Much more than a team, much more than a game

Spirit: To fans across Baltimore, it's a matter of respect -- for their Ravens and for their city.

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens Vs. Giants

January 16, 2001|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

Life hasn't exactly been kind to Stan Sutherland lately. Nineteen years old. Not long out of Southern High School. Unemployed. Down deep in South Baltimore, where it's hard to see the future.

Four months from heading off to boot camp, he's anxious about his decision to join the Navy.

"School, man, that's what I need," he says quietly, chewing on a mangled cocktail straw and staring at his shoetops in the Chug-A-Lug Bar & Grill on Patapsco Avenue. "I gotta get an education, do something with my life. There's a whole world out there I ain't seen.

"Some days I look around, I just don't know. ... "

Then, "Crack!"

On the ancient, dusty TV over by the cigarette machine, Ray Lewis - the menacing middle linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens - bolts through the Oakland Raiders offensive line and unloads on a running back. The percussion resonates over the airwaves from the other side of the continent. And Stan Sutherland snaps abruptly to attention.

"Yeah, baby!" he whoops. "That's what I'm talking about! Bam! Right in the face! God! Did you see that?"

He's lunging from his seat now, pumping his fist at the TV screen. He's stalking the floor of the Chug-A-Lug, bobbing his crew-cut head. Chest out, he spins and preaches to the old-timers down the bar nursing their 50-cent drafts and bourbon shots.

"That's our team out there - The Ravens! From Baltimore! - and the whole world said we couldn't do it!"

The sentiment was nearly universal Sunday night. Young and old. Black and white. The well-off and the way-behind. East and west. In neighborhood joints with names like the Gin Mill and Bill's Holiday Bar and the Jolly-O Tavern. In the cell-block tiers of the Baltimore Detention Center. Long into the crow-black of a frigid misty night and Monday morning.

They came loaded for bear, demanding respect. For their team, and for their city.

They wanted the sports guys on ESPN to shut their mouths about how Baltimore can't win. They wanted Jay Leno to take back all those bad jokes about syphilis. And they wanted credit for coming together to elect Martin O'Malley - the smart, golden-boy mayor with the knack for making people believe in the city again. Never mind the odds.

And the longer they talked about it, the more everyone realized that this isn't just about football anymore.

`We need this'

"People don't quite know what it all means yet," said Tosha Lebine, 24, an east-sider who works as an auditor for a bio-med firm, struggling for words to describe all she felt standing on the corner of Broadway and Aliceanna Street in Fells Point amid a mob of dancing fans.

"We've all gotten so used to hearing the bad that we have a hard time believing in anything good. But this isn't just good. This is the Super Bowl. Baltimore is going to the Super Bowl! That's going to take a while to sink in."

"We need this," chimed Danyell Wright, 24. "Baltimore needs this. I need this."

The faithful came early to PSINet Stadium - more than 8,000 strong - to watch Sunday's game on the giant end-zone screens, cheering loud enough to be heard on Pratt Street, if not all the way to the Pacific time zone.

"Gooooooose!"

"Raaaaaay!"

"Deeeeefense!"

"They're the perfect team for this town," decreed Kevin Dayhoof, 28, a Timonium gas station manager in ghastly purple face paint and grape combat fatigues. "We win the unconventional way, the hard way."

Up on the club level a few minutes later, Dave Stein, 44, beheld the splendor of Jermaine Lewis tearing a punt return 38 yards up the Raiders' gut as lawyers at leisure high-fived the kitchen staff and kids in rubber helmets mimicked Jermaine's moves across the carpeted indoor terrace.

"If they lose 10 minutes from now, it's been so good for this city, economically and spiritually, that they'll still come home heroes," said Stein, not the first Baltimorean to get moist around the eyes on this day. "We've been so beaten up over the years, and this team has shown everybody that we're not done yet."

Once more, the gathered tribe erupted.

"You can't do that!"

"No you can't!"

"You can't throw over the middle like that against us!"

All eyes turned to the wide screens and a dozen lesser televisions to watch the instant replay of defensive back Robert Bailey logging the day's first interception - followed scant moments later by linebacker Jamie Sharper dropping another bomb on Oakland's hapless quarterback.

The purple and black heart attack was striking early and often.

First quarter score: 0-0.

Nowhere to go but up.

Just the way Ravens fans like it.

Wearing purple, feeling fine

In South Baltimore - in the bluest blue-collar wards in the city - the kids were out on the streets by halftime, having chalked up a 10-0 score as a sure Ravens win. The sun had sunk like a rock. And the lights along Wells Street are few and far between. But it's never too dark for a game of touch football in the lee of the I-95 overpass.

"We're the Ravens!" yelped 11-year-old Chris Taylor. "You guys are the Raiders!"

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