Past, Present Close Old Stadium in Style
By Rich Scherr
BALTIMORE, Dec. 14 As the stadium lights dimmed for one final time at Memorial Stadium today, Lenny Moore stood in a darkened end zone, still trying to catch his breath.
"That should put the period at the end of the sentence," said the Hall of Fame running back, who closed out the final pro football game at the 43-year-old stadium by taking an impromptu victory lap with Ravens wide receiver Michael Jackson as the Colts fight song played.
The Ravens’ 21-19 victory over the Tennessee Oilers in front of 60,558 was an occasion for this city to honor its former team while pointing toward a new beginning with a two-year-old Ravens team still trying to establish its roots.
With 37 ex-Colts watching from the sidelines, including Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas and Art Donovan, Eric Zeier threw a career-high three touchdown passes and reserve cornerback John Williams broke up Steve McNair’s fourth-and-three pass intended for Frank Wycheck at the Baltimore 39 with 16 seconds left to preserve the win.
Making his second straight start in place of Vinny Testaverde, Zeier connected on only one of his first eight passes but finished 13 of 28 for 204 yards with no interceptions.
After Baltimore (6-8-1) started the game without getting a first down, Greg Montgomery’s ensuing punt was muffed by Tennessee’s Derrick Mason and recovered by the Ravens’ Tyrus McCloud at the Tennessee 16. Three plays later, Zeier hit Jackson on an eight-yard touchdown strike.
Mason also fumbled on his second punt return, but the Ravens, who recovered, were unable to capitalize because Matt Stover’s 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
The Ravens’ defensive line was thin without top run stopper Tony Siragusa, out with a hand injury, and backup Larry Webster, who missed part of the game with an injury, allowing Oilers running back Eddie George an opportunity to run wild.
After virtually ignoring the 1,000-yard back in a 36-10 loss to the Ravens in Week 4, the Oilers (7-8) went to him early and often today, with George gaining 70 of his game-high 129 yards in the first quarter. With three first-half turnovers, however, the Oilers came away with only a pair of field goals by Al Del Greco. Baltimore led 14-6 after Zeier scrambled to avoid a sack and found tight end Eric Green wide open on the sideline for a 37-yard touchdown with 5:02 left in the second quarter.
Tennessee missed another chance midway through the third quarter, when Ravens defensive end Keith Washington batted away a pass in the end zone on fourth and goal at the 2.
"I was embarrassed," Oilers Coach Jeff Fisher said. "We couldn’t make the plays to win. We got to the 20-yard line and couldn’t get in. We’ve got to give the Ravens credit for not letting us in."
Tennessee made it 14-12 on McNair’s 15-yard run with 24 seconds left in the third quarter but missed a chance to tie when McNair fumbled the snap on the two-point conversion attempt.
With the Oilers driving from deep in their end on their next possession, the Ravens’ defense came up with a big play. Washington sacked McNair and forced a fumble, and James Jones recovered at the 15. One play later, Zeier hit Derrick Alexander with a 15-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 21-12 with 9:20 left.
"It’s great to end on a [winning note]," said Zeier. "All the tradition here and all the support we’ve had the last two years—it’s nice to give something back to the city of Baltimore."
The fans were appreciative, both of the Ravens and the memories stirred by the old Colts. With the stadium likely to be demolished within the next year, replaced by the Ravens’ new Camden Yards stadium next season, the game gave fans as well as players the chance to do a little reminiscing.
After the game, 22 former Colts gathered on the field to run one last play in their former home. Unitas handed off to Lydell Mitchell, who handed off to Moore for a reverse and a 15-yard touchdown.
For Ted Marchibroda, who won three straight AFC East titles as coach of the Colts in the mid-1970s, the final game was an emotional experience.
"I think one of the greatest feelings is walking out that tunnel. You don’t do that anymore," Marchibroda said. "Everywhere you walk now they have carpet and beautiful rugs. Here it’s a different feeling. This stadium has been great to me. .‚.‚. I just feel honored to be part of this."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company