The Baltimore Orioles made major league history this past Wednesday when they played in the first ever Major League Baseball game that was closed to the public. Keeping in the theme of that game, today’s Flashback Friday takes a peek back at the Ravens’ 36-10 victory over the Tennessee Oilers in 1997, a game that was played in Memphis in front of just 17,737 fans. For comparison’s sake, if the Oilers were an NBA team, that number would put them in the middle of the pack in terms of average attendance. The Oilers were in the process of relocating from Houston to Nashville, but before their stadium could be completed in Nashville, they played in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis during the 1997 season. The Oilers eventually renamed themselves the “Titans.” The game was the 2nd smallest home crowd for the Oilers since the 1960s.
The people of Memphis essentially boycotted the game and the Oilers that season as a way of sending a message to the NFL. Memphis had been trying to get an NFL team of their own for the past quarter century, and the people were a tad peeved over seeing Nashville land one. As a result, attendance suffered. Various players said after the game that they could pick out individual conversations amongst the fans while they were standing on the sidelines.
As far as the game, Vinny Testaverde had a Joe Flacco-esque performance, going 23-37 through the air on the day for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Jermaine Lewis had one of his better days as a receiver, hauling in eight catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson also combined for nine catches and 139 yards.
The Titans came into the game with the league’s number one rushing attack, but Eddie George managed just 40 yards rushing against the Ravens on the day. Man…poor Eddie couldn’t turn it on against the Ravens even back then. Ray Lewis was the man’s kryptonite. The Ravens forced four Oilers fumbles on the afternoon. Funny enough, none of those were by George. So I give him props for that. Hey, that might make this his best game ever against the Ravens. Well, until that 2003 playoff game, but we won’t talk about that.
I have to figure the attendance was much, much lower in the 4th quarter than the 17ish thousand that showed up initially. It’s quite possible that their attendance was indeed zero before the final whistle blew. The sad part is these attendance figures were by choice, not because fans were banned from attending.
I do not wish to make light of what has been going on in the city of Baltimore recently. I was born and raised in Baltimore. Even though I am a White Sox fan, seeing Camden Yards completely empty the other day was heartbreaking. It was intriguing at first, but I grew more and more uncomfortable as the game wore on. And that’s not because the White Sox were losing. Baseball is for the fans. Kudos to those fans that watched from behind the center field gates for 2+ hours and to those who watched from the balconies of the Hilton across the street. That’s dedication. And I love that about fans. Sports can be a great escape sometimes. That’s what makes them great. I really hope Baltimore is for the better after recent events, and I can’t wait to see Camden Yards rocking and rolling soon again.