Ravens fans show they still rule the roost

About 1,700 display their team loyalty at bull, oyster roast

March 11, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Last year, they hugged, kissed, rubbed and cried over the Vince Lombardi Trophy as it was passed from table to table of the crowded ballroom.

But from the look and sound of things, the 1,700 diehard fans at yesterday's annual Baltimore Ravens Roost bull and oyster roast couldn't care less that their team did not win a repeat Super Bowl this year.

Or that their quest for a second championship was thwarted by their division archrival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Or that most of their team's leaders have become salary cap casualties, leaving few familiar names on the roster.

"When we [were losing], I was there. When we won the Super Bowl, I was there," said Tee Elliott Sr., a federal police officer from East Baltimore and a member of the largest Ravens Roost, No. 50 of Carney. "Now that the team's a little in disarray, I'm still here. I believe in the team and I believe in [head coach] Brian Billick. We have a lot of quality backups who couldn't play because of the people in front of them. Now, we can see what they can do. I believe in purple and black. Do or die, I'm with them."

These were not your "bandwagon fans," as so many at the roast referred to their fair-weather counterparts. Those are the folks, roost members sneered, who jump on when, say, the Ravens are headed to the Super Bowl and jump off - and gripe and grumble and badmouth the team - during a less stellar year.

As Billick acknowledged yesterday during his "State of the Union" address to the bull roast crowd, speaking to the roosts - the 43 fan clubs that comprise more than 7,000 dues-paying members - is tantamount to "preaching to the choir."

"These are the loyal ones," he told the cheering crowd. "You bought the PSLs [personal seat licenses]. You bought the season tickets. There was a payoff and there will be another one. I promise you that."

Yes, these were fans like Air Force 1st Sgt. Charles Snyder of Pasadena, who chose to spend his third day back in the country eating oysters and drinking beer with his two brothers, his sister and 1,700 dearest members of the Ravens family. He has been serving in the Afghanistan region - "the exact location and mission is classified," he explained - and will not see his wife and child until tomorrow when he returns to his base in Idaho.

The faithful included Linda Nickels of Cape St. Claire's Roost No. 66, who has never had to learn the seat and row number of her season tickets. The office manager's metallic purple lame jacket is so distinctive that fans in her section know exactly where she sits and direct her to her seat each Sunday like air traffic controllers.

And the roast drew Dottie Gordon of Brooklyn, a lifelong football fan who's so happy to be reliving the old days of fan club socials that she interchangeably calls the team the Colts and often mistakenly refers to the "roosts" as "corrals," harking back to the days of Baltimore's other professional football team.

Her roost - No. 68, based at O'Brady's Crab House in Brooklyn - was approved by the Council of Baltimore Ravens Roosts in October. There are no season ticket holders among the roost's 27 members, but they gather each game over a $5 all-you-can-eat buffet to cheer their team.

All told, there are more than 7,000 roost members - from the blue-blooded to the blue-collar - from as far as Spain and Great Britain in 43 fan clubs throughout Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. (A group from Atlanta is applying for roost membership, attempting to become the first noncontiguous Ravens club, according to Mike Lurz, president of the Council of Baltimore Ravens Roosts.)

The council's bull roast at Martin's West in Woodlawn sold out in three weeks.

"The fact that we even have a team is such a positive that we can't help but still be happy with the Ravens," Lurz said, pointing out that this is a city that threw Colts bull roasts every year through Baltimore's 12-year professional football hiatus.

"We're fans. We don't expect to win the Super Bowl every year," said Lurz, a communications executive. "People expect an honest effort and the Ravens have given us that."

And so they gathered over executive chef Hoss Mianbaghi's 1,275 pounds of top-round roast beef, 60 bushels of oysters, 25 gallons of sauerkraut, 900 pounds of chicken, 800 pounds of pit ham, 150 pounds of Hebrew National kosher hot dogs and 500 pounds of barbecue-soaked choice ground beef. They drained 40 half-kegs of beer and an untold amount of beer, wine and liquor from the cash bar. And they talked of the excitement of young teams and rebuilding years.

A near-perfect afternoon - absent, of course, a reappearance by a certain 7-pound sterling silver trophy.

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