Dec. 22: Ravens season ends. Indications are that city will allow tailgating at new stadium when it opens in 1998. Who says you can't have a happy ending anymore?
If you're looking for a sense of displacement, check out the large men with large tattoos, the large men with large bank accounts, the large men with tiny cellular phones in the Ravens' locker room. These guys know what Baltimore is going through. They're going through the same thing. "I may be a Baltimore Raven," says Michael Jackson, "but I'm a Dawg for life. I guess right now I'm a Dawg with wings."
Ah, the Dawgs. You can take the man out of the Dawg Pound (the end-zone section at Cleveland Stadium where the Browns' most rabid fans congregated), but you can't take the Dawg Pound out of the man. In Cleveland it was acceptable to do a group strip in subfreezing temperatures to spell out (sometimes correctly) the team's name. It was also acceptable to dress up as a dog. You can see how a player's attachment to this kind of fan would develop.
Ravens center Steve Everitt, who was the Browns' first-round draft pick in 1993, still feels the tug. He loves Cleveland. Not likes Cleveland, loves Cleveland. Anyone can like Cleveland. It's got the lake and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it used to have Albert Belle. Here's what love is: Everitt grew up in Miami yet decided to make Cleveland his year-round home. The fans loved him for that and for his long hair and for the tattoo of a knife down the middle of his back. And so, in honor of those fans, Everitt wore a Browns bandanna under his helmet during a Ravens preseason game—for which the ever-vigilant NFL thought police fined him $5,000. To Everitt's amusement, the letter from the league said the fine would come out of his Browns paycheck.
"That was something I planned from Day One," Everitt said in early November, while sitting out with a torn pectoral muscle. In Cleveland, Everitt's torn pec would have been front-page news, complete with medical diagrams and prognosis. In Baltimore it's just a torn pectoral. "I felt like such a sellout," Everitt says, his voice rising. "I've got tons of people back in Cleveland who were hurting. Wearing the bandanna was just my way of saying I appreciate the people back there. It was nothing against Baltimore. I don't blame Baltimore for getting a team, no way. And the Baltimore fans have been great. But it's football season, and there's nothing going on in Cleveland, and it kills me, man."
Ravens tackle Tony Jones, who played eight years with the Browns, says Cleveland fans related especially well to linemen, and linemen related right back. It was a blue-collar thing. You wouldn't understand. "Those people knew that every Sunday I would do whatever it took to give my team, my organization, my city, a chance to win, and they loved that," he says. "I go out in Cleveland, and I can't go nowhere without, 'Hey, T-Bone, man, let me get you a drink.' In Baltimore the people don't know me. They see me in the mall, and you can see them thinking, That's a pretty big guy. If they find out I'm Tony Jones and I play for the Ravens, they say, 'Dude, I hear you're supposed to be pretty good.' " He laughs, and the big gold T-BONE necklace bounces against his massive body. "Yeah, pretty good. You can't expect nothing else. No way it's going to be like Cleveland, not for a few years."
The Ravens player who probably fits in best is Testaverde, who never fit in anywhere else before. His former life in Tampa is best described in medieval terms. In Cleveland it wasn't much better. "That was Bernie Kosar's town," Testaverde says. "No matter what I did, short of a Super Bowl win, it was always going to be Bernie Kosar's town.
"And then I come to Baltimore, which hasn't had a team all these years, and now it's not even named the Colts. So it's not Johnny Unitas's team or Bert Jones's team. That's something I hope to make the best of. I know we haven't made it to the Super Bowl, but one thing the Baltimore fans can say, we've played exciting football. They've gotten their money's worth. And the fans have been absolutely incredible."
Maybe this is the greatest indictment of Baltimore: There's no quarterback controversy. Testaverde throws an interception at a crucial moment, and the radio talk shows don't light up. And if life is peaceful for Vinny, what does that say about the passion for football here? Or maybe it's just that he is having such a good year that he's won over the people.
The Ravens are starting to get a better sense of Baltimore—"The food is great," Tony Jones says, "which is dangerous when you're an offensive lineman"—and Baltimore is getting a better sense of the Ravens. "It's growing on me," Jackson says. "That's the best I can say when people ask me about Baltimore: It's growing on me."