Tony Siragusa's weekly radio show is a glitzy, 90-minute
spectacle that is broadcast from a mammoth suburban Baltimore
sports bar. It's a Thursday-night event featuring the 340-pound
Siragusa, a busty blonde sidekick named Nicky, cushy lounge
chairs for fans and a special guest. Last week the guest was new
Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac. It was an unfair pairing at
first glance. Siragusa, a defensive tackle, is a crass,
wisecracking wide-body from New Jersey. Grbac, sporting a blue
visor that hid his eyes and sipping 7-Up, is a reticent Ohioan
who prefers finding a quiet booth in the back to working the room.
"I remember when I first met Elvis," Siragusa said as the show
opened. "I told him, 'I'm a world champion, and you're not.'"
Grbac smiled, and after recalling his Super Bowl memories as a
backup with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994, said, "Remember what
I told you?" Siragusa whirled his head in Grbac's direction. "I
got my ring before you did," Grbac reminded him. Siragusa
chuckled, his guest settled in, and somewhere a producer was
thinking, This won't be so bad after all.
"I didn't think Elvis would talk that much," Siragusa said after
the show. "I thought I would have to lob softball questions at
him, but he stayed right with it. I think he's comfortable with
Baltimore, too. I can see he knows how to fit in."
The same Grbac who zinged Siragusa was equally at ease as the
centerpiece of the Ravens' offense in a 17-6 win over the
Chicago Bears on Sunday. He threaded passes into tight coverage.
He danced in the pocket, buying time behind a line that didn't
allow a sack, and made sound decisions with the ball. He was the
efficient quarterback that Baltimore had envisioned when it
signed him to a five-year, $30 million free-agent deal last March.
Grbac was at his best on a 72-yard drive late in the first half,
after the Bears had controlled the ball for more than 21 minutes
with a quick-hitting passing game. Starting at his 10 with 1:06
left before intermission, Grbac completed 6 of 7 passes (the
lone misfire was a spike, to kill the clock), for 52 yards, in
setting up Matt Stover's 37-yard field goal, which tied the
score 3-3. Grbac also engineered an 87-yard, third-quarter drive
that he capped with a six-yard touchdown toss to fullback Sam
Gash to put the Ravens ahead 10-6. That was enough of a lead for
Baltimore's defense, which held Chicago to three first downs in
the second half.
"This was a good first step for this offense," Grbac said, after
completing 24 of 30 passes for 262 yards and the one touchdown.
"We can be better in a lot of areas--running, passing and
converting on third downs--but we could've gone south or caved
under the expectations. We made our adjustments, and we did
enough to win."
As much as the Ravens want to achieve balance between passing
and running, it appears that Grbac will have to carry the attack
because the ground game is virtually nonexistent. Primary back
Terry Allen (20 carries, 37 yards, one touchdown) looked like
the 33-year-old journeyman with two reconstructed knees that he
is. Until Baltimore summoned him on Aug. 11, after Jamal Lewis
tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in training
camp, Allen was unemployed and had figured on spending the fall
watching high school and college games in and around his
hometown of Commerce, Ga. Jason Brookins, a 25-year-old
free-agent picked up during the off-season, handled the ball
Unless newly signed Moe Williams produces a lot more than the
195 yards he amassed in five seasons as a Minnesota Vikings
reserve, the Ravens will have to rely on five- and 10-yard
tosses from Grbac to move the chains, even when the offense
wants to kill the clock. "I'd rather not throw the ball 40 to 50
times a game, because traditionally that approach hasn't been
successful," says coach Brian Billick. "But with Elvis we can do
that if we have to."
Grbac won over his receivers by spreading the ball around--nine
players caught passes against the Bears--and trusting each of them
to do his job. During one preseason game, wideout Qadry Ismail
watched backup quarterback Chris Redman give up on throwing to
Travis Taylor on a crossing pattern. When Ismail asked Grbac if
he would wait for him to break open in the same situation, Grbac
replied that he would. His accuracy, especially on short and
intermediate passes, has also earned him praise. "I know that on
a couple of plays I was right on my guy, and he laid the ball in
there," said Chicago cornerback R.W. McQuarters. "When a guy does
that, you throw up your hands."
Grbac, 31, is in a difficult spot, taking over as quarterback of
the Super Bowl champions, but it's a welcome challenge
considering how badly he wanted out of Kansas City after four
years with the Chiefs. Grbac threw for 7,558 yards and 50
touchdowns over the last two seasons, but K.C. fans still
criticized him for panicking in the two-minute offense and
lacking the charisma of Rich Gannon, who split time with Grbac
in 1997 and '98.
After Grbac recovered from a shoulder injury early in the 1998
season, Marty Schottenheimer, Kansas City's coach at the time,
was so concerned about Grbac's psyche that he thought twice about
starting him at Arrowhead Stadium out of fear that the crowd
would boo excessively. During a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers
that season, Grbac's father, Ivan, became so upset by the
profanity that fans directed toward his son that he left his seat
at halftime and angrily paced around Arrowhead until the game's
conclusion. He never watched his son play in Kansas City again.
"The fans were on him every time he made a mistake because they
wanted Rich to play," says Chiefs wide receiver Derrick
Alexander. "When the organization stuck with Elvis [and Gannon
signed with the Oakland Raiders after the 1998 season], the fans
didn't like it. Elvis never said anything to me, but you could
see that it beat him down."
"I'm not an outgoing guy, and Kansas City was a bad work
environment for me, but I did bring some things on myself," Grbac
says. "I called guys out in the paper. I didn't make a lot of
friends. I came here looking to be more open."
Since arriving in Baltimore, Grbac, whose bookish appearance and
conservative wardrobe have earned him the nickname Principal, has
become a regular golfing partner with Redman and wide receiver
Brandon Stokley. He also has benefited from the inclusive
attitude inside the locker room, where vocal leaders abound and a
player can be as bombastic as Siragusa or as reserved as Grbac
without fear of reproach. The truth is, Grbac simply wants to do
his job and go home to his wife, Lori, and their three children.
Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh love the way
Grbac prepares. Instead of kicking back during the little free
time he gets on Saturday, he'll find an out-of-the-way coffee
shop, hunker down with the game plan and jot down questions for
Cavanaugh. Also, the coaches are helping him deal with the
high-pressure, hurry-up situations that he struggled with in
Kansas City. "I can look over to the sideline, and they might
signal a timeout or call a play for me," says Grbac. "It takes
some of the burden off me because sometimes I might not come up
with the right play."
Such a perspective should help Grbac avoid the turmoil that
plagued him in Kansas City. "The combination of what I've gone
through and who I am has helped me feel good about where I am,"
Grbac says. "I know that I've found my gig."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID BERGMAN King for a day The efficient Grbac was on his game against Chicago, completing 80% of his passes and throwing for a touchdown.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO What's the rush? With Allen struggling to find his legs, Grbac figures to continue to have the dominant role in the offense.
Considering how badly he wanted out of Kansas City, Grbac
welcomes his challenge.