The 15: Memories Of Ravens At Westminster
By Joe Platania
As much as fans look forward to the start of football season, that euphoria is now replaced with a bit of wistfulness, because the Ravens now hold training camp at their own Under Armour Performance Center.
Even though the throngs of fans that used to crowd the McDaniel College practice fields are gone -- no longer having lunch at Baugher's or Harry's, or engaging in piano sing-alongs at Johansen's -- they will always have their Westminster memories.
Though the team spent only 3-4 weeks there each year, there were certainly enough memorable, poignant and wacky moments -- listed in no particular order -- to fill a list like this.
1. Supporting The Troops -- During the past few years, Military Appreciation Day has been a staple of the training-camp schedule. Coach John Harbaugh, who went on a USO coaches' tour of the Middle East in 2009, brought a few uniformed personnel on the field after practice to remind his players of the bigger picture.
2. MMA? No, It's B.J. -- Like coaches all over the league, past and present, Brian Billick often told his players to take care of one another. But in 2005, that message was lost on safety B.J. Ward, who put his shoulder hard into Ravens receivers on several consecutive downfield passing plays. Billick went into perhaps his loudest tantrum as a coach, throwing Ward out of practice; he was eventually released.
3. Big Brother? No, It's HBO -- The Ravens basked in the reality-show spotlight in 2001 when they were the first team to get the "Hard Knocks" treatment from HBO. Bewildered reporters exchanged quizzical glances in the team hotel lobby as cameras seemed to be everywhere. "This'll never work out," they thought. But it proved to be compelling television.
4. Lockdown -- One of the most memorable "Hard Knocks" segments began as a boring, innocuous tight ends meeting came to a close after a long day. Tight ends coach Wade Harman told free-agent pickup Shannon Sharpe he was excused from the meeting, and Sharpe got up to leave -- but Tony Siragusa had sealed the door shut. Sharpe later got revenge by stealing Siragusa's SUV and parking it a good distance away.
5. Autograph Alley -- The tunnel of noise and people that greeted the Ravens at the bottom of a long staircase outside McDaniel's Gill Learning Center gymnasium was eliminated a few years ago when the grounds were renovated, pushing the fan area off to the side. Despite that, fans have eventually graduated through the years from shouting "Hey, 26, who are you?" to presenting players with slickly produced homemade items to sign.
6. Who Are These Guys? -- In 2002, the Ravens were fresh off their salary-cap purge and came to camp with so many new players that the coaching staff, fans and some of the veterans didn't know some of the newcomers. Shouts of "Who was that guy?" were common among fans, who welcomed 19 rookies and first-year players to a team that won seven games.
7. If A Tree Falls ... -- The Ravens' initial 1996 training camp was a surreal experience. There were few, if any, fans that bothered to show up. The team's generic uniforms looked like a cross between Penn State and "The Longest Yard," and most of the media on hand were from Cleveland, wearing facial expressions that made them look like jilted lovers in a Harlequin romance book.
8. Major Scare -- Ted Marchibroda's training camps during his 1996-98 coaching era were hard-hitting affairs. But one day in 1997, Ray Lewis suffered a neck injury while slamming into fullback Kenyon Cotton, precipitating a shock trauma helicopter to land on the field to take the linebacker away.
9. The Big Show -- Each year, the Ravens used to have a full-contact, intrasquad scrimmage at the Bair Stadium field, just a short walk from the main practice fields. The scrimmage, usually held on a Friday night, drew bigger and bigger crowds until it was discontinued. What probably hastened the scrimmage's departure was free-agent tackle Leon Searcy's arm injury during the opening play of the 2001 event.
10. Three-point Thriller -- During another one of those scrimmages, Matt Stover had to fend off one of the most serious attempts to knock him off his perch as the Ravens' placekicker. In 1999, former Florida State kicker Scott Bentley -- once a Sports Illustrated cover subject -- actually out-kicked Stover at the scrimmage. But Stover eventually held on to his job for almost another decade.
11. Hazing -- Current coach John Harbaugh has squashed hazing, an ancient, traditional practice. But before he came to town, the last practice day featured rookies getting taped to goalposts while shaving cream and sports drinks were thrust upon them. In 2007, Ray Lewis helped throw Troy Smith into a kiddie pool while razzing him about his Heisman Trophy win.
12. Stevie Nine -- Training-camp fans, starved for a quality quarterback for so long, provided one of the classiest moments in camp history when Steve McNair trotted onto the field for his first workouts in 2006. Despite some of them having been there since 4 a.m. to get a good spot, the fans rose and gave McNair a standing ovation. He smiled and signed a few pre-practice autographs.
13. Popular Guy -- In today's youth-oriented culture, it's the players that get most of the glory and attention. But Harbaugh, with his pre-practice, sunrise jogs around the McDaniel practice field and his earnest nature, was also a camp hit. After an exhausting morning run, he sometimes signed items and exchanged casual chitchat with the fans.
14. Samari's Grace -- During a troubling six-month period, cornerback Samari Rolle went through a near-plane crash, discovered he had epilepsy and lost his father. The third event happened just before the 2008 training camp, keeping him away to deal with the inevitable family issues. When he returned, his smile and class were on display as he shook every hand he could find.
15. Lightning Rod ... Literally -- Kyle Boller was a lightning rod during his time in Baltimore. An inconsistent quarterback, he frustrated fans, but won them over with toughness. One week after a PressBox cover story dubbed him a "lightning rod," Boller happened to be under center for a training-camp team drill when -- you guessed it -- lightning forced him and his teammates off the field.
Issue 176: August 2012