Ravens fans paint the town purple

Thousands from Baltimore show, even without tickets

January 28, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - Thousands of Ravens fans have converged on this city this weekend to celebrate their team's first trip to the Super Bowl.

The fans have driven up to 20 hours without game-day tickets to sleep along roadsides, in tents or in motel rooms up to six hours away. But for these die-hard Ravens fans - who have turned Tampa streets into a sea of purple - the trip is about much more than trying to buy a ticket from a scalper for up to $3,000.

"Spiritually, we wanted to be here for the team," said Joanna Zepp, 53, from Hamilton. "I hope the boys playing know there are fans in town supporting them, even though they could not get into the stadium."

Zepp and her husband and granddaughter drove all night Wednesday from Baltimore with no intention of shelling out thousands of dollars to get into Raymond James Stadium. Though disappointed that the Super Bowl is "a game for the rich," she said it was the family's way of being part of history.

The effort is working.

The number of people with purple camouflage pants, shirts, hats and hair appear to outnumber New York Giants fans by 2-to-1.

"The Giants fans are all hiding," said 40-year-old Tom Benewicz, from Pasadena.

Benewicz and four friends - who were all dressed in purple camouflage pants Friday - flew to Tampa on Wednesday without Super Bowl tickets "to show their colors."

Signs of Ravens mania can be seen across Tampa this weekend.

Men in Ybor City, Tampa's nightlife district, have been seen crawling on streets filled with a quarter-million people to get purple beads thrown from second-story windows.

Women entangled in several feet of purple feathers are parading through streets in downtown Tampa chanting, "We love Ray Lewis!" And vehicles with Ravens flags, which are tattered after a 1,000-mile trip from Maryland, travel throughout the city.

Several thousand Ravens fans also were expected to attend a tailgating party today near the stadium.

"I'm supporting my team," said Nancy Rini, from Towson, who was parading through the streets of Ybor City on Friday night with a Ravens flag. "This is an unbelievable experience. I don't think we will get in [to the stadium], but we had to be a part of this."

Several elected officials - who have tickets to the game - also have traveled to Tampa and are recognizing the outpouring of support for the Ravens.

"It shows how much we really wanted a team" after the Colts left, said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Some fans have come to Tampa with a pocketful of $100 bills, but many others said they have barely enough to get home, much less $5 to purchase a souvenir.

Sandi Witt, 47, from Kingsville, Va., took out a second mortgage on her $150,000 home to make the trip with her husband and two children.

"The second they won [the AFC] championship, my son and me were on the Internet looking for tickets," Witt said. "My husband initially said `no,' but as soon as he went to bed we made reservations."

Rich Hamilton, 38, and Wayne Ridgeway, 45, have been camping at a state park since Tuesday to experience the Super Bowl-related hoopla. Despite unpleasant conditions including raccoons that raid their campsite nightly, the two Parkville residents said the trip is worth it.

"I want to go to that game so bad," Hamilton said while walking in Ybor City. "But even if I don't, this place is unbelievable."

Sandy Bisesi, 42, from Abingdon, said she was "overwhelmed" by the Super Bowl festivals, parties and events.

"But those 12 billboards make you feel right at home," Biseis said, referring to the dozen signs with the Ravens' logo that have been seen around Tampa.

Dave and Mary Kryglick, from Dundalk, left Tampa yesterday to drive back home after being here since Wednesday because they wanted to be around family and friends today.

"We just wanted to show our colors and root for our team," Dave Kryglick said. "We can't afford scalpers so we can't root in person ... so we are going home to watch on television."

Rick Polk, 35, of Hanover, Pa., said he is going to try to buy tickets right up until kickoff.

"The worst-case scenario is I'm in warm, sunny Florida and get stuck hanging out with the best fans in the world outside the stadium," he said.

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