Every fan has to start somewhere and for British NFL fans the starting point can be somewhat random. Some new fans are drawn to the Super Bowl winners or the team with the biggest stars. Others just pick a favourite city.
The Ravens have never been a glamour team and Baltimore has never been a glamour city. Since starting this site, I’ve found that people come to the Ravens in all kinds of ways. For some, it’s playing Madden and for others it’s watching The Wire (yes, that’s really a thing! Who knew?).
However you became a Ravens fan, if you’re a newcomer then this is what you need to know.
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Art Modell (left) with Ravens head coach Brian Billick.
Newbies, start here
The Ravens were founded in 1996 after owner Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. Furious Cleveland fans took legal action to try to keep them. Eventually, the NFL offered a compromise: Modell could move but his franchise would be a new, expansion team, while the Browns name and records would stay in Cleveland. The league promised a new Cleveland Browns team by 1999 at the latest.
The Ravens, named after Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, The Raven, started strong – the first two players they drafted would go on to become Hall of Famers. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, both chosen in the first round of the 1996 Draft, formed the foundation of the team that won Super Bowl XXXV in 2000.
The years after the first Super Bowl win were marked by a search for franchise quarterback that didn’t end until Joe Flacco was drafted in 2008, just in time to link up with incoming head coach John Harbaugh. What followed was a run of success that saw the team reach the AFC Championship game three times in five seasons and eventually win Super Bowl XLVII in 2012.
Since then, the team has been average, making the playoffs just once and missing out entirely from 2016 to 2018. The 2018 season is seen by many as a final chance for the existing coaching staff to prove itself.
Football in Baltimore originated with the Seahawks – not the Seattle ones but the Miami Seahawks, who played in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1946. That team collapsed and a group of businessmen arranged to bring it to Baltimore, where it became the Baltimore Colts – named for Maryland’s annual Preakness horse race. The team struggled on and off the field and folded in 1951, a year after the AAFC’s merger with the NFL.
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Johnny Unitas leads the Colts in the 1958 NFL Championship game.
Baltimore football fans still wanted football and, in 1953, the Dallas Texans moved to Baltimore. The team was renamed the Colts but kept the blue and white colours of the Texans. The new Colts, led by legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas, won NFL Championships in 1958 , 1959 and 1968, and Super Bowl V in 1970.
In 1972, owner Carroll Rosenbloom traded the Colts to Robert Irsay, in return for the LA Rams. Though the team made the playoffs three times in the mid-70s, tensions rose between Irsay and the city over the need to upgrade the Colts’ Memorial Stadium. Irsay threatened for years to move the team and got permission to do so on March 2, 1984. The Maryland Senate approved a bill to seize ownership of the team but, before it could be signed into law, Irsay left. The team packed up in the dead of night on March 28, 1984, and moved to Indianapolis.
Baltimore fans were furious and have never forgiven the Irsays or the Colts. Once again the city was without a team.
Birth of the Ravens
This time the city would wait much longer before football returned. The USFL’s Baltimore Stars played in there in 1985 (or, more accurately, 30 miles outside Baltimore, at College Park), as did the Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League pin 1994 and 1995. Both teams won championships while representing the city, meaning that Baltimore has hosted four different championship-winning professional football teams – including the Colts and the Ravens.
The city lobbied for an expansion team in the 1990s but was consistently overlooked. It took Art Modell to bring an NFL team back to Baltimore. Cleveland fans were bitter, just as Baltimore fans had been a decade before, though at least they were promised a team within three seasons. Still, Cleveland fans have never forgiven Baltimore.
Top photo: Keith Allison