For Ravens fans, playoff win was a moving experience

This Just In...

January 08, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

A SPECIAL thanks needs to go out today to the contractor, identity unknown, who in the 1920s built the cozy two-story, three-bedroom home of Nick and Robin Syropoulos at 2206 Kentucky Ave. in the Mayfield neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore. Only that anonymous builder's craftsmanship and his impeccable choice of flooring materials kept the living room from caving in yesterday afternoon when, 700 miles away in Tennessee, Anthony Mitchell of the Ravens grabbed a football off a blocked field-goal attempt and ran 90 yards for the touchdown that gave Baltimore victory in the American Football Conference division playoff.

It was scary.

It was beautiful. As Mitchell made this run, and the image of his feat traveled by satellite and cable into the 19-inch television set in the Syropoulos' front room, 26 adults jumped up and down on the floor. The floor did not simply shake. It bounced and wobbled, with a kind of surreal trampoline effect. The couch on which I had parked myself moved. The vibration of the bouncing -- and the screams that filled the room -- caused the miniature stuffed Ravens mascot, Poe, to fall from its perch atop the television set. The Syropoulos' two dogs, Brooksie and Casey, barked at the sudden and bizarre display of human emotion.

When, a few minutes later, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis intercepted a pass and ran for a touchdown, the floor again withstood the pounce of hundreds of pounds of men and women and again my couch moved, and again Poe fell from the TV set, and again the dogs barked. "I was worried we might all end up in the basement," Nick Syropoulos said.

Time out for an introduction.

This Syropoulos is known to many as Nick the Doughnut Man because he used to be a salesman for a doughnut company. Since then, he has gone with Xerox, but the Doughnut Man nickname sticks -- like beer suds to his handlebar mustache. Those who go back further with Syropoulos know him also as Nick the Pretzel Guy because he once had a role in NBC's "Homicide" as a pretzel vendor who witnessed a murder.

But these footnotes from his life do not begin to tell the story. Here is a first-rate Baltimore sports nut with a large, Fallstaffian -- or should I say Zorbian? -- lust for life, friends and tailgate parties. Yesterday, he and his wife, his sports-nutty peer, packed a tailgate party into their home, and the earth -- or at least the living room floor -- moved.

You know this is the house of Ravenmaniacs immediately as you approach.

The windows of the enclosed front porch are draped with a Talon Towel, a large Budweiser poster of a Ravens helmet, a purple-and-white pompom, two Ravens jerseys, a bumper sticker that says, "Hey Baltimore You Gotta Show Me Something," the Ravens' clever "Happy Festivus" full-page ad from The Sun, and a Ravens Christmas card. Attached to the front door is a Christmas wreath with purple ribbon and two Ravens Christmas balls. If that doesn't identify Casa Syropoulos for you, look for the two sagging, mutilated pumpkins on either side of the front steps, leftovers from Halloween. "The squirrels chew on 'em," Nick Syropoulos says.

The man drinks beer from a plastic purple stein. He wears a Ravens cap and a Ravens jersey -- No. 13, for his birthday -- that has "Greek" in block letters across the shoulders where a player's name goes. His wife's jersey is No. 9 -- her birthday -- with "Bird" on the back. Robin Syropoulos' home decorating is kind of amazing. Over the fireplace she has draped a wool Ravens-teddy bear blanket and, on the mantle, a handsome display of Ravens headwear. She has photo-posters of Ravens players on the staircase railing and a Ravens tissue cozy in the powder room. She set a beautiful tailgate feast in the dining room -- spicy chicken wings, party-size sub, nachos, pizza -- purple dishes and purple napkins. Martha Stewart might have cringed but she wasn't invited, so who cares?

On the invitation list were a couple dozen Syropoulos friends, including the gang of Ravens fans who party with the Syropouloses when the team plays at home. There was Steve "Smokey" Svehla and Mike Schudel, Brian "The Grill" Wallen, Kevin and Laura Lynch and Jerry Browning, to name a few.

The Syropouloses and friends love sports, and when Art Modell moved his team here in 1995 to become the Ravens, they jumped at the season-ticket plans and soon mastered the art of tailgating and deep-frying turkeys.

To them, a Sunday football game is a big, special event. Had yesterday's game been played at the downtown stadium with the awful name they would have been there. But, as the Tennessee Titans got home-field advantage, they settled for the Syropoulos house and the 19-inch television.

They could not contain themselves and the house could hardly contain them.

These people scream. They high-five each other. They go, "Woof, woof!" They have strange rituals.

How strange?

One of their bunch, the sports cartoonist Mike Ricigliano, has been known to wear a hard hat topped with a chubby, rubber doll named Dennis. Dennis has a pencil-thin mustache and he looks like somebody's slightly demented uncle.

Ricigliano bought Dennis at a garage sale for $1, decorated him with Ravens logos and glued him to the top of the hard hat.

Why? Because Dennis has a special talent.

When Ricigliano squeezes a rubber bladder and forces air through a tube and into Dennis, Dennis drops his drawers. This is not done cavalierly. Dennis only flashes his rubber bottom when the Ravens score a touchdown, and everyone agrees that while this might be in questionable taste, it beats having Nick Syropoulos do it.

So yesterday the Ravens scored three touchdowns and a field goal to beat Tennessee, and Dennis celebrated in his unique way, and in the noisy and happy house on Kentucky Avenue, the earth -- or at least the living room floor -- moved.

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