"20 Ravens Relics In 20 Years" is a series celebrating the team's 20th anniversary that will tell the story behind 20 key objects in franchise history. The stories and photos of the relics will be unveiled before each 2015 game. *Fans can view all of the items featured in our Ravens Relics series on permanent display at the Sports Legends Museum and in an interactive display on Ravens Walk before every home game.*
Strong quarterback play was a staple in the early days of professional football in Baltimore.
Johnny Unitas set the standard with a Hall of Fame career that spanned 17 seasons as the Baltimore Colts signal caller. He then passed the torch to Bert Jones, who held the starting quarterback post for the next nine years before the Colts moved to Indianapolis.
When NFL football finally returned to Baltimore in 1996, fans of the new Ravens franchise had a quarterback they would cheer for: Vinny Testaverde.
"He was a known commodity," Sports Legends Museum Executive Director Mike Gibbons said. "He'd been around for a while, and for Baltimore fans, we were pretty excited about having a big name quarterback."
Testaverde had already spent nine seasons in the NFL before landing in Baltimore. The big-armed quarterback had a reputation as a gunslinger who could put up points, and that excited Baltimore fans.
At the time, the Ravens had no real identity yet.
Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis were just rookies. Stories of the feared Ravens defenses had yet to grow into football tradition. Some Baltimore football fans hesitated to embrace a new team, and others identified with the frustration in Cleveland of losing their franchise.
"Baltimore was perplexed with the shift of the Browns to Baltimore because we felt the pain. We remembered the pain of losing the Colts to Indianapolis," Gibbons said. "And here comes Vinny, and Vinny delivers. He scores the first touchdown for the Ravens. That kind of solidified our belief that we had a good quarterback here.
"He was the face of the franchise."
That first touchdown from Testaverde started a stellar season from the quarterback, who put up 4,177 passing yards and 33 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl and still holds the franchise record for passing yards in a season.
The offense in that inaugural season is still regarded as perhaps the best in franchise history, and Testaverde steered the ship.
"In the early years of the franchise here in Baltimore, Vinny is a highlight. Vinny was the one thing we got to root for right away," Gibbons said. "I think that he's important – really important – as one of the foundation points that the whole thing got off and running with. He's one of the guys."