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PRO FOOTBALL SPOTLIGHT

Another Sign That Armageddon Is Near

September 02, 1996

Charger punter Darren Bennett, only the third Australian to play in the NFL, was in a hurry to get to a computer after the game Sunday.

Bennett is the first player to have a home page on the Internet. "Darren's Excellent Adventure" features Bennett's journal of life in the NFL. The address is http://www.nflaussie.com.

A TAXING LOSS

Tampa Bay's 34-3 loss to Green Bay might have been the biggest game in franchise history.

Proponents of a half-cent sales tax that would help build a new stadium had hoped a strong performance would sway voters who will decide the future of the club in Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

If the proposal fails, owner Malcolm Glazer has said he probably will move the team.

"We hope the community realizes this is more than a one-game season," Tampa Bay tight end Jackie Harris said.

M*A*S*H, WEEK 1

Pittsburgh lost linebacker Greg Lloyd for the season because of a knee injury after he collided with teammate Rod Woodson in the game with Jacksonville. . . . Atlanta safety Elbert Shelley left the game with Carolina because of a pulled left hamstring, and Carolina center Curtis Whitley went out because of a sprained left knee. . . . Minnesota linebacker Darryl Talley's left knee injury ended his consecutive-games streak at 221. . . . Viking quarterback Warren Moon was helped off the field in the game with Detroit because of two sprained ankles. . . . Washington safety Darryl Pounds bled profusely when his nose was broken in three places during the game with Philadelphia. . . . Eagle tackle Richard Cooper sprained his left knee and did not return. . . . Arizona defensive lineman Eric Swann missed the second half of the game with Indianapolis because of a strained neck.

AT QUARTERBACK: CLAUDE RAINS

They piled out of their Dawg Pound bus, scurrying to set up the barbecue grills and ice the beer. Some tossed footballs around the parking lot while NFL pregame shows blared on the radio.

It was just like old times in Cleveland.

So what if Cleveland fans had no team and no game on Sunday? Tailgating is one tradition that refused to die.

It was the first NFL opener in 46 years without the Cleveland Browns, who were dressed up in new uniforms and playing the Oakland Raiders in Baltimore.

Football fans in Cleveland tried not to let trivial details like that get in the way of a good time.

"I haven't missed a tailgate party in six years," said Mike Vranic of Mentor. "I'm not going to miss one now just because we don't have a team."

Tony Schaefer wore tattered, oversized boxer shorts featuring a faded Cleveland Browns' logo over bright orange sweats. His orange T-shirt depicted an empty picture frame with a caption that read, "1996 Cleveland Browns Team Picture."

Yes, these people were actually parading around in Browns jerseys, holding Browns flags, chanting, "Let's go Brownies," barking like dogs. A few minutes before 1 p.m., when the season opener was supposed to kick off at Cleveland Stadium, a bunch of them snatched up their flags, refilled their beer cups and marched to the stadium--as if there was really a game.

"There's our gate. Gate E," Schaefer said sadly. When the dozen or so diehards got to the gate, they started banging and kicking the door. They didn't know what else to do.

After a few minutes, Schaefer was ready to head back to his car. He was out of breath, but more importantly, dangerously low on beer.

"Man," he said, "that sure felt good."

THE NAME GAME

Baltimore owner Art Modell must not have done much research when choosing the name Ravens for the team. According to the Audubon Society, ravens are one of the few birds that keep the same mate for life, and they annually return to the same nest every year.

CAN CLEVELAND GARY BE FAR BEHIND?

In its first regular season game since moving from Cleveland, the only touchdowns given up by Baltimore in its 19-14 victory over the Raiders were scored by: Tim Brown, on receptions of seven and 10 yards.

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