No longer just one of the crowd

Fanatic: Gil Sadler takes his fandom seriously. And it's paid off handsomely as he's inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's `Visa Hall of Fans.'

January 20, 1999|By Megan Kennedy | Megan Kennedy,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Trivia time.

He has never scored a touchdown, never kicked a field goal, never been in a huddle for that matter. But yesterday, he became the first man to represent the Baltimore Ravens in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Who is he?

He's Gil Sadler, a 53-year-old sales representative from Carney. Yesterday, he was "enshrined" in the Canton, Ohio, hall as the ultimate Baltimore Ravens fan. His image will appear in a new exhibit dedicated to true football fanatics.

The "Visa Hall of Fans" is the result of a season-long search by the credit card company and the National Football League to find the "ultimate fan" from each of the 31 NFL teams (including the new Cleveland franchise). Fans were asked to submit 50-word essays and photos of themselves. A panel of NFL Hall of Famers and Visa representatives then selected those to be honored in football's greatest shrine.

Sadler, who said yesterday from Canton that he is still in shock over his selection, was a football fan in search of a team before the Ravens arrived in 1996. He'd seen Unitas, Berry and Moore play for the Colts, but like other Baltimore fans, went 13 years without pro football when the team skipped town in 1983.

"After Baltimore lost the Colts and before we got the Ravens, I really didn't have anyone to root for from the heart," he explains.

All that latent energy was let loose when the Ravens finally took the field. With his twin brother, Jerry, and friend Scott Schmidt, Sadler created a slightly crazed three-man rooting section called "the Chain Gang."

At home games, dressed like highway workers in fluorescent orange hats, gloves and sweat shirts, the Chain Gang leaps to its feet whenever the Ravens make a first down. They swing their arms wildly and shout "Move those chains, move those chains!" and try to get other fans to follow suit.

It didn't take long for the Ravens organization to notice. It started featuring the Chain Gang on stadium TV screens in an effort to get all the fans involved.

"I think I knew fans were accepting us when I stopped buying my own beer at the stadium," Sadler said.

Sadler takes his rooting seriously. He says being on the Chain Gang "is like a job. We do this whether our team is winning or losing by 100 points -- we need to get up regardless."

It was this unflagging devotion that got Sadler into the Hall of Fame exhibit, which will showcase quotes and photographs from each honoree. The exhibit also will feature famous fan mementos and a film on outrageous fans.

As a member of this exclusive club, Sadler was flown to Canton for ceremonies, where he met the 30 other winners and Baltimore Colts' Hall of Famer and Hall of Fans spokesman Art Donovan.

"Chain Gang Gil," as Sadler is known among the other winners, described the atmosphere in Canton this week as "like Halloween." He and the other fans came dressed in their trademark outfits. Mike Torbert, the Washington Redskins' "Boss Hogette," was wearing the black and white polka-dot dress and the pig snout that he dons for each game. Tim McKernan, the Denver Broncos "Barrel Man," had on his trademark orange cowboy hat, boots and orange Broncos barrel with suspenders -- and nothing else.

Sadler says being in the hall does not mean he will be resting on his laurels.

"Now that the Chain Gang is authentic and legitimized, I'm going to talk to the Ravens public relations department" about innovative ways to get the fans more involved. "My fantasy is that as the Ravens are driving down the field, every fan gets up and shouts: `Move those chains, move those chains!' "

For their part, the Ravens are proud of their first inductee.

"The Chain Gang is incredible," says Shaka Arnold, a public relations representative for the team. "Gil is the epitome of a loyal, enthusiastic, die-hard Ravens fan."

Chain Gang Gil says that's what it's all about.

"The most stable thing in sports today are the fans," he said. "Teams and players come and go, but true fans stay devoted."

Pub Date: 1/20/99

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