The Seven Year Itch

Can you believe it's been seven seasons now? What a long strange trip it's been. Two years at old (and gone) Memorial Stadium. Five already at the new place. A Super Bowl championship and two playoff appearances. With the curtain closed on the 2002 Ravens, another chapter of memories has been written into Ravens history.

As the years go by, 2002 may be relegated to a blip on the radar screen of  many Ravens fans.  With the organization seemingly set on returning to the playoffs next year, it may very well be the meat of a post-season sandwich.  A true fan, though, never forgets the plays, the games or the emotion that sets the NFL apart.  This seasons memories will go hand in hand with those gone by.

Who can forget opening day, 1996.  Ted Marchibroda told us that the Ravens were closer to the 1994 Browns who were 11-5 than the '95 version that went 5-11.  And we saw nothing on opening day to refute that.  Vinny Testaverde actually ran for a score and Earnest Byner scored the winning touchdown in a 19-14 victory.  Two future Hall of Famers made their debuts that Sunday on 33rd Street.  Jon Ogden and Ray Lewis certainly made favorable impressions, Ogden as a left guard.

Unfortunately, the rest of that season didn't go quite so well.  The Ravens allowed over 27 points a game on their way to a 4-12 record.  But, hey, they beat the Steelers at home.  And that's something no other Ravens team has done.

Selceted names from 1996:  Eric Turner, started in the Pro Bowl;  Michael Jackson, caught 14 TDs;  Steve Everitt, take your bandana and shove it;  Ed Sutter, 10th on the team in tackles.

The '97 Ravens made Rob Johnson look like Joe Montana on opening day as he led the Jaguars to a 28-27 win at Memorial Stadium.  The Jags always beat the Ravens back then.  It was the third of 8 straight Jacksonville wins through 1999.

Ravens fans were given hope after winning the next 3 games but won only one of the next nine to stand at 4-8-1.  The 21-3 blown halftime lead against Pittsburgh was like going to the doctor and having him ask you to turn your head to the side and cough.  In other words, not a pleasant feeling.

At least the lone victory came at the expense of the Washington Redskins when Ray Lewis sealed the game with a late interception.  They finished 6-9-1.

Selected names from 1997:  Bam Morris, preferred grass over artificial turf; Derrick Alexander, over 1,000 yards receiving; Eugene Daniel, actually bolstered the defensive backs at age 57;  Quentin Neujahr, went on to play in Jacksonville.

The 6-10 finish in 1998 was good in one respect.  It finally got Ted Marchibroda axed.  The Ravens went 0-6 against Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Tennessee.  The low point came when the Jags put up 42 in the first half in Ravens Stadium en route to a 45-19 win.  A Thanksgiving weekend win over the Colts in their first ever visit to Baltimore helped bury the hatchet for many Unitas, Moore and Berry followers.

The Ravens lost their next 3 to stand at 5-10 before beating the Lions and stuffing Barry Sanders on the season's last day. It began an amazing string of 47 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher for the defense.

Selected names from 1998:  Ralph Staten, promising talent cut by Billick the next year; James Jones, lured away by Detroit in the off-season; Priest Holmes, rushed for 1,008 yards;  Floyd Turner, 2nd on the team with 5 TD catches.

The Brian Billick era opened in 1999 with a loss to the lowly Rams who went 3-13 the year before.  Who would have thought the Rams would win the Super Bowl 4 months later.  A rocky 2-5 start was punctuated by a 35-8 blowout loss to the Chiefs on a nationally televised Thursday night tilt and Doug Flutie converting a 4th and 18 the following week to lead the Bills to a come-from-behind 13-10 win, both in Baltimore.

The Ravens began to turn things around on November and by December, they would blow out the Titans, Saints and Bengals and beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh for the first time.  They finished 8-8 and did not allow a 100-yard rusher the entire season.  It was a harboring of things to come.

Selected names from 1999:  Errict Rhett, led the team in rushing;  Justin Armour, second in receptions;  Stoney Case, led the team to back-to-back wins in weeks 3 and 4;  Rod Woodson, returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Y2K.  Ahhh, 2000.  What a year.  How can anyone forget the dustbowl, 5 games without a TD.  Many Ravens fans made the trek down I-95 only to lose to the Redskins and be told by the public address announcer that they "sucked".'

In the end, it was the Ravens who had the last laugh on the turf in Tampa, beating the Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV.  The playoff run was led by the record setting defense.  If you thought the run defense was great, opposing quarterbacks in the postseason had a rating of 33.4.

Selected names from 2000:  Too many.  But don't forget the likes of Robert Bailey, Corey Harris, Anthony Poindexter and O.J. Brigance.

In 2001, the Ravens tried to stock the offense to go with the unbelievable defense.  The plan saw them struggle to win 10 regular season games and have to beat Minnesota on the final Monday night game of the year to get into the playoffs.  They split the other two ABC primetime games, winning on the final play stopping a Steve McNair sneak in Tennessee and losing to Tampa Bay on the final Saturday in December.

The training camp injury to Jamal Lewis doused the hopes of returning to another Super Bowl.  There was just no one to carry the ball as the team turned to Moe Williams, Terry Allen and Jason Brookins.  Neither could take any pressure off of Elvis Grbac.

Selected names from 2001:  Randall Cunningham, 2-0 as a starter;  Danny Kight, for some reason, occupied a roster spot to kickoff to the 12 y

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