Fans get fired up along with grills in tailgating zones More spacious, level areas earn praise in comparison with Memorial Stadium

August 30, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

For thousands of football fans, Ravens games will be more than just three or four hours of fun. If the preseason was any indication, home games will be an excuse for an all-day party.

As soon as the parking lots opened five hours before kickoff, cars, minivans, pickup trucks and sports utility vehicles began pulling in.

"We're here for the big party," said Stuart Posner, 35, who relaxed in the sun with his wife, Eileen, and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. "The scene here is a lot of fun. We'll be here every game."

The two parking lots officially designated for tailgating -- G and H -- were filled with grills of all sizes. Some fans brought along small propane grills, and others fired up huge charcoal grills.

A group from Coakley's Pub in Havre de Grace even rented a 10-foot-long grill from the Aberdeen Proving Ground for the occasion -- purchasing one $20 parking spot for the truck and an extra spot for the grill.

Some tailgaters vied for shady spots under Interstate 395 and the light-rail tracks, while others chose the bright sun.

Dave McGettigan and his family staked out their tailgating spot in the middle of the parking lot, putting up a 20-foot flagpole and Ravens flag next to their purple "Grape Ape" van.

"We're serious about our Ravens," said McGettigan, 40, as he proudly showed off his freshly painted van and enjoyed hamburgers and sausages.

The electrical contractor, who lives in Finksburg, estimates that he spent almost $10,000 buying the 1994 Chevrolet van and getting it painted. He still plans to finish the interior with a football theme -- including purple carpeting.

"We wanted to unveil the new van for the first game at the stadium," McGettigan said. "It's going to be out here for every game."

Throughout the afternoon, footballs flew through the parking lot. But as the lot began to fill up with cars, it became difficult for wanna-be football players to find much room to run around.

Nevertheless, the tailgating outside the new stadium earned high marks from most fans in comparison to the facilities at Memorial Stadium.

"This is just a lot better," said Kieran Fox, 32, of Rodgers Forge, as he munched on a quesadilla an hour after the game. "There's so much more room here, and the asphalt is more level so it is easier to set up a party."

For most, the foods of choice were traditional for football tailgating -- hamburgers, chicken, hot dogs and sausages. A few fans cooked shrimp and steak. Almost all drank beer, though neither police nor team officials reported any alcohol-related problems with tailgating fans.

But the Parkers of Frederick -- Keith and his wife, Rosemary, and Mike and his wife, Shirlene -- brought in the traditional foods of Maryland summertime: jumbo crabs and sweet corn.

"What else are you supposed to eat in Maryland during the summer?" said Keith Parker, 38, a general contractor. "On Sundays, we'll probably make omelets or something. I don't think crabs would be so good at 11 a.m., but on a hot Saturday they're perfect."

Not every fan had an easy time tailgating because some stadium parking lots had signs prohibiting outdoor cooking. Some fans who were parked in the B and C lots next to Eutaw Street said they initially were told by parking attendants to put out their grill fires -- until they appealed to Ravens management.

"You can't have football without tailgating," said Dave Adams, 26, a warehouse manager who lives in Manchester. "Fortunately, the Ravens saw it that way, too."

Tailgating is permitted in all of the 5,000 spaces of Maryland Stadium Authority parking lots, but it is most strongly encouraged in a zone of 1,200 spaces in lots G and H, team officials said. The spaces in those lots -- which cost $200 for the season -- are sold out.

"We think that it went really well," Allyson Yospe, the team's hospitality and special events coordinator, said of the preseason games. "It was the fun and festive atmosphere that we're looking for."

Pre-game tailgating is allowed up to 30 minutes before kickoff, and post-game tailgating must end 90 minutes after the final whistle. Also, the two lots designated for outdoor tailgating feature interactive football games as well as beer and food available for purchase.

But the owner of Pasadena Catering, Joe Koenig, acknowledged that the sales were not great in the tailgating lots.

"Hopefully, as fans get to know that we're out here serving food, more of them will plan to take advantage of us," said Koenig, who was serving pit beef and sausages. "When it gets cold, we'll be serving the best Maryland crab soup around, and I bet business will pick up then."

Many fans treated the preseason tailgating the way football teams treat the games -- as exhibitions.

The Bowie chapter of the Ravens Roost fan club picked a spot beneath the light-rail tracks that it plans to park in all season. The group of 35 fans parked six cars side-by-side and set up a grill, three tables and a couple dozen chairs.

"This is just practice for us," said Bill Cervenka, 55, the group's president. "By the Pittsburgh game [next Sunday's season opener], this is going to be a terrific time."

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.

TAILGATING -- UP

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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