.
"That's important to a lot of people," quarterback Steve McNair said. "We know it's important to the fans."
The Ravens (13-3), who returned to practice Saturday afternoon following five days off during a first-round bye, are focused primarily on their Super Bowl aspirations, but would also love to exact a touch of revenge for their fans in the process. Team officials anticipate a 4:30 p.m. kickoff next weekend, but there has been no official word from the league office or their television partners.
"Not like we needed anything more than a playoff game for the fans to get cranked up, but based on what I'm hearing, and I was out during the week at one place, it's going to be exciting," said Ravens coach Brian Billick prior to the Colts advancing to the second round despite three interceptions from All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning.
Whether it was Ron formerly from Westminster calling sports talk radio programs from his California home to say how he would love to settle a score with the Colts, who played in Baltimore from 1953 to 1983 and won an NFL championship in 1958 in what's widely labeled as "The Greatest Game Ever Played," the Internet message board dwellers or the store owners putting up purple lights and signs around Baltimore, there was little doubt as to who most of the Ravens' fan base wanted to see in the playoffs.
The Ravens' players, most of whom are too young to know much about the old Colts, are just looking forward to playing and aren't consumed with it being Baltimore's former team.
"It doesn't really mean anything to me," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We're in a playoff, and our first game is at M&T Bank Stadium. That's all that matters to us."
There is something of a disconnect between the fans' wishes for revenge and the players' designs on a Super Bowl trophy. The overwhelming sentiment in the locker room is simply wanting to win regardless of who's across from them on the line of scrimmage.
"I don't care who we play, I'll play the 1985 Bears with Mean Joe Greene on their side," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Two more games and I'm in the big game so I could care less." With a wink, Scott added: "We know for the city what it means and how excited they are when the Colts come to town. I know our fans would be a little more juiced up for Indianapolis."
"I don't care who we play, I'll play the 1985 Bears with Mean Joe Greene on their side," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Two games, I'm in the big game so I could care less, but the intensity is going to be cranked up. I know our fans would be a little more juiced up for Indianapolis."
The Colts coming back to Baltimore plot line is already getting attention, even if it seems to be turning off some national broadcasters. On HBO's "Inside the NFL" program broadcast earlier this week, Bob Costas referenced the potential Colts-Ravens matchup and brought up the feelings of the old Colts' fans. Dan Marino's response: "Tell them to get over it," with Cris Collinsworth chiming in: "Most of those people are dead."
Meanwhile, despite the time off, the Ravens don't appear to have lost their edge or enthusiasm judging from a raucous post-practice atmosphere.
"They looked fresh and excited, they looked good," Billick said. "They had a nice tempo about them. They knew we had to get back into a rhythm, and they looked like the five days off were well-spent." Added Scott: "I've been in tortoise mode for five days. I've got to burn some calories off."
The Ravens didn't seem concerned about a potential loss of momentum from the time away from football.
"It's like we didn't skip a beat," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "This team has a lot of chemistry. We had a good time out there. Guys are out there running wild."
While fielding questions about the Colts (13-4), who won the AFC South and feature blue-chip receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, a cerebral quarterback in Manning and ultra-fast defensive end Dwight Freeney with a usually porous run defense that did an admirable job against Chiefs star running back Larry Johnson, the Ravens seemed to have their game faces on a week early.
"You realize that you work so hard to get to this point," McNair said. "You really don't want to mess it up."
Plus, the Ravens echoed the familiar, provincial complaint from the fans about the perception of a lack of respect nationally.
"The bandwagon is all out of seats," Scott said. "We ain't got no more room. They have been hating on us all year, and we keep on doing what we do."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

Ravens Insider Top Stories