Crowd passion comes through loud and clear

August 30, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

You probably know by now about the brick exterior, the purple seats, the stunning scoreboards, the wide concourses and the victory notches in the corners of the upper deck.

You probably know about many of the aspects of the Ravens' new stadium that will become part of the Sunday routine around here for years to come.

But what about the one aspect still developing as the Ravens settle into their new home?

What about the one integral component of the stadium that the architects couldn't design?

What about the crowd?

Will it be loud? Quiet? Relentless? What?

Famous for its frenzy? Infamous for its silence? What?

Obviously, it's still too early to make hard judgments; two preseason games in summer swelter isn't nearly enough time.

But this much we know: The crowd is loud so far. And young. And still a real football crowd.

Unlike what happened with the city's baseball constituency, moving into tony, expensive digs seemingly hasn't put the football fans to sleep.

"It could wind up being the loudest home crowd in the league," said Baltimore advertising executive Bob Leffler, whose company helped the Ravens sell almost 54,000 permanent seat

licenses. "The stadium plays a part. The fact that it runs vertically, straight up, helps keep the sound inside. But it's also just a noisy crowd."

This much we also know: There isn't a drop of Washington in the place.

If any lesson was obvious from the crowds at the two preseason games, it's that the cell phone-toting, Washington Post-reading, wine-swilling crowd so prevalent at Orioles games just isn't around anymore.

Where are they? At the Redskins' games, probably. Leaving early to beat the traffic, no doubt.

"It's a pure Baltimore crowd," Leffler said. "There are a lot of people who are also participating at the [Orioles'] stadium. But they're locals."

Who are they? You can't generalize too broadly. There are young and old fans, hourly workers and CEOs, men and women. East Baltimore is there. So is Greenspring Valley.

But speaking generally, it's a young crowd that's ready to party.

"It's young people with a few bucks in their pocket, basically," Leffler said. "Their parents went to Colt games. But their parents are home now. This is their time, and pro football is the game for their time.

"Put it this way: There are a lot more people [at the stadium] who would rather cheer for a team called the Ravens than a team called the Colts."

Baltimore police sergeant J. E. Slowinski agreed as he walked through the main level concourse at last Monday night's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It's a different generation here," he said. "Just look around and see for yourself."

That generation also filled Memorial Stadium for the Ravens' games the past two seasons. The average crowd there was far rowdier than the average Orioles crowd at Camden Yards.

In that regard, the Ravens' move to a new stadium with expensive tickets was a social experiment: Could Memorial Stadium's raw football atmosphere survive in Camden Yards' corporate environment?

Not to the same degree, of course. That's just economics at work. Some of your most loyal, loudest fans are out, and some of your reserved, well-behaved, place-to-be crowd is in.

But the meter still leans more toward Memorial Stadium than Camden Yards. The crowd at Monday night's game was pretty jacked up for a nothing game. The place was loud.

Sure, the ear-splitting public-address system had something to do with that. Sometimes it was hard to tell where the machine-induced noise ended and the human noise began.

But there was enough noise to know this won't be Camden Yards II; talk-show callers won't complain about fans sitting on their hands.

"Football crowds are different from baseball crowds, pure and simple," Slowinski said.

Sure, some schooling still needs to occur. This is an old, smart football town, but rust is showing at times.

"They need to learn to get loud on third down when the other team has the ball," Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh said after the first preseason game.

But don't misunderstand. The players are satisfied with the support. More than satisfied.

"The crowds were great at Memorial Stadium," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "I have no doubt they'll be great at Camden Yards, too."

The stadium itself is splendid in an overstated way, loud and

huge and breathtaking, a perfect fit for the sport it stages.

No, it isn't superior to the baseball ground-breaker down the street.

But the crowd might be.

Stadium review

The Ravens have played two preseason games at home, letting fans get an early look at what the new stadium is all about. Now, with the regular-season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers a week away, this section critiques various aspects -- from getting there, to tailgating, to watching the game. Ratings used are thumbs up, thumbs down and a combination of up and down.

CROWD -- UP

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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