Vinny Remembers First Ravens Game Vs. Oakland; Suggs Is The Big Brother
"I remember driving to the stadium that morning and thinking about all the great players and games that had been played there," quarterback Vinny Testaverde remembered of the first game in Ravens history, a 19-14 win over the visiting Oakland Raiders on Sept. 1, 1996.
"The fans were pumped. Everyone was having fun. Their energy helped us. There was just a great feeling all around that day," Vinny continued. "Then we had the introductions, and you had all those Baltimore Colts lined up. I was high-fiving with as many of them as I could, but the one I looked for was Johnny Unitas. He was one of my heroes growing up. I found him, and we slapped fives, and I'll always remember that. It was a special moment for me."
Vinny completed 19 of 33 passes for 254 yards that afternoon. But, it was a Testaverde run that is most important. "We were inside the 10, and Ted [Marchibroda] called a pass play. My first read was covered, and then, all of a sudden, the field opened up, and I took off. The goal line kept getting closer, and then I was in the end zone. I was so excited that I gave the ball to a fan. It was later that someone said, 'You scored the first touchdown in Ravens history.'
"I'm not sure you guys got that ball back, but I know you tried." Vinny's 9-yard scoring run gave the Ravens a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Testaverde, one of the really good guys in Ravens history, started for us for two seasons. We were a team with one of the NFL's best offenses, but we were pretty awful on defense, despite having young standouts like Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware (1997) and Jamie Sharper (1997).
"Our line was really good. We had J.O. [Jonathan Ogden] and Tony Jones on one side, 'Zeus' [Orlando Brown] on the other. Wally [Williams], 'Big Black' [Jeff Blackshear] ... They could protect, and they could run block. If I had a line like that my whole career, wow!
"Those receivers – Michael [Jackson] and Derrick [Alexander] – could go get it. We had a nifty guy like Jermaine [Lewis]. Brian [Kinchen] and Eric [Green] were good tight ends. Earnest [Byner] was a calming influence and leader, and he could still play. It was a very good group, and we all liked the fast-paced offense Ted used. It was fun," Testaverde recalls.
Vinny stills holds three Ravens records: most passing yards (4,177) and most touchdown passes (33) in a season. "Tell Joe [Flacco] to let me keep one of those."
The first overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, Vinny lives in Tampa with his wife, Mitzi. He does some coaching and has been in the restaurant business since early on in his 21-year NFL career. "I was in the original group that started Outback, and now we're starting a new restaurant franchise called 'PDQ' (People Dedicated to Quality).
"I enjoyed my time in Baltimore. You could see the franchise was devoted to winning, and that was not the case with every team I played with. I wish we would have won more, but that defense that became great wasn't ready then. Today, I'm good. Very healthy. Nothing that prevents me from playing not very good golf. I still work out. I can count on one hand the number of days I haven't exercised since the end of my playing days," Vinny said.
We salute a "Ravens Legend" every home game. We need to bring back Vinny and salute him. "I'd love to come back. Let me know," Testaverde added.
Unitas Joined The Celebration
Vinny mentioned the Baltimore Colts being at our first game. We had 57 Colts volunteer, and we asked them to form a gauntlet that the Ravens ran through. We gave each of these former players a jacket that had Colts on it. The jackets were reversible with a Ravens logo on the back when it was turned inside out.
We were worried that the Colts would balk at reversing the jackets, but they said "yes" and changed enthusiastically. That was a great gesture by these older athletes. Not sure how many fans saw what was happening. We didn't have a video board at Memorial Stadium. But, it was still cool, and it was shown on TV.
With help from some of these Baltimore Colts and former team staff members, we were able to reach the group, except for one ... Johnny Unitas.
We had Lenny Moore, Tom Matte, Stan White and Bruce Laird – all great Colts – but the ceremony wouldn't have the full juice we wanted unless Unitas joined. When we finally talked with Johnny, he said, "Tell you what. I'm interested, but I don't know Art Modell. How about you set up a meeting with him, and I'll make my decision after that."
The two met and, not surprisingly, hit it off, becoming close friends instantly. Johnny asked one favor of Art: Would he talk to the other owners about doing more for the former players? Modell promised he would, and he became a champion for retired players throughout the rest of his ownership.
Colts like Johnny and Lenny coming to that opening and reversing their jackets went a long way to convince a lot of Baltimore folks that it was OK to root for the Ravens. We will be forever grateful for that.
My Mom had five sons in seven years (until the Princess, my sister Eileen, arrived eight years later.) We lived in a crowded community where sports served as an entry to acceptance by many. My brothers and I hung in there and did OK.
There was some bullying by some, and we'd get threatened now and then. We didn't back down. But, we were braver and probably a little tougher when our big brother, Pat, would join us.
I feel the same way about Terrell Suggs. He's like my brother, Pat. We have a lot of tough, very physical players on the Ravens. Guys who would never back down from any physical challenge football provides. We draft those types of guys. If you can't play fast and physical with great courage, you can't be a Raven.
Suggs walked the walk and talked the talk. He's fearless, and his voice is loud on and off the field. His toughness and brash style helped us against the biggest challenges like going to Pittsburgh or to New England for playoff games. No one will back down without "Sizzle" walking alongside. But, we'll have to find a way to get the swagger the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year gave us. Might be easier to replace on the field than what Suggs gave us off of it.
My brothers and I learned to compete without Pat having our backs. The 2015 Ravens will do the same without Terrell. We've done it before. We lost our bell cow on offense, Jamal Lewis, in training camp in 2001 and still made the playoffs. We survived a long time without Ray Lewis in 2012 and won the Super Bowl. We lost the one defensive back we couldn't lose a year ago – Jimmy Smith – and had the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots on the ropes last January in the divisional round of the postseason.
The Ravens can do this. It starts Sunday in Oakland. Let's beat the Raiders.
Talk with you next week,