Fanning the flames of a new rivalry In Ravens country, Steelers backers abound

October 05, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The Terrible Yellow Towel and the Terrible Black Towel are being exhibited by Pittsburgh Steelers fan Jack Staley at a Parkville watering hole, where Steelers fans are meeting today for a tailgate party before the Ravens-Steelers game at Memorial Stadium.

It is while Staley, one of 1,500 football fans who make up the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore, is showing off these Terrible Towels that he hears about the 5,000 "Purple Power Towels" that are going to be distributed by WJFK Radio at today's game.

"Purple Power Towels?" says Staley, disdain in his voice. "The Terrible Towel has won us four Super Bowls. The Purple Power Towel has yet to show us anything!"

At WJFK, officials know exactly what they're unleashing. Paul Mittermeier, a Pittsburgh native who does pre- and post-game Ravens shows, says Steelers fans will say the Ravens are stealing the Steelers' thunder. But isn't that part of the idea? This game, after all, is part of the beginning stages of what Steelers fans and Ravens officials believe is going to become a tradition, The Game for these two clubs in the AFC Central.

Ravens officials said that they are handing out 60,000 pompons.

"When I was a rookie with Cleveland and we were walking on the field to play Pittsburgh, a veteran on the team told me something I've never forgotten," said Ozzie Newsome, the former Cleveland Browns tight end and now Ravens vice president of player personnel. "He said, 'No matter what level you've ever played at, in this game you have to play at another level.' He was absolutely right. It was intense, physical. And there were as many fights in the stands as there were on the field.

"I think we're going to have that same rivalry with Pittsburgh," said Newsome. "The towns have similar, blue-collar reputations. They're close geographically. We both play the same physical style. And right now, this game is a pivotal game for both teams in the division."

The Ravens are 3-2, the Steelers 2-2. The winner goes one up in any end-of-season tiebreaker situation -- at least until the rematch Nov. 9.

Ravens owner Art Modell has seen his team play a lot of games against the Steelers. Only the last two, which were split with identical 31-17 scores, with each team winning at home, were played by the Ravens.

Modell has no trouble recalling 16 straight years in which his Browns never won a game in Pittsburgh.

"We lost 16 games in a row there -- 16! Can you imagine?" said Modell. "I called Art Rooney [Pittsburgh owner]. I said, 'Build a new hotel! We've stayed in all of the ones you have, and we still can't win. Build a new hotel!' We went by camel and horseback. We would have gone in a 40-Piper-Cub flotilla if it would have gotten us a victory. Those were 16 horrible years."

That started a rivalry, all right. One considered the best in pro football by many, like the Steelers' Baltimore fan club, created by Jim Day, a former Pittsburgh resident who lives in Chester, Md. And the rivalry is being transferred, for the reasons Newsome mentioned and more.

"I don't like the way the Ravens became the Ravens," said Janet Amos of Dundalk, a Baltimore native who found out about the Steelers' fan club in 1992, when she lost a bet with her boss and agreed to come to a Pittsburgh game-day party. "I really disliked the Browns and their fans were nasty, but I hate the thought that Cleveland lost their team. I hate the way we got the team. I couldn't be a Ravens fan."

So Amos, her husband Joe [formerly an avid Baltimore Colts fan] and their son, Joe Jr., are looking forward to cheering for the Steelers in Memorial Stadium today along with a great many others.

Steelers fans will gather at four area pubs -- the Purple Goose on Washington Boulevard, Shooters Sports Bar in Severna Park, the Calgary Cattle Company on Harford Road and Belles Sports Bar & Grill in Frederick. It is at the Cattle Company that the largest numbers will assemble; nearly 500 come for kielbasa and beer at 9: 30 before boarding nine buses for the game.

This game sold out faster than any other on the Ravens' home schedule. This, despite being part of a partial ticket plan that required the purchase of two other games to purchase one for the Steelers. Two other games, against the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins, are also part of partial ticket plans, but those games are tied to the purchase of just one other game.

Pittsburgh fans don't particularly like it, but Modell says it makes good business sense.

"Pittsburgh is our most popular game," he said. "We're not trying to gouge the Steelers fans. No way I'd single out Steelers people. We're simply trying to create fans of our own. Frankly, it's not so crazy to couple that game with a couple less attractive ones. Fans have to see us play more than one game to make them love us."

When Modell was asked if he's worried about there being more Steelers fans than Ravens fans on site today, he is emphatic.

"No way," he says. "No way that's going to happen. But I did tell my ticket manager to spread them out."

The Steelers are allotted 500 tickets for this game. But no one knows how many Steelers fans in the Baltimore and surrounding areas got their hands on other tickets. Ann Dorich, a member of the local Steelers fan club, says club members have simply become creative in obtaining tickets and found Ravens fans willing to sell, especially lately, with the prospect of an Orioles playoff game today.

Modell asks his ticket manager, Roy Sommerhof, how many Steelers fans could be at today's game.

"Ten thousand tops," Sommerhof says.

"Really?" says Modell, startled by the high number.

"Not more than 10,000," Sommerhof says.

"Spread them out!" says Modell, smiling.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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