A Colts family dons its wings Fans: 3 generations of $H Baltimore football followers eagerly embrace the new team.

September 02, 1996|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

The gray-haired man in the Ravens shirt leaned back in his end-zone seat, closed his eyes and wept. Not because of where he sat. Because of where he was.

Maynard "Butch" Ergott thought he'd never watch another NFL game in Baltimore, let alone in Memorial Stadium, bygone home of his beloved Colts.

"I've waited 13 years for this," said Ergott, 50, of Reisterstown.

Never mind the poor view or that his Ravens tickets cost twice what he used to shell out to watch the Colts from midfield.

"Doesn't matter," said Ergott. "What's important is being here today. This is Christmas for me."

And like any holiday, the whole family was there -- three generations of Ergotts, raised on the Colts but now loyal to the Ravens.

They included:

Ergott's wife, Christina. More vocal than her husband, she settled into her seat, cleared her throat and began dragging her catcalls out of mothballs.

"If Vinny [Testaverde] throws an interception, I'll scream, 'You dummy!' just like I did with Bert Jones," she said. "Though he [Testaverde] has the best tush I've seen in a while."

Ergott's daughter, Lisa Campbell, who grew up favoring the Colts. She drove from her new home in West Virginia for the game. She sported a Ravens T-shirt -- one of 11 in the family's wardrobe -- and a Ravens temporary tattoo on her right ankle.

Lisa's husband, Vernon Campbell Jr. He bought a game program and immediately popped it into a one-gallon Ziploc bag, preserving it for the youngster who was plastered to his side.

The Ravens weren't the only ones celebrating a milestone: Vernon Campbell III turned 4.

"Whether he enjoys the game or drives me crazy, it's still the first one played in Baltimore after all these years -- and it's on his birthday," Vernon Jr. said. "I get goosebumps thinking about that."

And Butch Ergott? The patriarch of this football-crazed clan arrived nearly six hours before kickoff, cried during the playing of the Colts' fight song and yelled himself hoarse by halftime.

"We had a team once and lost it, so my emotions are double," Ergott said. "I'm going crazier now than I ever did."

Like many of the 64,124 in attendance, Ergott was weaned on the Colts. As a kid, he woofed down dozens of Powerhouse sandwiches at Ameche's Drive-In on Ritchie Highway, hoping to catch a glimpse of Alan Ameche, star fullback. Later, Ergott bought Colts season tickets on the 50-yard line. On their second wedding anniversary, he took his wife to Memorial Stadium to see the Colts play the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When he learned the team was leaving Baltimore on March 28, 1984, Ergott had to be restrained. "Butch wanted to go out there and sit in front of the moving vans," Christina said.

The next morning, Ergott drove past the team's Owings Mills complex as the last Mayflower van was leaving. "I cried like a baby," he said. "I was numb all day, and physically sick for two weeks."

Stripped of a home team, the Ergotts, like many Colts fans, clung to the past. For more than a decade, they stayed true blue-and-white, attending Colt Corral events and hoarding Colts memorabilia that threatened to overrun their split-level home: pennants, photos and programs bearing the loopy scrawls of giants like Gino Marchetti, Jim Mutscheller and Ordell Braase Colts hats, towels, mittens and slippers a pack of matches in the shape of a Colts helmet a cigarette lighter that tinkles out the Colts' fight song.

"Some families center around church," Ergott said. "We center around football. Always have. Always will."

Seven years ago, the Ergotts' daughter, Lisa, was married at a church in Baltimore. Her bridesmaids wore Colts blue. In lieu of throwing rice, guests released blue and white balloons, one of which drifted into nearby Memorial Stadium during a baseball game and landed at the feet of Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson.

When Lisa's son was born, an artist friend doctored his hospital baby photograph: Vernon Campbell III arrived with a Colts helmet on his head, a football in one hand and a Colts banner in the other. His grandfather saved the picture.

Give 4-year-old Vernon a football, and he strikes a classic pose: left arm extended, right arm cocked behind the ear, Unitas- style, just as the youngster was taught.

But times and teams change. Yesterday, little Vernon wore a Ravens shirt, Ravens shorts, purple socks and black shoes. When Baltimore scored its first touchdown, he leaped up from his mother's lap, knocking her backward.

"That's my boy," Lisa Campbell said proudly. "He's got [Baltimore football] in his genes."

Little Vernon napped during much of the the second quarter. No matter, his father said: "So did the Ravens offense."

And when the birthday boy finally got home -- a 90-minute drive to Martinsburg, W.Va. -- he slept in his "Ravens Room" with its purple sheets and curtains and black comforter and carpet.

The Ravens opener provided a bridge from past to present, said Butch Ergott, who declared it time for die-hard fans to lay the Colts to rest. "The Colts are history; the Ravens are our future," he said. "I'm glad this game was at Memorial Stadium, for closure."

Pub Date: 9/02/96

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