On November 6, 1995, then Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell announced his intention to move the team to Baltimore, citing the inadequacy of Cleveland Stadium and the lack of a sufficient replacement along with his heavy debt. The decision triggered a flurry of legal activity that ended when representatives of Cleveland and the NFL reached a settlement on February 8, 1996. It stipulated that the Browns' name, colors, and history of the franchise were to remain in Cleveland, including past records and the attribution of its Pro Football Hall of Fame players. A reactivated Cleveland Browns team would then begin play in 1999, while Modell's relocated club would technically and legally be a "new franchise," and an expansion team, the Ravens.
The CFL team, the Baltimore Stallions, had proved such a success and the fans showed up in droves to prove they deserved an NFL franchise. This caught the attention of Modell.
After relocating his franchise, retaining the current contracts of former Browns players and personnel as per the agreement made by the city of Cleveland and the NFL, owner Art Modell hired Ted Marchibroda as head coach, who had previous experience with the Baltimore Colts during the 1970s and the Indianapolis Colts during the early 1990s. Ozzie Newsome, the Browns tight end for many seasons, joined Modell in Baltimore as director of football operations. He was later promoted to Vice President/General Manager.
Focus groups, a telephone survey, and a fan contest were all held to help select a name for the new franchise. Team management started with a list of 17 names from an original list of more than 100. From there, focus groups of a total of 200 Baltimore area residents reduced the list of names to six, and then a phone survey of 1000 people trimmed it down to three, Marauders, Americans, and Ravens. Finally, a fan contest drawing 33,288 voters picked "Ravens," a name that alludes to the famous poem, The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe, who spent the early part of his career in Baltimore, and is also buried there.
Due to continual financial hardships, the NFL directed Modell to initiate the sale of his franchise. On March 27, 2000, NFL owners approved the sale of 49% of the Ravens to Steve Bisciotti. In the deal, Bisciotti had an option to purchase the remaining 51% for $325 million in 2004 from Art Modell. On April 9, 2004 the NFL approved Bisciotti's purchase of the majority stake in the club.
The 1996 season was the inaugural season of the Baltimore Ravens, and the first time a regular season NFL game was hosted at Memorial Stadium in 13 years. They won their first game at home against the Oakland Raiders, but lost the next two against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Oilers. After their bye week, they beat the New Orleans Saints at home with a score of 17–10, but were not able to beat the New England Patriots in the following game. On October 26 they faced the former team in Baltimore, the Indianapolis Colts, but lost 26–21. Two weeks later they won against the St. Louis Rams in an overtime victory. They were not able to repeat this mostly for the remainder of the season, but managed to win against Pittsburgh in Week 14. They ended their season with a record of 4–12. Even though they did not have a winning season, quarterback Vinny Testaverde was voted into the Pro Bowl, and wide receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander surpassed the 1,000 yard receiving mark.
In 1997, the team played their final season at Memorial Stadium. They lost their first game at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars by one point, then won the next three games against the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants and Tennessee Oilers. They then lost their next two games against the San Diego Chargers and their division rivals, the Steelers. After their bye week, they won only one out of the next four games, and lost one in overtime. One November 19 they played against the Philadelphia Eagles, holding them to a 10–10 tie. They lost their next two games, then won two, and ended the season with a home loss to the Bengals, ending with a record of 6–9–1, the lowest in their division. Peter Boulware, with 11.5 sacks, was named AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Baltimore began the season by moving into their new stadium Ravens Stadium (eventually the stadium would be called PSINet Stadium and later M&T Bank Stadium). Testaverde, who had left for the New York Jets, was replaced by Eric Zeier, and later, former Indianapolis Colt Jim Harbaugh . Defensive back Rod Woodson joined the team after a successful stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Priest Holmes started getting the first playing time of his career and ran for 1,000 yards, but the Ravens finished with a 6–10 record. After three consecutive losing seasons, Marchibroda was succeeded by Brian Billick, who had served as the offensive coordinator for the record setting offense of the Minnesota Vikings the season before.
In the 1999 season, with a newly renamed stadium, PSINet Stadium (now M&T Bank Stadium), Baltimore showed a marked improvement. Quarterback Tony Banks came to Baltimore from the St. Louis Rams and had the best season of his career with 17 touchdown passes and an 81.2 pass rating. He was joined by receiver Qadry Ismail, who posted a 1,000-yard season. The Ravens struggled early, starting 3–6; but rattled off four consecutive wins to put themselves in playoff contention. A loss in the final week sent them home early with an 8–8 record.
2000 season—Super Bowl champions
Banks shared playing time in the 2000 regular season with Trent Dilfer. Both players put up decent numbers (and a 1,364-yard rushing season by rookie Jamal Lewis helped too) but the defense became the team's hallmark and bailed a struggling offense out in many instances through the season. Ray Lewis was named Defensive Player of the Year. Two of his defensive teammates, Sam Adams and Rod Woodson, made the Pro Bowl. Baltimore's season started strong with a 5–1 record. But the team struggled through mid-season, at one point going five games without scoring an offensive touchdown. The team regrouped and won each of their last seven games, finishing 12–4 and making the playoffs for the first time.
During the 2000 season, the Ravens defense broke two notable NFL records. They held opposing teams to 165 total points, surpassing the 1985 Chicago Bears mark of 198 points for a 16-game season well as surpassing the 1986 Chicago Bears mark of 187 points for a 16 game season, which at that time was the current NFL record.
Since the divisional rival Tennessee Titans had a record of 13–3, the Ravens had to play in the wild card round. They dominated the Denver Broncos 21–3 in their first game. In the divisional playoff, they went on the road to Tennessee. With the score tied 10–10 in the fourth quarter, an Al Del Greco field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown by Anthony Mitchell, and a Ray Lewis interception return for a score put the game squarely in Baltimore's favor. The 24–10 win put the Ravens in the AFC Championship against the Oakland Raiders. The game was rarely in doubt. Shannon Sharpe's 96-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter followed by an injury to Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon were crucial as the Ravens won easily, 16–3.
Baltimore then went to Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV against the New York Giants. The game was also dominated by the Ravens. They recorded four sacks and forced five turnovers, one of which was a Kerry Collins interception returned for a touchdown by Duane Starks. The Giants' only score was a Ron Dixon kickoff return for another touchdown; however, the Ravens immediately countered with a return by Jermaine Lewis. The Ravens became champions with a 34–7 win, becoming only the third wild card team to win a Super Bowl championship.
In 2001, the Ravens attempted to defend their title with a new quarterback, Elvis Grbac, but an injury to Jamal Lewis and poor offensive performance stymied the team. After a 3–3 start, the Ravens defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the final week to clinch a wild card berth at 10–6. In the first round the Ravens showed flashes of their previous year with a 20–3 blowout over the Miami Dolphins, in which the team forced three turnovers and outgained the Dolphins 347 yards to 151. In the divisional playoff the Ravens played the Pittsburgh Steelers. Three interceptions by Grbac ended the Ravens' season, as they lost 27–10.
Baltimore ran into salary cap problems in 2002 and was forced to cut several players, including Sam Adams, Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe. The Ravens replaced Woodson by drafting safety Ed Reed in the first round. Longtime backup QB Chris Redman took over behind center. The Ravens stayed somewhat competitive, before a December slide cost them a playoff spot with a 7–9 final record.
In 2003, the Ravens drafted their new quarterback, Kyle Boller, but he was injured midway through the season and was replaced by Anthony Wright. Jamal Lewis ran for 2,066 yards (including a record 295 yards in one game against the Cleveland Browns on September 14). With a 10–6 record, Baltimore won their first AFC North division title. Their first playoff game, at home against the Tennessee Titans, went back and forth, with the Ravens being held to only 54 yards total rushing. The Titans won 20–17 on a late field goal, and Baltimore's season ended early.
Ray Lewis was also named Defensive Player of the year for the second time in his career.
In April 2003, Art Modell sold 49% of the team to Steve Bisciotti, a local businessman who had made his fortune in the temporary staffing field. After the season, Art Modell officially transferred his remaining 51% ownership to Bisciotti, ending over 40 years of tenure as an NFL franchise owner. Modell still has an office at the Ravens' headquarters in Owings Mills, Maryland, and acts as a consultant.
The Ravens attempted to engineer a trade for Terrell Owens in the 2004 offseason, but the NFLPA filed a grievance with the NFL, claiming Terrell Owens should have been granted free agency. Just before a judge made a decision in the case, the NFL and NFLPA came to a settlement, which set up a 3-way trade between the Eagles, 49ers, and Ravens. Owens went to the Eagles, and the Ravens got back the pick they had traded to the 49ers, and were also granted a 5th round draft pick. Boller remained quarterback through the entire season. Ed Reed became a full-fledged star on defense, with nine interceptions. Reed was also named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He broke the NFL record for longest INT return, with a 106 yard return against the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore remained in playoff contention the entire season, but with a 9–7 record did not go to the playoffs.
In the 2005 offseason the Ravens looked to augment their receiving corps (which was second-worst in the NFL in 2004) by signing Derrick Mason from the Titans and drafting star Oklahoma wide receiver Mark Clayton in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
The 2005 season (the Ravens' 10th Anniversary season) began as the featured Sunday Night Football game televised by ESPN. This game against the Indianapolis Colts led the announcer to state, "What a wonderful way to begin the season, the game between the team that plays here now and the team which used to play here." The game's first half was a defensive slugfest, with the score at the half 3–0 Colts, but the second half saw the Ravens fall apart and starting QB Kyle Boller was lost to a foot injury (Colts 24, Ravens 7).
In the 2nd week road opener versus historic rival Tennessee, backup QB Anthony Wright failed to spark the offense and the defense couldn't hold the Titans back, allowing the second straight loss (25–10). During the team's bye week, coach Billick tried to install the idea that after the bye, the season starts anew and they forget about their past losses. This strategy led the Ravens to a Week 4 Win against the Jets (13–3), but the Ravens fell apart against the Lions (35–17), setting a franchise record for penalties in a single game (21). The Ravens rebounded at home the next week against the Cleveland Browns, with a final score of 16–3. However, from Week 7 to Week 10, the Ravens would lose to the Chicago Bears (10–6), the Pittsburgh Steelers (20–19), the Cincinnati Bengals (21–9), and the Jacksonville Jaguars (30–3).
The Ravens turned the tide in a Week 11 rematch with the Steelers at home, winning 16–13 in OT, but were season-swept by the Bengals the next week, 42–29. The Ravens won their next game against the hapless Houston Texans 16–15, but lost a week later on the road to the Denver Broncos 12–10. Then, the Ravens played their final two home games under the prime time light. First, they manhandled the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football 48–3. Then, they destroyed any playoff chance that the Minnesota Vikings had by winning on Sunday Night Football 30–23. Despite the resurgence of Kyle Boller, they couldn't carry their momentum entirely. Despite leading the Browns 13–6 at halftime, they lost the lead in the 3rd quarter and trailed for the rest of the game, ultimately losing 20–16.
The Ravens ended their season 6–10. Despite having the same regular season record as the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens were technically third in the AFC North, since they beat the Browns on the division records tiebreaker: In the AFC North, the Ravens were 2–4, while the Browns were 1–5.
The 2006 Baltimore Ravens season began with the team trying to improve on their 6–10 record in 2005. The Ravens, for the first time in franchise history, started 4–0 under the surprising leadership of former Titans quarterback Steve McNair. With miracle offensive plays engineered primarily in the second half of games by players Todd Heap, Jamal Lewis, Mark J. Clayton, and even backup quarterback Kyle Boller, the team scored key victories over playoff-bound teams such as San Diego and New Orleans.
The Ravens then lost 2 straight games mid-season on offensive troubles, prompting coach Brian Billick to drop their offensive coordinator Jim Fassel in their week 7 bye. Also during the mid-season, the Ravens won an important victory when McNair and wide receiver Derrick Mason returned with the Ravens to their former stomping grounds of Tennessee to defeat the Titans.
Riding the influence of their winning streak, the Ravens sought a sweep of the AFC North division in a rematch against the Bengals late in the season. Baltimore was unable to produce offensively enough to overcome a team led by their own former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. The loss ended Baltimore's hopes of a division sweep.
Still ranked second overall to the first-place San Diego, Baltimore continued. They slowed down the surging Chiefs, continued dominance over rival Cleveland, and held the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers to only one touchdown at Heinz Field, allowing the Ravens to still clinch the AFC North.
The Ravens ended the regular season with a franchise-best 13–3 record. Still considered one of the better teams in the NFL, and a Super Bowl favorite by some the Ravens had secured the AFC North title, the #2 AFC playoff seed, and clinched a 1st-round bye. The Ravens were slated to face the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the playoffs, in the first meeting of the two teams in the playoffs. Many Baltimore and Indianapolis fans saw this historic meeting as a sort of "Judgment Day" with the new team of Baltimore facing the old team of Baltimore (the former Baltimore Colts having left Baltimore on March 28, 1984). In one of the most bizarre playoff games in NFL history, both Indianapolis and Baltimore were held to scoring only field goals as the two defenses slugged it out all over M&T Bank Stadium. McNair threw two costly interceptions, including one at the 1-yard line. The Super Bowl bound Colts won 15–6, ending Baltimore's season.
During this offseason the Ravens waived Jamal Lewis, who signed with the Cleveland Browns, and failed to re-sign Adalius Thomas who signed with the New England Patriots, and Ovie Mughelli who signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Ravens then traded for Willis McGahee with a 3rd and 7th round draft pick in 2007 and a 3rd round pick in 2008.
The 2007 season saw the Ravens crumble to a 5–11 record, after which Brian Billick was fired as head coach.
With John Harbaugh as the new coach, Baltimore smartly recovered in 2008, winning eleven games and achieving a wild card spot in the postseason. They defeated the Dolphins, and then the #1-seeded Titans to meet their division rival Pittsburgh in the conference championship. However, they lost 23–14.
In 2009, the Ravens won their first three matches, then lost the next three, including a close overtime match in Minnesota. The rest of the season was an uneven string of wins and losses, which included a home victory over Pittsburgh in overtime followed by a Monday Night loss in Green Bay. That game was notable for the huge number of penalties committed, costing a total of 310 yards, and almost tying with the record set by Tampa Bay and Seattle in 1976. Afterwards, the Ravens easily crushed the Lions and Bears, giving up less than ten points in both games. The next match was against the Steelers, where Baltimore lost a close one before beating the Raiders to end the season. With a record of 9–7, the team finished second in the division and gained another wild card. Moving into the playoffs, they ran over the Patriots, but were not destined to reach the AFC Championship again, as they were routed 20–3 by the Colts in the divisional round a week later.
Baltimore managed to beat the Jets 10–9 on the 2010 opener, but then lost a poorly-played game against Cincinnati the following week. The Ravens rebounded against the other two division teams, beating Cleveland 24–17 in Week 3 and then Pittsburgh 17–14 in Week 4. The Ravens scored a fine win (31–17) at home against Denver in Week 5. After an overtime loss to New England, they narrowly avoided losing at home to the winless Bills. Next, the Ravens hosted Miami and won 26–10, breaking that team's 4–0 road streak. On Thursday Night, the team headed to Atlanta and lost 26–21 in a game that had some criticizing the officiating. The Ravens finished the season 12–4, second in the division due to a tiebreaker with Pittsburgh, and earning a wild card spot. Baltimore headed to Kansas City and crushed the unprepared Chiefs 34–7, but once again were knocked from the playoffs by Pittsburgh in a hard-fought battle.
The Ravens hosted their arch-enemy in Week 1 of the 2011 season. On a hot, humid day in M&T Bank Stadium, crowd noise and multiple Steelers mistakes allowed Baltimore to crush them with 3 TDs 35–7. The frustrated Pittsburgh players also committed several costly penalties. Thus, the Ravens had gained their first ever victory over the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger playing and avenged themselves of repeated regular and postseason losses in the series.
But in Week 2, the Ravens collapsed in Tennessee and lost 26–13. They rebounded by routing the Rams in Week 3 and then overpowering the Jets 34–17 in Week 4. Week 5, the Ravens had a bye week, following a game against the Texans. But in Week 7, Baltimore had a stunning MNF upset loss in Jacksonville as they were held to one TD in a 12–7 loss. Their final scoring drive failed as Joe Flacco threw an interception in the closing seconds of the game.
- Morgan, Jon. Deal clears NFL path to Baltimore, The Baltimore Sun, February 9, 1996.
- "Baltimore Ravens History". Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/history/team.jsp?franchise_id=3. Retrieved 2006-08-25.
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