Saturday, September 22, 2001

Opportunity knocks for Grbac in Baltimore

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Elvis is in the building. Just a game too late.

        More money couldn't lure quarterback Elvis Grbac to Cincinnati, where he could have opened Paul Brown Stadium's second season on Sept.9. Instead, Grbac arrives Sunday for Week 2 in Baltimore garb, leading the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.

        The 31-year-old Grbac has thrown for 14,003 career yards, and he won a world championship with San Francisco as a backup in 1994. The nine-year veteran bypassed the Bengals in hopes of adding an exclamation point to his career.

        “I'm really in the prime of my career, I think,” he said. “And to have an opportunity to come (to Baltimore) as a member of this team, a chance of really getting that ring as a starting quarterback ... you've got to take that opportunity.”

        Grbac made the Pro Bowl last year with Kansas City, throwing for a career-high 4,169 yards with a passer rating of 89.9. He was the top QB in free agency, and Cincinnati offered him millions more than the five-year, $30 million deal he signed with Baltimore, his agent said.

        “They did everything right,” agent Jim Steiner said of the Bengals when Grbac signed. “(But) Cincinnati is a work in progress. In Baltimore, the opportunity to get to the Super Bowl is today and now.”

        Grbac is quite complimentary of the Bengals, saying he liked their coaches and young talent and was “quite enticed” to come here. But he saw Baltimore as a potential dynasty.

        “For the next four or five years, we can be like a Dallas,” he said this spring. “We can be the team that makes that run. I won't think any other way.”

        Grbac's talent is unquestioned, but his leadership has come under criticism. He's the man who was supposed to succeed Steve Young in San Francisco, but didn't, and who was supposed to win regularly in Kansas City, and didn't. He was 25-20 as a starter there.

        He's used to handling high — or unrealistic — expectations. After throwing a fatal interception in relief in a 1996 loss to Dallas, Grbac was labeled “an embarrassment to humankind” by San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. Never mind the game was on the same day Grbac's then-8-month-old son, Jack, who suffers from spina bifida, was undergoing surgery.

        “Now is a point in my career where I feel comfortable being a quarterback ... (and) dealing with a lot of different individuals,” Grbac said. “Maybe in the past I wasn't that way. In Kansas City, maybe I wasn't mature enough. This is a point where I feel I can handle a lot because I've been there before, because I know what to expect.”

        His role changed when Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 1,364 yards last year, tore an ACL in training camp. Baltimore probably will have to emphasize the passing game.

        Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said he's ready “to proclaim him the best passer I've played with.” And Sharpe played with John Elway.

        Sunday will be meaningful for Grbac, a Cleveland native who has never played a professional game in Ohio. He'll also return to his hometown on Oct.21 against the Browns.

        “Going back to Cleveland will be hectic, and I have friends in Cincinnati, too,” he said. “But I know when I step on that field, all the outside distractions will be out of my mind.”


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