Sometimes the Super Bowl arrives accompanied by ghosts.
Last season, they were the ghosts of the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Oilers. This season, they're those of the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts.
But the bitterness of five years ago, when owner Art Modell wrenched his Browns out of Cleveland and turned them into the Baltimore Ravens, isn't much in evidence.
One of the last ties between Cleveland and the Ravens is a class-action lawsuit brought by fans against Modell that is slated for trial in March.
"It's actually mixed emotion," said Michael Saltzman, whose father first bought Browns' season tickets in the 1950s. "Because the further they go, psychologically it helps the lawsuit because that could have been the Browns. . . . A jury could be influenced by the fact the team went to the Super Bowl or even won the Super Bowl."
The greater the perceived loss, the greater the potential reward for a suit seeking $6.4 million in damages but more likely to result in a moral victory and perhaps $100 for each season ticket.
The pained passion that led one fan to torch a dummy of Modell and hang it from a highway sign in 1995 has diminished.
"I don't have any animus toward Modell," Saltzman said. "I certainly did five years ago.
"But if you get invited to a Super Bowl party, you cannot root for the Ravens. Everybody there will be rooting for the Giants."
There is still enmity, simply more subdued for now.
"If ever, God forbid, Modell is enshrined in Canton, he won't be able to go," Saltzman said. "I don't think he'll step into northeast Ohio for the rest of his life. There wouldn't be enough barricades."
Probably there is less stir because there is a new Cleveland Browns team, even though they won only three games.
Another reason is that the Ravens don't resemble the old Browns.
Only two players remain from the team that played in Cleveland--defensive end Rob Burnett and kicker Matt Stover.
"That was the lowest point of my career, let me tell you," said Burnett, who after the final game walked to the end zone known as the Dawg Pound in 1995 and hugged a Cleveland Brown fan who cried on his shoulder.
"That year was about as difficult a year as I've gone through. To go from a city so supportive, so behind us, to go to the stadium the 11th game of the season and see all the sponsors' signs blacked out. . . .
"I remember going to the supermarket and people blaming us. That was the most disheartening season I've ever been through."
Still, Burnett believes Modell had to move the team, recalling how a pipe used to drip water into his locker stall at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, rendering it unusable.
For all the talk of Modell, the most important tie linking the Ravens and the Browns might be Ozzie Newsome, the Hall of Fame tight end who retired after the 1990 season and rose through management ranks to become vice president of player personnel.
The Ravens' first draft under Newsome in 1996 produced linebacker Ray Lewis and left tackle Jonathan Ogden, as well as return specialist Jermaine Lewis.
Newsome's next draft brought in linebackers Peter Boulware--the 1997 defensive rookie of the year--and Jamie Sharper.
He also made savvy free-agent signings that included safety Rod Woodson, defensive end Michael McCrary and, this season, defensive tackle Sam Adams and tight end Shannon Sharpe.
"We got here, and it was like an expansion team," Burnett said. "What Ozzie did was get a lot of new faces around, to try to give the team its own identity. So it was not the Baltimore Browns, like they said at first."
Burnett remembers the Cleveland fans fondly and wishes they had a chance to enjoy a Super Bowl.
"I think they deserve it. They'll get it one day," he said.
Saltzman sounds as if part of him will pull for the Ravens.
"It's sort of like when you're out of the playoffs, and you want the team that beat you to go on and win because that might mean if you'd won that game, you would have won the championship," he said.
That's life in the world of movable sports franchises.
In Baltimore, where fan clubs once known as Colt Corrals are now Raven Roosts, the Ravens have finally put salve on the wounds left when Robert Irsay shipped the Colts to Indianapolis after the 1983 season.
Loyalty to a team doesn't always make sense, as anyone who thinks about it very long can conclude.
Saltzman understands that.
"As Jerry Seinfeld said, ultimately you're rooting for laundry," he said.