Purple fever outbreak

Fans: Cheers and whoops erupt in Maryland after Baltimore's team wins the AFC championship game.

January 15, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs and Laura Sullivan | Johnathon E. Briggs and Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Cheers of "Festivus Maximus!" resounded through the region last night as the Ravens defeated the Oakland Raiders to become the first Baltimore team in 30 years to go to the Super Bowl.

Victory-hungry fans, starved for a shot at the National Football League championship since the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys in 1971, gathered in cold rain at the Ravens complex in Owings Mills in Baltimore County early today, hoping to catch a glimpse of the team.

About 25 county police officers were on hand to keep an eye on the fans and traffic. About 100 people had gathered about midnight. Police said they would shut down a section of Owings Mills Boulevard if the crowd continued to grow.

Earlier, fans let out whoops of joy - the 8,000 who paid to watch the game at PSINet Stadium and thousands more who spilled out of corner bars and house parties, honking horns and screaming, "Go Ravens!" and "Festivus Maximus," the team's code phrase for the Super Bowl.

"It sounds like New Year's Eve down here," a city police officer at the stadium radioed dispatch minutes after the game. Fireworks could be heard going off around the city.

"Purple passion" had been building all week, from the city bathing its landmark buildings at night in purple light to debates in the state capital over whether football jerseys offered proper attire in legislative chambers. But emotions reached a fever pitch with the Ravens' 16-3 victory in California. The Ravens will face the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa Jan. 28.

Minutes after the game, doors were flung open in tavern-filled Fells Point and happy fans spilled onto the narrow streets. "Super Bowl! Super Bowl! We're going to the Super Bowl!" a group of young men shouted as they smacked street signs at the intersection of Broadway and Aliceanna Street, where several hundred gathered.

Motorists waved Ravens T-shirts out of car windows to the strains of the Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out."

It was a rolling party just looking for a place to happen.

"Who's going to the Super Bowl? We are! That's who!" Christina Neuhauser, 22, of Ellicott City, shouted in a cracked voice to passers-by outside the Gin Mill Bar on Boston Street. "I'm hoarse from yelling my head off all afternoon, and I have to answer the phones at work tomorrow!"

She won't be the only one in need of throat lozenges today. More than 8,000 screaming fans dressed in everything from feathers to leather and chains poured into PSINet Stadium to watch the American Football Conference championship on its two Jumbotrons.

The scene looked like any other football Sunday - with packed hot dog stands, shirtless fans swilling beer and eruptions of cheering when the Ravens scored - except that the gridiron was eerily dark and still.

Fans who jumped at the opportunity to sit in choice front-row seats at the 50-yard line - yesterday they could sit almost anywhere they wanted - found their only problem was the threat of whiplash from trying to decide which monitor to watch.

A roar erupted when the Ravens sacked Oakland's quarterback Rich Gannon early, and again when 340-pound defensive lineman Tony Siragusa knocked him out of the game.

Many arrived early to tailgate in the free parking spaces beside the stadium usually reserved for VIPs. Cathey McGee showed up at 11 a.m. with a half-dozen relatives and friends to set up barbecue grills and coolers.

"This is even better than regular games," said McGee, a season ticket holder. "This stadium is full of real fans, and best of all, there are no Raiders fans here."

A sense of camaraderie abounded. Toward the end of the fourth quarter when it looked almost certain that Baltimore would win, Elvis Brown of Federal Hill jumped out of his seat and yelled, "We're going to Tampa!" and reached over and hugged fellow fan Karen Schoenfeld of Owings Mills.

In Annapolis, at a restaurant called the CrabCake Factory, nearly 200 members of an Anne Arundel County "Ravens Roost" chapter downed beers and a drink mixed with black raspberry liquor that bartenders dubbed "Ray Lewis' Purple Pain" - and held tight to their superstitions.

"We've been 9-0 since I stopped washing my jersey," said Mike Kitko, 28, of Germantown, pointing to his No. 84 Ravens jersey, the number of tight end Shannon Sharpe when he was with the Denver Broncos.

Jenny Barnstein of Owings Mills, whose e-mail handle is "Lady Raven," credits her choice of fingernail polish for the Ravens victory. "We haven't lost a game since I started painting them red."

Chris Crider of Baltimore said, "I never in my life thought we'd get another team and then we'd be going to the Super Bowl on top of it."

He joined hundreds of others outside the stadium stopping traffic to high-five drivers and run through the streets. Several people climbed on top of slowly moving cars trapped in the ensuing traffic and shouted from their roofs.

In Howard County's Columbia, fans at TGI Fridays erupted when the Ravens were declared the winner. From behind the kitchen doors, cooks and busboys could be heard chanting, "Super Bowl, Super Bowl."

Even before the game ended, Russ White, co-owner of Thunder Creek T-Shirt Company in East Baltimore, instructed his production line to begin cranking out Ravens' Super Bowl T-shirts, promising vendors 20,000 shirts by this morning.

"We'll be printing shirts until 8 o'clock in the morning," he said. "It's terrific."

Sun staff writer Jim Haner contributed to this article.

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