Happy 20th birthday, Ravens: City selected nickname 20 years ago

It's time to break out the candles and celebrate the 20th birthday of the Baltimore Ravens.

But what if the city's current team wasn't the Ravens? What is often forgotten is that the influential football leaders in Baltimore had other ideas.

Owner Art Modell's original choice for a nickname was the Bulldogs, in honor of the Canton, Ohio, team that helped start the NFL. Then-president David Modell envisioned a team called the Americans, a nod to the Baltimore-Ohio train known as the American. And former Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas preferred to keep the equine theme with Mustangs.

On March 29, 1996, the fans spoke and the overwhelming choice was a ghostly bird immortalized by writer Edgar Allen Poe, whose grave sits a long football toss from where the team now plays. In a telephone poll conducted by The Baltimore Sun, the Ravens received 21,108 votes (63.4 percent), which outdistanced the Americans (5,597) and the Marauders (5,583).

The timing of the nickname announcement stood for a rebirth of the NFL in Baltimore. It was 12 years to the day (March 29, 1984) that the Colts had relocated from Baltimore to Indianapolis.

After moving the Browns in February 1996, Art Modell said he would offer $5 million to get the Colts nickname from Indianapolis. But Colts owner Jim Irsay responded with a price tag that ranged from $25 million to $50 million.

Knowing the team would need a new identity, David Modell met with NFL Properties to whittle the list of potential nicknames from several hundred to 17. Focus groups in Maryland helped narrow it down to five choices: Ravens, Americans, Marauders, Mustangs and Railers.

After a one-day vote by fans, Art Modell opened up an envelope and revealed before a crowd of officials and several hundred fans that Ravens had won by a landslide.

"This is a new era and a new beginning for us and it will be for you," Modell said.

Not everyone was as thrilled about the selection.

"I don't like it," Unitas said. "I don't think it has any association with football."

David Modell quickly conceded to the Ravens.

“The voice of the fans was so strong and clear that it really didn’t matter,” he said.

Two decades later, the Ravens represent more than a nickname. It has become synonymous with a winning franchise, a defiant defense and one of the most intense rivalries in the game.