No big deal, say the Baltimore Ravens. Just another game, they insist. Even the Cleveland Browns refuse to be caught up in the potential emotional aspects of this game.
But for Browns fans, this game has been circled in red on their calendars since the NFL released the schedule.
Today at 1 p.m., the Ravens, who were the Cleveland Browns before moving to Baltimore, take on the expansion Cleveland Browns at PSINet Stadium.
If Cleveland, which returned to the NFL this season after a three-year hiatus, win just two games this season--and based on the Browns' past two games that doesn't seem impossible--their fans would be happy as long as those two victories come against Baltimore, which they will play in Cleveland on Nov. 7.
"I think the fans and the media have a particular interest in the game, but our players are approaching this like any other game," Cleveland Coach Chris Palmer said.
The man in the middle of this controversy, Ravens owner Art Modell, is not talking to the media about this game. However, many suspect that beating Cleveland would have special significance to him, too.
"Every victory is special for him because he likes to win," said defensive end Rob Burnett, one of the five current Ravens who played with the old Browns before they moved to Baltimore.
Modell owned the Browns for 35 years before moving them to Baltimore and renaming them the Ravens following the 1995 season. Many Browns fans remain bitter that Modell took away a team that had such a proud history and was so dearly loved.
And, of course, Baltimore fans know how Cleveland fans feel. In 1984, Robert Irsay packed up the Colts and moved them to Indianapolis, leaving the city without an NFL team until 1996. Beating the Browns does not hold nearly the significance to them that beating the Indianapolis Colts does.
"Cleveland is just another football team that we're playing this week," said Ravens special teams player Bennie Thompson, another former Brown. "Just another football team and a conference game we just need to win."
Both teams will start inexperienced quarterbacks today. Baltimore's Stoney Case and Cleveland's Tim Couch are making their second NFL starts.
Case, a five-year veteran with his third NFL team, replaced an ineffective Scott Mitchell last week against Pittsburgh. He engineered two scoring drives that helped the Ravens tie the game. However, Pittsburgh came back to win, 23-20, on a last-second field goal.
"I want the ball in my hands," Case said. " . . . This was my ultimate goal, to be the starting quarterback. I just want to make sure I play well enough to keep that, do all the right things, just run the offense and help the team win."
Couch, the first pick in the 1999 draft, replaced Ty Detmer as the Browns' starter last week. He completed 12 of 24 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown.
"I feel really comfortable with [being the starter] right now," Couch said. "There's some growing pains obviously and some things that confuse a young quarterback, but that's just part of the learning process. That's how you get better."
Look for Baltimore, particularly defensive end Michael McCrary and linebacker Peter Boulware, to pressure the rookie relentlessly.
The Browns have a league-high 19 rookies or first-year players, and that has led to some early-season struggles. Cleveland has lost to Pittsburgh, 43-0, and to Tennessee, 26-9.
However, Baltimore Coach Brian Billick is not concerned his team views this game as an easy win. "We're sitting here at 0-2," he said. "We don't have to caution anybody about overlooking anybody, not when you're 0-2."
Ravens Notes: Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa had arthroscopic knee surgery yesterday and will not play today. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by Lional Dalton. Siragusa's status for next week's game should be known Monday.