CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns were moving to Baltimore and there was nothing anyone could do stop it.
And as he sat in the stands of old Municipal Stadium, which on Dec. 17, 1995 was a cauldron of anger mixed with sorrow, 10-year-old Brian Hoyer was petrified.
"I just remember being scared at the game because of the people ripping out the benches, the atmosphere," Hoyer said. "I remember they could only play in one end zone of the field because the Dawg Pound was so crazy."
On Sunday, Hoyer, who grew up to be the starting quarterback for his hometown team, gets a chance to make new memories. The Browns (1-1) host the Baltimore Ravens (1-1), the team whose roots run all the way from Maryland back to Northeast Ohio.
As a local, Hoyer can relate to what the Cleveland-Baltimore rivalry means to Browns fans. After all, he's one of them and can recall the empty, helpless feeling he had when late owner Art Modell packed up the moving vans and took the city's cherished football team away, stealing joy with him.
"I just remember as a kid the only thing I ever knew was going to the Browns' games on Sundays," Hoyer said. "Now, all of a sudden it's gone. I think I was just like everybody else in this city. It was heartbreaking."
This week, Cleveland was on an emotional high.
After Hoyer led the Browns to a thrilling comeback win — the first for rookie coach Mike Pettine — over New Orleans in the home opener last Sunday, Browns fans are allowing themselves to believe this season could be different. There's hope and it starts with Hoyer, who led an 85-yard scoring drive in the final minutes to set up Billy Cundiff's 29-yard field goal with three seconds left.
Hoyer isn't the only Browns player who appreciates what a victory over the Ravens could mean.
Like Hoyer, safety Donte Whitner was raised in a Browns household. He doesn't need any uncle or cousin to remind him that there's more at stake when the Ravens fly into town.
"I remember the team leaving," he said. "I remember my family members being upset and not understanding why they were upset. I remember a few years later, the Ravens won the championship. The entire city of Cleveland remembers that. Every die-hard fan remembers that. It's just a bad memory."
Some other things to watch when the Browns meet the old Browns:
JOE COOL: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was sick and missed one day of practice this week, but he won't miss a chance to face the Browns.
Flacco has an 11-1 career record against Cleveland, and he'll be making his 99th consecutive regular-season start, the league's third-longest current streak. Flacco has thrown 15 touchdown passes and just six interceptions against the Browns. Two of those picks came in his first matchup with them in 2008.
JOHNNY'S DEBUT: Johnny Manziel's first regular-season snaps as an NFL quarterback were barely noteworthy. Cleveland's rookie QB replaced for Hoyer for three plays in the second half last week. Johnny Football handed off twice and threw a pass that was dropped.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said his defense will be ready if Manziel's on the field again.
"We have to prepare for him in the whole game, just like we would Brian Hoyer," Harbaugh said. "You've just got to understand how they're different and have your players know who's in the game and know how their style of play might be a little bit different."
BLACK AND BLUE: Pettine, who spent seven seasons as an assistant with Baltimore, remembers AFC North matchups being "double chinstrap games."
"You knew the ice tubs were going to be filled up after the game," he said.
Pettine believes the division is reverting back to those punishing days when games between the Browns, Ravens, Steelers and Bengals featured running games, stout defenses and hard hits from start to finish.
"That was just the nature of the division," he said. "Maybe in recent years it trended away from that, but I think it's starting to circle back."
BABY BACKS: With starter Ben Tate out (sprained knee), Cleveland has turned to rookie running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, and the duo has delivered. West's 168 yards rushing leads all NFL rookies and Crowell is averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
The young pair was given the nickname "Baby Backs" this week by 5-foot-7, 180-pound wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.
"He's a baby, too," cracked West.
WEBB WAITS: The status of Ravens CB Lardarius Webb will no doubt be a game-time decision, dictated solely by Harbaugh.
Webb has yet to play in the preseason or regular season because of a back injury. He said he was ready to play last week, but didn't. Now he's making no predictions, likely under orders from the head coach.
"Harbs will make that call," Webb said.
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