Ravens' `Fan Man' is No. 1

Football: Ever devoted, Matt Andrews is inducted into the Visa Hall of Fans in Canton, Ohio.

January 19, 2000|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

Two words for you, Baltimore: "Fan Van."

You know the one. There it goes through downtown, playing the Ravens fight song. That's it, the one with signatures on its sides, the one with 30-inch letters on its roof.

You've seen it, and you've wondered: Who's the nut behind the wheel?

On game days, it might be Matt Andrews, 58-year-old environmental scientist from Forest Hill, grandfather of three and, as of yesterday, the second fan to represent the Ravens at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Andrews' essay about why he is "Fan Man" won him and his son-in-law three days in Ohio and a spot in the Visa Hall of Fans, alongside 30 others, one from every team.

So there he was in Canton, dining with "The Violator" from Oakland, "Chief Zee" from Washington and 73-year-old Marion "Cowboy Mom" Dillon from Dallas.

Though Fan Man is no slob when it comes to dressing out for game day -- he paints his face, dresses in purple camouflage and wears wings on his back and a raven on his head -- it is the Fan Van that sets him apart.

Andrews and three friends who call themselves the Four Amigos were tailgating at Memorial Stadium when Amigo Bob Walls mentioned he was selling his 1986 Chevy Astro van, but the best offer was $200.

Fan Man thought it a waste, so the Four Amigos decided instead to paint it purple with house paint. They slapped logos on its sides and asked 35 of their beer-drinking, crab-eating, tailgating friends to sign its doors.

But it still needed something.

The Amigos scored big when Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa signed the hood. They scored again, during training camp at Western Maryland College. Team cheerleaders signed the van, then the Ravens Marching Band, then team executives John and David Modell, then mascots Edgar, Allan and Poe.

Then came the luckiest break of all.

Fan Man says it went this way:

Knowing the Ravens' new coach to be a literary man, he threw out a Walt Whitman reference: "O Captain! My Captain!"

It worked. Brian Billick looked his way.

"Are you going to steer us to victory this season?" Andrews ventured.

"Certainly," Billick replied.

"Then you must sign the steering wheel."

And Billick did.

"We went home that day, and we couldn't believe it," Andrews said later. "It was a love fest."

But there's more to the Fan Van than that. It is dedicated to Fan Man's uncle, the late "Willie the Rooter," who was such a Colts fan that when he died in 1958, Johnny Unitas was one of the legends who carried his coffin.

Andrews moved to the Baltimore area seven years after his uncle died, for a job in Harford County. For 17 years he taught physics and chemistry, and from 1965 to 1983, he cheered for the Colts, like his uncle.

He endured Baltimore's pro football dry spell, and when the Ravens arrived, he came out cheering. He's been in Section 146 ever since. It was there he met Chain Gang Gil, last year's Visa Hall of Fans winner, who encouraged him to enter the contest, even endorsed him.

Though Fan Man seldom misses a home game, he hasn't traveled to an away game. Until now.

After three days "in heaven" among other super fans, somebody better start the Fan Van.

"We've got connections at every stadium. We're going to be heading out of town, no doubt."

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