Hailing the heroes

Parade: Tens of thousands of Ravens fans ignore the weather in an outpouring of love for their Super Bowl champions and a celebration of their city.

January 31, 2001|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

As fireworks thundered, streamers fluttered and workers cheered from the roofs of office buildings, the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens paraded through a fan-packed downtown to a victory rally yesterday at City Hall.

An estimated 200,000 self-described "Raven maniacs" - many wearing purple camouflage and face paint - braved a cold rain to celebrate the Purple Reign.

A marching band and 73 military-style Humvees carried Ravens players past screaming fans along Pratt and Gay streets to War Memorial Plaza, where the crowd was the largest at City Hall in decades.

"This is the greatest city in America and we have the greatest football team in the world," Mayor Martin O'Malley shouted, as explosive devices blasted streamers and smoke across a stage decorated with purple bunting.

Many fans skipped work, bringing gridlock to downtown, to take part in Baltimore's greatest moment of triumph since the Orioles' world championship victory parade in 1983 and, earlier, the opening of Harborplace in 1980, the beginning of the Inner Harbor revival.

Others said they wanted to dance away the humiliation they had felt since owner Robert Irsay moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in 1984 under cover of darkness.

"My husband, Gary, and I just sat down on our sofa and wept, because the team meant everything to us," said Pat Moore, 55, an auditor from White Marsh.

"My husband lived long enough to see the franchise come back, but he died of cancer before he could see this," said Moore. "I know he's watching from heaven and he's not crying anymore. This is great for the city."

O'Malley wore a purple tie and black Ravens jacket and flapped his arms like a bird. "Ladies and gentlemen, our conquering heroes!" O'Malley shouted, introducing the Ravens players.

Ray Lewis, the All-Pro middle linebacker named MVP in Sunday's 34-7 Ravens victory over the New York Giants, danced onto the stage, shimmied from side to side, wiggled, froze, gyrated, pointed to the crowd and threw a bear hug around team owner Art Modell.

Trent Dilfer, the quarterback who was booed out of the job in Tampa, Fla., before returning to lead the Ravens to Super Bowl victory, smiled sheepishly, shook hands with O'Malley and held aloft the championship Vince Lombardi Trophy, looking as if he might burst into tears.

Michael McCrary, the defensive end whose right wrist was broken in the game and who is ribbed by teammates for his inept dancing, boogied on the podium with his arm in a cast, thrusting, twisting and laughing.

Running back Priest Holmes hurled footballs into the roaring crowd, which was being doused by an icy rain. Defensive tackle Lionel Dalton tossed his purple umbrella in a gesture of sympathy with wet fans, and offensive lineman Orlando Bobo followed his lead. Several players tossed their hats out as gifts, some stealing hats from teammates and throwing them out, too.

Coach Brian Billick, who in his second year with the Ravens led the team from an 8-8 record to a Super Bowl victory, waved to the fans as loudspeakers blasted out Aretha Franklin's classic soul anthem "Respect."

"This team taught me that the word `team' is really just an extension of the word `family,' and you are all part of that family," Billick told the crowd.

These were not fair-weather fans. Some stood ankle-deep in mud as rain streaked their faces. Many took the morning off as the "purple flu" struck hundreds of businesses in the Baltimore area. They waved black and purple flags and held signs reading "World Champs" and "Purple Pain" and "Re-Sign Trent!" And they blew horns, shouted and bobbed a fake Giant player's head on a pike.

Young girls and grown men scrambled up into the skinny trees lining the plaza to get a better look at the stage, which stood at the western end of a sea of people packed shoulder to shoulder.

Fans stood on the roofs of cars, leaned out from the bell tower of Zion Lutheran Church, waved Ravens signs from the balconies of the Charles L. Benton municipal building, pressed up against 20th-floor windows in the Alex. Brown office tower to stare down at the mass of humanity.

The musical group Baha Men made a surprise appearance to sing "Who Let the Dogs Out," which has become an anthem for Ravens fans.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who with former Gov. William Donald Schaefer worked to bring an NFL team back to Baltimore, heard some boos when he took stage.

"Boy, what a day to be a Ravens fan!" Glendening exclaimed.

"You're a Redskins fan and you know it!" someone in the crowd yelled. "You're hopping on the bandwagon! Bandwagoner!"

The parade started at 10:30 a.m. at Pratt and Howard streets. The Ravens band marched down the street, leading a column of slow-moving, camouflage-painted Humvees carrying players, coaches and cheerleaders.

The fans held signs reading "Ravens Rock!" and chanted, "Woof, woof, woof, woof," a line from the team's unofficial theme song.

Players danced and smiled and stuck thumbs in the air. Some videotaped the adoring crowd for posterity.

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