20 For 20: Episode 2
By Scott Garceau
Sharing a microphone and a front row seat with Tom Matte for the Ravens’ first ten years was both historic and wonderful. What has become a 10-billion dollar a year industry still had a family feel to it in 1996 when Art Modell brought football back to Baltimore.
Art was very inclusive and for those ten years he welcomed us into his football family.
There were so many memorable firsts, like the Ravens getting a win over the Raiders in their inaugural game. I’ll never forget the pride that filled Memorial Stadium on that beautiful Sunday afternoon. Cheering were the same Baltimore fans that had their hearts ripped out when the Colts left town in the middle of the night. The fans that endured 12 years of getting kicked to the curb and being told by the commissioner they might better spend their money on a plant or a museum than a football stadium. There would be better games, but this was Baltimore’s finest day.
NFL football was back in town!
The first few years, the events were better than the Ravens teams. In 1997 the Ravens played the final game at Memorial Stadium and in a post-game tribute Colts Hall of Famer Lenny Moore scored the final TD. The lights went out but it wouldn’t dim the memories of Johnny U, Artie, Bert Jones, Brooks and Frank and all the others who made 33rd Street special.
The 1998 season brought a first as the Ravens debuted in their new downtown stadium, their new home on Russell Street with all the trimmings (and PSL’s). For the first two years they played in the house the Colts and Orioles made famous. Now they were on their way to writing Ravens history at Camden Yards.
Some games stand out more than others. I’ll never forget calling the Ravens’ impressive December win over a very good Tennessee team in 1999. The night before that game I got the shocking news that my mother had died suddenly. I’d leave for Michigan following the game to deliver the eulogy at her funeral. Tom Matte and our crew helped me get through that one.
The NFL postponed the week’s games after the 9/11 attacks on our country in 2001. The following week we were in Cincinnati for the Ravens-Bengals game. You could feel the national pride as a field-length flag was unfurled during an emotional rendition of the national anthem.
As I glanced toward my partner I could see tears rolling down the cheeks of Tom Matte.
A day we were all proud to be an American.
But there were more laughs than tears.
With a Christmas week home game producer Steve Stofberg brought a full Santa suit for Matte. Santa Matte embraced his role so much that after our first in-game timeout I had to have him take off his beard. The white beard looked great but it was muffling his broadcast.
Ho, Ho, Ho!
It was never boring with Tom.
One of my favorites was the time fellow broadcaster Michael McCrary set him up with a prank lottery ticket. We acted like we weren’t watching when Matte scratched off and thought he was on easy street. He went silent for about three plays, smiling, showing his ticket to everyone in the booth. He wasn’t buying my pitch that it was “a team ticket” and he should share his riches with all in the booth. You’d think he lost Super Bowl III when he realized he’d been had.
What’s not to like when you get to watch players like Jon Ogden, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed play their first game and jump start careers that will culminate in their busts being displayed in Canton? And how about broadcasting Jamal Lewis’s amazing 2003 season, that was at the time the second best in NFL history? The Ravens were no threat to pass and he still ran for 2,066 yards.
We could live to be 200 and never see anything like the 2000 Ravens Super Bowl Championship season. Tell me the last Super Bowl team that went five consecutive games without scoring a touchdown and gave up only one defensive touchdown in four playoff games? It’ll never happen again. Here’s how crazy it was: from September 24th until November 5th kicker Matt Stover was the only Raven to score.
Stover’s 49 consecutive points started in the 4th quarter of a home win against the Bengals and ended November 5th in the second quarter in Cincinnati. Finally Trent Dilfer hit Brandon Stokley for six to end the touchdown drought. The win that afternoon was the first of 11 straight that ended with Art Modell holding the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa.
The Super Bowl XXXV champs might be the most interesting team I’ve ever covered.
It was talented and full of characters. Ray Lewis, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson and Jon Ogden are Hall of Famers. Sharpe, Tony Siragusa, Trent Dilfer, Brian Billick and several others were perfect for the local and national media following this bunch. The Ravens had only been in Baltimore four years, had never had a winning season…and suddenly, this!
With one of the greatest defenses in NFL history the Ravens not only captured a championship but the hearts of a great NFL city that was back on top of the football world.
And it was fun to share it with you.