What's purple and yells till voiceless?

Fans: People find meaning in rooting hard for their Ravens.

January 18, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

A grown man whose job lets him boss the Army around sports feathers and a beak in public and shells out $1,000 at Maaco for a purple paint job. A Cockeysville bride-to-be plans a Ravens-themed wedding. And a Baltimore City firefighter tattoos a black bird's head on his leg to one-up a friend with a purple pool table.

Ravens fanatics like these might be looking for religion, say Ph.D.s who ponder why fans do what they do. They could be searching for community in a world where eye contact is feared. Some are likely looking for trouble. Along the way, they're probably improving their mental health.

Then there's the possibility that its just plain fun to dress up in silly costumes, scream, sing, drink beer, cheer, boo, drink more beer, talk trash and load up on lots of cheesy souvenirs.

Whatever motivates the fanatics, it's in full flower this week as the Ravens rally to keep their back-to-back Super Bowl dreams alive. Even fair-weather fans are donning their game day best. City Hall and other downtown buildings are awash in purple light.

Win or lose in Sunday's playoff game in Pittsburgh, the Ravens will come home to a devoted flock - true to the traditions of a town where the Colts band played on even after the team took off for Indianapolis in the dead of night. Baltimore fans don't just root for the home team, but let the team root into their lives - swaying their choice of charities, spouses and home decor. Even at times of deep personal loss, the Ravens are in the huddle.

"There's purple in my blood," said Mark Balog, 47, a building maintenance worker from Parkville whose home computer room is a Ravens shrine.

Gina Haines and Troy Stratakes will take the Ravens for better or for worse when they tie the knot Feb. 2, the day before Super Bowl Sunday. The Cockeysville couple met four years ago at a Ravens fan club that mixes charity fund-raising with the cheers.

"The centerpieces are football-shaped vases with our names on it," said Haines, 32, a caterer. The bride won't be in purple but just about everything else will be.

Another Ravens fan recently turned to the team as her husband lay dying.

"I will give him the best send-off I can," the woman, identified only as Jan, wrote in a message posted on the Ravens Roost 50 fan club Web site. "My one disappointment is that my cry for Goose [defensive tackle Tony Siragusa] to come to the hospital in Baltimore last week went unanswered. ... He loved Goose so much."

Such intensity shouldn't be surprising. This is, after all, a rebound romance. It's still hard for Paul Addicks, the 49-year-old firefighter with the fresh Ravens tattoo, to talk about the grim early hours of March 29, 1984, when the Mayflower trucks rolled out of the Colts training complex.

"I was actually sitting watch on the west side of town at 2 o'clock in the morning. ... I turned on the radio and they were talking about it," he said. "My relief came in ... and said, `You look like someone in your family died.' And I said, `Worse, the Colts just left town.'"

When NFL football returned 13 years later, Addicks welcomed it with open arms and an open checkbook. He didn't stop with season tickets. There was Ravens underwear and outerwear, toilet paper covers, and enough other team stuff to fill a basement, which it does. This year, the family Christmas tree was done up in team ornaments.

And then there's the tattoo, which bombed with his wife but scored with his friend and rival in all things Raven, Earl Koenig.

"I'm going to get one myself," said Koenig, 55, a Perry Hall warehouse manager.

In a struggle as spirited as any on the field, Koenig and Addicks attempt to best the other's collection of Ravens loot. For Koenig, it's like being a kid again in Pigtown, where he and a pal battled over baseball cards.

The competition doesn't come cheap. Koenig recently had a perfectly good pool table recovered with purple felt and bought a $400 stained glass Ravens lamp to hang above. Then there's the cost of keeping Ravens flags flying on his pickup.

"I lost a few of them on [Interstate] 95," he said. "I was afraid I'd read in the paper somebody got stabbed in the chest with a flag."

That's hardly the only danger posed by fans, say sports psychologists who place body-painting and other antics on a continuum that ends with the Massachusetts hockey dad who beat another father to death after practice. In between are such incidents as the throwing of beer bottles last month at Cleveland and New Orleans' stadiums.

In a huge gathering of like-minded people, a mob mentality takes over that can prompt discontented masses to chuck bottles - or harmlessly inspire a strut around PSINet Stadium in a purple wig, said Leonard Zaichkowsky, a professor of sports psychology at Boston University.

"It's almost like the wave," he said.

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