Festivus Ravenous!

Purple haze: Baltimore's football team brings winning spirit to city, captures Marylander of the Year award.

Marylanders Of The Year

December 30, 2001

REMEMBER the purple glow that bathed Charm City for weeks? The auto antennas, city sidewalks and fire hydrants that sprouted purple banners?

It seems a lifetime ago, though it was just last January. Baltimore leapt back onto the national sports map. The disparate reaches of this community coalesced around a bunch of men in thick padding and shiny helmets. The Ravens were champs -- and so were we all.

"This is the greatest city in America, and we have the greatest football team in the world," exulted Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, hailing "our conquering heroes." Some 200,000 screaming fanatics rejoiced under fireworks at the rain-drenched rally at City Hall and swarmed the streets in celebratory parade.

The exuberance of Festivus Maximus swept over the region as the Baltimore Ravens decisively captured Super Bowl XXXV, reviving the civic spirits of a city and state desperately longing for respect in the high-profile world of professional football.

That heady triumph in January validated the return of a champion's mindset to Baltimore. It made us feel good again about where we live and who we are, and in some distant way made us believe in this place again.

The team's victory -- and the exuberant effect it had on this community -- earns the Ravens organization, collectively, The Sun's Marylander of the Year award for 2001.

It was a team accomplishment shared beyond the visible players and coaches. Executive leadership and behind-the-scenes personnel contributed to the ultimate success in bringing home the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The team, just 5 years old, surprised both the National Football League and its newfound hometown with a convincing march through the playoffs to the championship that left no doubts about the legitimacy of its claim.

The resounding victory balmed the psychic wounds of Baltimore, long suffering from the abrupt loss of the Colts franchise in 1984 and an agonizing series of rejections by the NFL in repeated quests for a new team.

It was for many a ringing vindication of the community's unflagging belief that this was a major league city worthy of a championship football team.

That buoyant triumphant spirit flowed far beyond the confines of (haplessly named) PSINet Stadium and the city limits.

In Carroll County, the swarm of visitors to the Ravens' training camp at Western Maryland College nearly tripled this summer. Baltimore County moved to lay the groundwork for a new Ravens year-round complex in Owings Mills. Anne Arundel County proclaimed Ravens Appreciation Month.

Maryland politicians in Annapolis eagerly embraced the winning warriors, emphasizing their part in building the new stadium that showcased the team's Sunday battles. "What a day to be a Ravens fan," exclaimed Gov. Parris Glendening, a longtime denizen of Washington Redskins territory.

In fact, it took a Maryland commitment of a quarter-billion dollars to prepare for and build the 69,000-seat football stadium downtown and pave the way for owner Art Modell to transplant his former Cleveland Browns here under a new name and colors.

After four seasons struggling to build an identity, and gain a winning record, the Ravens exploded with a breakout year that few could foresee even halfway through the schedule. The result was a contagion of local support and a shower of national media exposure for the city and state.

Baltimore took full advantage to parade its attractions, rejoicing in the display of a rejuvenated downtown and wildly proclaiming itself Comeback City.

Media attention was incessant in the traditional hype and prolonged buildup to the Super Bowl game itself. In the aftermath, the Ravens landed their first home game on Monday Night Football, a nationwide TV showcase for the host city, and HBO cable network produced a six-part series following the Ravens through summer training.

Local business boosters proudly pointed to the Super Bowl champions as a distinctive cachet in their efforts to lure new enterprises and conventions to the area. "The Ravens have been the ultimate door opener," the mayor said.

Economists would continue to argue whether the Super Bowl appearance of the Ravens had a positive economic impact on this region and whether taxpayers had paid too much for the stadium. But state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon had no doubts. "We wanted a football team in the worst way, and the deal was very lucrative," he said.

Initially, public reaction to the team's transfer from Cleveland in early 1996 was mixed.

Eager football fans and those expecting the reincarnation of the Colts embraced the new arrivals enthusiastically, ravenous for tickets and the chance again to rock Memorial Stadium on Sundays.

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