While NFL offseason workouts are in full swing, in reality, the period following the NFL Draft until training camp begins in late July, is the slowest time of the year in the National Football League.
The fact that we are even suggesting this is a relevant time at all is a big indication of how far the league has come from the days when the season ended until it started again in September. The NFL has officially become a 12-month, 365 day a year league and that is just fine with me.
With the introduction of the NFL Network in November of 2003, the league officially entered the full time entertainment business. With its birth, nightly shows like NFL Total Access have become as important to NFL fans as the six o’clock news was to our parents and grandparents.
With Emmy award winning NFL Films handling the production on many of the networks shows, and all of the highlight shows, the launch of the latest 24-hour sports network likely a guaranteed success.
Die-hard NFL fans are a peculiar bunch and the NFL Network wasted little time catering to them. Since the dawn of NFL time, fans have created Top 10 lists for almost everything that ever existed in the league. Long before the inception of the network, fans debated and argued about which players and teams were the best of all time and ranked where they thought they belonged in NFL history.
Is Johnny Unitas, John Elway, Dan Marino, or Joe Montana the best QB in league history? That’s ok if you could not decide, just put them on a list and watch fans debate where they rank on the list for hours.
Fans looking to occupy their time argued which games, plays, eras, coaches, drafts, and even argued which fan bases had the best tailgate traditions. Yes, all of these debates were contested long before Rich Eisen and the NFL Network took to the airwaves.
However, once the network joined the fun, debating the best of all time was taken to a completely new level. They used the fans passion for wanting to feel as if they know which player, team etc…is the best of all time and now use that passion as their bread and butter with their” Top 10 shows”.
On any given day during the season and especially during the offseason, fans can sit back, watch and argue with the TV, as the network airs such shows as The Top 10 QB’s, Top 10 RB’s—–you get the point.
In 2010, the network stumbled on a gold mine when it decided to produce a show ranking the 100 greatest players of all time. The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players was a ten-part television series presented by the NFL Network in 2010. The series was based on a list of the top 100 National Football League players of all time, as compiled by a “blue-ribbon” panel assembled by the network.
The members of the panel were current and former NFL coaches, players, executives, and members of the media. Each episode, broadcast each Thursday from September 3 to November 4, 2010, introduced a group of 10 players from the list, starting with the players ranked 100 through 91, and moving up the list each week.
Jerry Rice won the distinction and of course not unanimously, as the No.1 ranked greatest player of all time. He finished just ahead of players such as Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor and Joe Montana. Since there can really only be one all-time list every 10 years or so, the brain trust at the network decided to begin ranking the top 100 players from the past season and do so in a format very close to the one they used to select the game’s all-time best.
The players themselves actually vote on the best 100 current performers in the league and provide almost all of the commentary when a certain player is being profiled in his numerical spot for the season that has past.
Just like the network, many websites have since popped up using slide show formats to gain popularity by having bloggers create lists for almost every sports and every position. If you log onto the Bleacher Report, you will find slideshows ranking everything from players’ wives and girlfriends (WAGS) to legitimate lists ranking players and teams from each sport.
With this craze in mind and considering the time of season, I have decided to throw my hat into the fire and create a “Top list”.
As a tremendous Baltimore Ravens fan, and a former season ticket holder, I have never missed a game and consider my knowledge, analysis and breakdown of the team during their tenure in the Charm City adequate enough to be shared with thousands of readers during the past three seasons. At least many of you have liked it and I thank you for that.
With that said, what to rank became the issue. Ranking the greatest Ravens players of all time would not garner much interest. Is there any doubt that in some order, Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Matt Stover, Peter Boulware, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs make the list? Sure, maybe I left off Chris McAlister or a player like him but you understand where I am coming from. The Ravens did not bring the history from Cleveland (Thankfully) so 16 seasons makes ranking players a little boring.
Besides, you remember them all and would agree that Ogden and Lewis are one and two and the order does not really matter.
What I decided to rank was the 20 greatest games in Baltimore Ravens history. I originally thought 10 great games was sufficient but upon further review and considering the run this team just made, it has to be 20.
I guarantee you will have forgotten about a few of these classics. There was a ton of research and time committed to doing this piece and all I can say is THANK GOD for the Pro-Football Reference website. I would also thank the Baltimore Sun but I cannot.
You cannot read an advertisement on Sunspot.net without paying them $4.99 per month. The good news is– the list has been completed but any good news statement also comes with a bit of bad news attached. Compiling this is a lot of typing, so I will post two articles per week, listing four games per post for the next three weeks until we get to No.1.
The following games were not just selected because they were my favorites. The Ravens had to have won the contest. Can any fan honestly say a game in which their team lost is one of the best in their teams franchise history, regardless of how great the game? Do you think the Broncos are going to be ranking this past years AFC Divisional Playoff game or do you suppose the New England Patriots look at the 2009 AFC Championship game as one of the franchises greatest games. No, they do not, I promise.
Secondly, the game had to mean something, be a rivalry victory, or be a turning point in the season in which it occurred. The game could also be one in which it still has some significant relevance in team history.
Without further ado, here are four of the 20 greatest games in Baltimore Ravens history. Four more games will appear here on Fanspeak by Saturday afternoon. Thanks for your support and as always, comments are suggested and always welcomed.
No. 20 September 1, 1996: The Return of the NFL to Baltimore
The last time the city of Baltimore had played host to an NFL regular season game was December 13, 1983, when the Baltimore Colts defeated the Houston Oilers before a very, very sparse crowd of just 27 thousand fans at Memorial Stadium.
After 13 seasons without the NFL, the Oakland Raiders, and Baltimore’s new franchise, the Ravens, brought back to life the game so many loved with only the blue collar passion the rabid football fans of Charm City could. The new era began exactly where the old one ended, at the old horseshoe shaped stadium located on 33rd street in East Baltimore. Known as the largest outdoor insane asylum during the days of Unitas, Memorial Stadium was again rocking with excitement and anticipation for the Ravens first ever game.
The excitement in the stands was matched by the play on the field as two former Heisman trophy winners combined to score the first three touchdowns of the game. The Ravens have had 16 signal callers line up behind center to start a game in team history. The first of those to lead the Ravens offense was one of those former Heisman Trophy winners, Vinny Testaverde.
Testaverde would stamp his name into Baltimore football history, as he scored the Ravens first ever touchdown. Testaverde scampered nine yards into the end zone to give Baltimore the lead in the first quarter.
The Raiders came back to take the lead with 14 unanswered second quarter points. Oakland QB Billy Joe Hobert found former Notre Dame star Tim Brown for two short TD passes to give the Raiders a 14-7 halftime lead. The Ravens Defense held the rest of the way, which in 1996 was rare. Matt Stover kicked two third quarter field goals and Earnest Byner put the game away with a goal line plunge in the final quarter.
In a rare win during the 96’ season, the new Baltimore Ravens held on to beat Oakland 19-14. Under former Baltimore and Indianapolis Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda, the Ravens would win just four games in their inaugural season. Despite the poor record, the Ravens were a very exciting team to watch.
Baltimore held a second-half lead in 10 of its 11 final games, but won just two of them. All four wins during the season came at Memorial Stadium in front of sellout crowds. The 1996’ Ravens finished the year as the third ranked offense in the NFL.
Ravens fans would discover a few short years later, that defense wins championships, and the 96’ version was not a championship caliber unit. Led by rookie Ray Lewis (95 tackles) they ranked 28 out of 30 teams in points allowed, and ranked dead last in total yards allowed per game.
As stated, the offense carried the team and was led QB Vinny Testaverde, who was voted to the Pro Bowl after throwing for 4,177 yards and 33 TDs. WRs Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander both eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark and combined for 23 TD receptions.
No.19 November 29, 1998: The Colts Return to Baltimore
To say the Week 13 contest between the Indianapolis Colts and Ravens meant something to the football fans of Baltimore would grossly under state the meaning of the game. With a victory, Baltimore’s new franchise could help those old stubborn Baltimore Colts fans finally bury the memories of the Mayflower moving fans driving off to Indianapolis in the middle of the night in March of 1984. The Ravens had met the former Baltimore franchise just once before the 1998 meeting. In Week 7 of their inaugural season, behind then Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh, Indy handed the Ravens a 26-21 loss during Baltimore’s first national TV appearance as the Ravens.
In a game that seemed to come straight from a Hollywood script, both teams entered the game in the new stadium at Camden Yards as franchises that were struggling with their win/loss records but were loaded with talent on different sides of the ball.
Despite their 2-9 record, the Colts featured a very potent offense. Rookie phenom, quarterback Peyton Manning, all-purpose running back, Marshall Faulk, and Pro-Bowl wide receiver, Marvin Harrison led Indianapolis into Ravens Stadium at Camden Yards that day.
The Ravens had a talented team, and despite finishing 6-10 during the 98 season, the Ravens sent six players, four from the defense, to represent the AFC in the Pro Bowl at the conclusion of the year. The game started badly for Ravens fans, Marshall Faulk scored on two long touchdowns to help stake the Colts to a 17-3 first quarter lead.
The task of coming back would now belong to the quarterback that beat the Ravens as the Colts QB just two years prior. Even though the Ravens trailed by 14-points, his nickname provided the fans of Baltimore with hope.
Captain Comeback, Jim Harbaugh began the process of proving his nickname true, as he connected with reserve WR James Roe, who was playing for an injured Jermaine Lewis, for a Ravens touchdown. The score cut the Indy to lead to 24-17 just before the half.
The teams traded third quarter touchdowns but it was Peyton Manning‘s third TD pass of the game, which gave the Colts a 10-point lead headed into the fourth quarter. Harbaugh, who connected on 16 of 25 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon, continued the Ravens comeback quickly in the final period as he found Floyd Turner on a corner route for a 22-yard score just five seconds into the fourth quarter.
With the fans still rocking and the Colts ahead by just three, 31-28, the Ravens needed only 1:48 to take the lead, as Priest Holmes scored on a 36-yard run.
After allowing 339 yards of total offense in the first half and 31 points through three quarters, the Ravens shut the Colts down when it mattered in the final quarter to win the game. Safety Ralph Staten picked off a Manning pass intended for Marshall Faulk to seal the 38-31 victory at the Ravens’ 20-yard line with 61 seconds to play in the game.
Following the win, Baltimore QB Jim Harbaugh collected the game ball and gave it to another Baltimore QB, the legendary Baltimore Colts QB, Johnny Unitas.
No.19 had for years expressed his displeasure with the team’s move, and even once requested his name be removed from the Indianapolis Colts records portion of the media guide. With the win, many Ravens fans expressed feelings of closure with the Colts move to Indy.
The Ravens would beat the Colts again, three years later in Baltimore, 39- 27. However, since the 2001 season, the Ravens have lost six of seven regular season games to the Colts, and have gone 1-2 in the playoffs. The 2012 Ravens defeated the next rookie phenom QB in Colts lure this past January when they eliminated Andrew Luck and the rest of the Indy Colts in the Wild Card round of the playoffs on their way to a Super Bowl victory.
This is a game that could have been higher on the list, but considering the fact the Ravens removed the Baltimore Colts monkey off their backs, No.19 seemed as good a place as any on the list.
No. 14 September 10, 2000: Ravens Get First Ever Victory over Jaguars
The Ravens were members of the AFC Central following the move from Cleveland in 1996. The Jacksonville Jaguars, not the Pittsburgh Steelers, were Baltimore’s biggest nemesis and division rivals in the Ravens first few years of play.
Baltimore seemed to invent ways to lose Jacksonville, many coming in heart breaking fashion. The Ravens lost their first four games to Jacksonville by a combined nine points, and were 0-8 against the Jags headed into their week two home opener at PSInet Stadium in Baltimore.
Baltimore was riding high after shutting out the Steelers in Pittsburgh the week before to open the season, but head Coach Brian Billick believed their true measuring stick for the 2000 season would be their home opener against the Jaguars.
However, the confidence they carried into the game did not last long. The Ravens were tight and made several key mistakes, and Jacksonville QB Mark Brunell capitalized on every one of them. Brunell, with TD passes of 45 and 43 yards to Ravens killer Jimmy Smith, led the Jags to a 17-0 first quarter lead.
Smith was a fantasy football god whenever he lined up against the Baltimore secondary. He averaged over 100 yards per game against the Ravens in 12 career games, but this game would be his best. Smith hauled in 15 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns against the history making 2000 Ravens Defense. Smith’s performance was the fourth best receiving day in the history of pro football.
Not exactly known as a come from behind type of quarterback, Ravens signal caller Tony Banks needed to find a way to get Baltimore on the board and salvage a poor half of football. Banks did that with a TD pass to receiver Travis Taylor early in the second quarter and the Ravens trailed 23-7 at the half.
Banks continued his rare comeback performance at the start of the second half, when he again found Taylor for a score. Following another TD pass to fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, Banks had the Ravens to within four points of the Jags.
Playing for the injured Fred Taylor and Stacey Mack, third string running back Chris Howard lost his second fumble of the game on his own 12-yard line after the ensuing kickoff. Two plays later, Banks gave his team the lead, as he tossed his fourth TD pass of the day to WR Jermaine Lewis.
The score gave the Ravens a 29-26 lead but the game was far from over. After the teams traded field goals, the Jags offense seemed to stall with under two minutes remaining. Facing third and six, from the Baltimore 40-yard line, Brunell dropped back to pass. The Ravens sent a heavy blitz from both corners, and under pressure, Brunell simply heaved the football in the direction of Jimmy Smith down the right sideline.
Covering on the play for the Ravens was safety Kim Herring, and CB Duane Starks. The Jags other Ravens killer, wide out, Keenan McCardell tipped the ball into the air and into the hands of, guess who.
If you said Jimmy Smith, you would be correct.
After grabbing the deflection, Smith turned and slipped through the hands of Starks and raced the 10 or so yards for the go-ahead score. I was fortunate to attend this game, and even from my seats, way up in section 548, you could hear a pin hit the sport grass turf after Smith’s catch and run for what everyone thought was the game winning score. Ravens fans thought it was a foregone conclusion that the Jaguars had once again snatched victory from the jaws of the defeat.
However, The Ravens and their QB would do the victory snatching on this day. Using a little over a minute of play clock, Banks began the game winning drive by throwing short passes over the middle against a two-deep zone defense.
After competitions of 19 and 15 yards to Billy Davis, Banks found Ayanbadejo for a 12-yard competition to the Jags 29 yard line. Banks, who was having the best game of his career, methodically guided the Ravens offense 46 yards in six plays before spiking the ball to stop the clock with 48 seconds remaining.
On the next play, Banks hit newly signed free agent and future Hall Of Fame tight end, Shannon Sharpe, at the Ravens two-yard line. After taking a hit following the catch from safety Donovan Darius, Sharpe bounced into the end zone for the game winning score.
The 39-36 win gave the Ravens their first 2-0 start in their brief five-year history, and set the tone for a year that would culminate with a Super Bowl Championship.
No. 17 October 3, 2010: Flacco Finally Wins a Big One in Pittsburgh
Ravens QB Joe Flacco may have struggled to start his career against the black and gold rivals but this victory was, at the time, a huge win for the Ravens, and their then third year signal caller.
If you think, the fans thought this was just another regular season game, then check out this video of the fans’ reaction to the game winning catch by TJ Houshmandzadeh from a local watering hole in Baltimore.
The Ravens trailed 7-0 after the first quarter but led 10-7 at the half, and following a scoreless third quarter of sloppy and ineffective play by both offensive teams, each found a rhythm in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers regained the lead when back-up QB Charlie Batch, who was playing for the suspended Ben Roethlisberger, led the Steelers down the field on a 13 play, 93-yard drive that culminated with a 7-yard Rashard Mendenhall rushing touchdown.
The Ravens would get the ball back and Flacco would drive them 10 plays and 65 yards to the Steelers two-yard line. However, the Ravens failed to score and turned the ball over to the Steelers on downs. With only 2:40 to play, the situation looked bleak for Baltimore.
However, without Big Ben, the Steelers stalled, as the Ravens Defense held with the help of poor Pittsburgh clock management and a holding penalty. After another holding penalty by the Steelers punting team, the Ravens received the ball back at midfield with 55 seconds remaining, as Joe Flacco went to work in the hurry-up offense.
From the shotgun, Flacco found Boldin for nine yards and then again for three more. He then went to Houshmandzadeh on the right side of the field for 10 yards and a first down. Houshmandzadeh was able to get out of bounds, stopping the clock with 33 seconds to play.
On the next play, Ravens tight end Todd Heap picked up a blitzing Troy Polamalu, giving Flacco time to step up and loft a perfect pass to Houshmandzadeh. Flacco’s ball found Houshmandzadeh in stride in the back of the Steeler’s end zone for the 17-14 game winning touchdown.