A reunion of fans, their team

Support: Confidence ran high among many Ravens fans during the season opener, but coach Brian Billick noted that crowd noise ran a bit low.

Ravens 17 / Bears 6

September 10, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Ravens game day started early for Jim Dudney, 39, a master plumber from Severna Park.

He eased his customized black van into an asphalt lot in the shadow of PSINet Stadium at 9 a.m. Sparking a portable grill, he cooked up a breakfast of eggs and sausage, washing them down with a mix of orange juice and champagne.

The parking space for the vehicle he bought specifically for tailgating -- "I told my wife the minivan wasn't working; I needed all the extras," he says -- cost $30. That's up from $25 for the preseason, and $20 last year.

The price of his season tickets went up $6 per game.

"They're five-dollaring us to death," Dudney said. "But we'll still come out. As long as we stay with the quality players, people won't mind about $5 here and $5 there."

Pessimists could find their share of gripes, if they so desired, as the Baltimore Ravens officially launched the defense of their National Football League championship yesterday.

Prices were higher. The star running back was out for the season with a knee injury. And the world champions played like a sluggish second-tier team for nearly three quarters before defeating the Chicago Bears, 17-6.

But there were few pessimists in sight yesterday, as tens of thousands of Ravens fans welcomed their team for another season of football.

"I've been waiting for this day all summer," said Paul German, 30, a transportation manager from Ellicott City. "And I'm ready to see the Ravens kick some butt."

"We're going for a repeat. We're ready to go back to the Super Bowl," said Melvin Powell Jr., 36, a software salesman from Columbia. "Everybody assumes we're going to kill Chicago. I hope we're not overconfident."

Indeed, confidence ran high among Ravens supporters yesterday. Fans were predicting another standout season -- a 13-3 record, some said. Fourteen wins, said others. The playoffs? Definitely. Another Super Bowl? Quite possibly.

"We were just talking about it. We're going to buy six Super Bowl tickets," said Linda Litzenberg, 48, an Elkton accountant whose toenails were painted purple and whose wig was streaked with the same gaudy color.

Her new BMW, she said, will bear the vanity plate "RAVNESS." The state motor vehicle department has told her it's available.

Litzenberg spent part of the game inside the air-conditioned club level with a friend, Polly Weber of Elkton. Weber is expecting her first child this month; when her husband called the Ravens with the news, team president David Modell upgraded the seat.

"He called me personally back," Bob Weber said. "I thought that was great."

The Webers are expecting a girl, who will be named Ashley Raven.

"If it was a boy, we were going to name him Ray Lewis," he said.

Like family members attending a giant reunion, fans streamed into downtown Baltimore in sport utility vehicles, on charter buses and on the city's light rail line -- fully operational over the weekend for the first time since a July train derailment and fire beneath Howard Street.

Stan Smith, 36, a commercial salesman from Randallstown, said he was relieved that the public transportation system was fixed. "It saves a lot of time," he said. "Driving was not an option."

Pre-game jitters rippled beyond the locker room and into the crowds outside.

Chris Neubauer, 29, of Ellicott City said he had trouble sleeping. His friend, Matt O'Connor, swallowed a few antacid tablets before the game.

"I get nervous belly," O'Connor said. "It's almost to the point where it's like I'm playing. Normally, a few beers puts out that fire."

Attending her first game was Mary Kate Burnett, 4, of Lutherville. She emerged from a face-painting booth outside the stadium with a pom-pom girl on her left cheek.

Mary Kate said she, too, was excited, and woke early for the big game. How early? "I don't know," she said, "because I can't tell time."

But in some spots, the energy ran low.

"It's kind of a calm group. I'm a little disappointed," said Karen Stoecker, an Outback Catering employee working at a hospitality area outside the front gates.

When Stoecker noticed the sponsor of the corporate tent, the mood began to make sense: it was pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, makers of the antidepressant drug Prozac.

Even coach Brian Billick noted the subdued crowd during his post-game news conference.

The Chicago Bears' no-huddle offense seemed to catch the stadium off guard, Billick said, with plays starting as the crowd was lifting beers to their lips.

"Our fans have to take more pride" in making noise, Billick said. "That would not happen in Denver. That would not happen in Tennessee."

But as the Ravens offense picked up steam, the noise grew.

Late in the game, Coral Cruz, 19, of Dundalk was attracting attention outside a concession stand. Clad in a purple bikini top, she was having a friend paint R-A-V-E-N-S on her.

"I'm cool with that," said her boyfriend, Len Popa Jr., 32, of Pasadena. "I'm all for the Ravens."

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