Let's hear it for the new super-fans, the Chain Gang

January 01, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

I WENT looking for the next Wild Bill Hagy yesterday.

In cold and blustery PSINet Stadium, as the Ravens slapped the Broncos 21-3 in the first round of the NFL playoffs, I went searching for the next great Baltimore super-fan, the anointed one who could rise to his feet and rouse the beer-swilling masses from their torpor and lead them in great, raucous cheers, the way Hagy did with the Orioles 20 years ago and Leonard "Big Wheel" Burrier with the Colts before that.

In Section 146, a sun-dappled corner of the end zone, I found him.

His name is "Chain Gang" Gil Sadler. Along with his twin brother, Jerry, and a buddy, Scott Schmidt, he's part of the Chain Gang, a trio of lunatic fans that wears orange hard hats and Chain Gang sweatshirts and orange fluorescent construction gloves you could spot from the Mir space station, never mind the upper deck.

And this is their act: When the Ravens make a first down, they jump up on their seats and swing their arms and lead the fans -- thousands of fans, half the damn stadium, it seems - in this cheer:

Move those chains!

Move those chains!

Move those chains!

Whooh!

"The bottom line," Chain Gang Gil said after Jamal Lewis gathered in a Trent Dilfer pass for the game's first first down, "is that the Baltimore Ravens and their fans have something now, a (notorious) cheering section like the Dawg Pound in Cleveland and the Hogettes that the Washington Redskins had."

The Chain Gang has been doing its act, in one form or another, since the Ravens' first game in this town five years ago. Chain Gang Gil lives in Fallston and is a sales rep for a gift-item company. Chain Gang Jerry owns a hair salon in Parkville. They're both in their 50s, but touchy about revealing their exact age.

I don't know what Chain Gang Scott does; he was in the Carolinas with his new wife yesterday, a fact that left the other two men aghast. ("That's what married life can do to you," snorted Chain Gang Gil, who, it may surprise you to know, is single.)

But hanging with the Chain Gang yesterday, I know this: During this wonderful Ravens season, the Chain Gangers have become bona fide celebrities.

Little old ladies stop by to have the Chain Gang sign their banners. Other fans come by to exchange high-fives. Still other fans thrust free beers at them -- if you have a drinking problem, you don't want to watch a game with these guys.

"I haven't bought a beer at the stadium in years," Chain Gang Gil laughs. "But we're not drinking today. Too cold. You'd have to go to the bathroom all the time."

I wish you could have seen the Chain Gang in action yesterday. For three hours, they leaped onto their seats and stared into a sea of radiant faces, thousands of Ravens fans waving white towels and begging - begging - to be part of the Chain Gang experience, to wave their arms and scream themselves hoarse and will the Ravens to their first playoff win.

"You get up there," Chain Gang Jerry said quietly, "and all these people are just waiting for you. They're like: `Arrgghh, come on!"

As it happens, Chain Gang Gil is a long-time student of Baltimore sports, and well aware of the considerable legacy of Hagy and of the Big Wheel before him.

If you didn't see Wild Bill Hagy in his prime, brother, you really missed something. Six-foot-two, built along the lines of a file cabinet, with a beard that looked like half a burlap bag hanging off his chin, he ruled Section 34 in the upper deck at old Memorial Stadium. This was back in the days when Oriole Magic was real, when it meant pitching, defense and three-run homers.

Sometime during each game, after more than a few cocktails, Wild Bill would lurch to his feet and wave his familiar straw hat in the air and command - there is no other word to describe it - the crowd`s attention.

Contorting his thick body, he'd form, one by one, the letters in O-R-I-O-L-E-S. And by the time he was through, there was a wave of noise crashing over the joint that would make your hair stand up.

This is how big Wild Bill was: During important games, the cops would actually escort him to the top of the Orioles dugout to lead cheers. You could almost hear a river of 12-oz. Buds splashing around in his gut. And yet you never saw a man slide across hot cement with more grace.

I never saw the Big Wheel in his prime. But I'm told he, too, was something special. Twenty-five years ago, he spent his Sundays in the fall raging around the old joint on 33rd Street, screaming himself hoarse and twisting his 6-foot-5, 250-pound body to spell out C-O-L-T-S as Bert Jones floated long, perfect spirals to Roger Carr and 45,000 true believers roared long and loud in the afternoon sunshine.

So now the torch passes down to the Chain Gang.

"Oh, absolutely, we're like those two guys," said Chain Gang Gil. "The impact you have on the fans - it's the same as they had. When you can get 5,000 fans standing up and (cheering) . . . what you've done is make their Sundays a little more important."

After the Ravens finished manhandling the Broncos yesterday and 69,638 delirious fans - a PSINet Stadium record - filed out into the cold parking lots, Chain Gang Gil was reflective.

Two years ago, he was named one of the 31 NFL "ultimate fans" in a nationwide contest sponsored by VISA. But now, in a soft voice, he said: "You know what my ultimate fantasy is? I want to run [out of] the damn tunnel during the playoffs and be introduced.

"I want to run out with my orange hard hat, holding my hands up so everyone can see them, have the whole thing flash up on the Jumbotron. `Here they are, the three guys who introduced the Chain Gang!'"

For the great ones, there's always another mountain to climb.

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