Super game, if not quite the same

Ravens backers watch Super Bowl with last year in mind

Patriots 20 : Rams 17

Super Bowl Xxxvi

February 04, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

It was the Super Bowl, after all, and it demanded at least moderate reverence. And so area fans trooped to sports bars and parties that would have seemed festive yesterday if not for the irresistible urge to compare the game to last year's.

Ah, last season's Super Bowl - the one that ended with the Ravens winning their first title, a rout celebrated deep into the night with purple flags, purple balloons, purple Jell-O, purple shooters.

Yesterday's, at least to Baltimoreans, was destined to feel a bit colorless by comparison. If last year's was a giant of a game, this one started out hobbit-sized, even if it didn't end that way.

"This is like a heroin addict on methadone," said state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a season-ticket holder who attended the Super Bowl in Tampa a year ago. "Last year was the greatest sports day I ever had," he said wistfully.

Although Bromwell watched the game yesterday at his home in Baltimore County, many other fans ventured to downtown sports bars to cheer, drink and engage in all manner of informal pools and side bets.

They were rewarded with a better-than-anticipated game in which underdog New England upset the St. Louis Rams with a last-second field goal and completed a surprising season not unlike Baltimore's a year ago.

"I think some people were looking to compare the Patriots to the Ravens," said Terry Nichols, owner with his wife of the All-American Sports Bar in Glen Burnie.

Still, it was hard to blame Ravens fans if they didn't quite feel in Super Bowl form. It wasn't The Day After, it was The Year After, but there seemed to be a hangover just the same.

"We have about 200 people, which isn't bad for a Sunday night, but it's a big difference from last year when there was home-team spirit," said James Saffery, manager of the Hard Rock Cafe at the Inner Harbor. Last year, the bar brought in a 100-inch TV monitor for the big game. This year: smaller screens, smaller crowds. The nearby ESPN Zone was largely restricted to private parties.

Some Ravens die-hards were eager to make the point that they remain serious football fans when their team isn't playing.

Jim Bradley attends every Ravens home game with a radio, a pair of binoculars and his wife at his side. Yesterday, he watched the Super Bowl at his home in Glen Burnie so he could concentrate on the plays without distraction.

"It's not as important as last year, but you never miss a big game," said Bradley, a retiree. "You know, it's hard to repeat, especially with the free-agent market."

But other fans were having trouble letting go of 2001.

"I wish it was last year," said a somber Judy Nichols, standing in the All-American Sports Bar and pulling back her jacket to reveal a purple "Super Bowl XXXV Champions" T-shirt. The bar is home to a rabid Ravens fan club and had about 50 people there for yesterday's game - about one-third of the crowd last year.

At the end of last season's Super Bowl, season-ticket holders Charles Knott and Mike Ford dashed out the bar's door and began waving a Ravens banner as passing motorists on Ritchie Highway honked their approval.

Yesterday, Knott and Ford were back. Same place. Same game. Entirely different sentiment.

As they sat at the circular bar, Knott and Ford engaged in subdued pre-game conversation focusing less on the combatants than on the Ravens' quarterback situation. "You've got to have a quarterback with heart. It's not about money, it's about heart," said Knott, whose purple jacket bore the name of his fan club, "Ravens Roost No. 18." The two fans said they had come to the bar not so much to root, but to observe and be with friends.

Said Knott: "It's still football, and Ravens fans love football."

Said Ford: "This is Ravens Roost No. 18. This is my home away from home."

If Ravens fans had a rooting interest, it seemed to be with the Patriots - the underdog team that plays in the American Football Conference with the Ravens.

For many Ravens fans, though, their Super Bowl this year was essentially the 27-10 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 20.

Season-ticket holder Eric Allen, who watched yesterday's game from the Hard Rock Cafe, said it took him a while after the Pittsburgh loss to get back his taste for football.

"I was depressed," said Allen, a sales representative and actor from Owings Mills. "I gorged myself on too much Italian food in Little Italy. I gained more weight after the holidays than before."

But Allen said he'd never stop being grateful for what the Ravens did for the city in winning last year. "The ecstasy we've felt since last year is so invigorating," he said. "It was due us because of all the injustices done to the city by the NFL."

More than 17 years after Robert Irsay took the Colts out of Baltimore, Allen and other fans are still angry that the National Football League did not grant the city an expansion franchise. The Ravens relocated from Cleveland, where they were the Browns, in 1996.

The frustration with the league is one reason why Baltimore savored last year's title and why some fans seemed so reluctant to officially surrender the throne yesterday.

At the All-American Sports Bar, Terry Nichols made a point of showing a letter he received after last year's Super Bowl from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Nichols had suggested in a newspaper article that the league had slighted Baltimore for years.

Tagliabue felt compelled to reply that the league had nothing against the city: "We are delighted for Baltimore and wish the Ravens and their fans much success in future seasons."

A new Super Bowl champion may have been crowned yesterday, but at least, Nichols said, Baltimore had finally forced the NFL to pay attention to it.

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