For all of you sports fans out there, cast your mind back to 1996. What sticks out from back then?
After all, this was the year the Cowboys succeeded, somewhat inevitably, in their attempt to win three of the last four Super Bowls. It was also the year of Atlanta when Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis took on the rest of the world – and won. The Chicago Bulls ended a record breaking season by beating the Seattle SuperSonics and the Yankees came out on top against the Braves in the World Series.
One season follows another. Admit it: Until I jogged your memory, you’d forgotten all of those so-called momentous occasions, right? Presumably they still mean something to someone out there but for us neutrals they’re pretty much gone from our minds. That’s the thing about the yearly grind of the sports schedules: today’s ‘historic’ victory quickly becomes tomorrow’s quiz show question – and nothing else.
But 1996 was different. Suddenly the limelight had shifted to two pretty similar blue state towns; Cleveland and Baltimore. The name Art Modell was suddenly on the lips of every sports commentator; as was, bizarrely enough, the name Edgar Allen Poe.
It’s all starting to ring bells with you now, isn’t it? Yep, this was the year the Baltimore Ravens were born.
I say ‘born’, but as you all know (even those of you who switch off the news channel at even the hint of a link to the sports desk). It was a hell of a lot more complicated than that.
When the Baltimore Ravens arrived, a lot of us thought that we were facing armageddon so far as the future of sports teams in America were concerned.
Back then the Browns really were a very unfashionable team. Nevertheless, the sympathy of the whole nation was with the Browns fans when Art Modell announced he was shifting the whole franchise – lock, stock and barrel, over to Baltimore.
The fans were the ones left behind of course. That was the whole problem.
Anyway, February 1996 was when the NFL promised Cleveland their own team (who became the Browns) and the old Browns became the Ravens – 380 miles away in Baltimore!
Fans and commentators feared the worst. What’s to stop billionaires from picking up any NFL franchise they like the look of and taking it wherever they think will net them the most dollars? Who really has ownership of a franchise in the truest sense of the word: the fans or the owner?
Well it turns out (so far at least) that the biblical-scale exodus of teams from poorer cities to ‘more viable locations’ hasn’t come to pass; at least not yet.
One thing is truly remarkable: the progress of the Baltimore Ravens since their creation. Regardless of what you thought of the Ravens when they started out back in 1996, you have to admit that their journey to this year’s Super Bowl was one hell of an adventure to watch.
The disaster that was predicted back in 1996 didn’t happen. Let’s just sit back and enjoy the new season. After all, it’ll all be forgotten soon enough.