Ravens fans flock to carry color, noise up a notch

Not even a honeymoon blocks tailgaters from playoff feasts and strategy

January 04, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Through the regular season, Ravens fans proved themselves accomplished tailgaters. They ably swilled beer, grilled sausage and accessorized their RVs and clothing.

But yesterday was the postseason, only the second home playoff game in the franchise's eight-season history.

Suddenly, it wasn't enough to be merely proficient at pregame partying. The fans believed that more was expected of them as their team played the Tennessee Titans.

More beer. More sausage. More noise. An extra dab of purple face paint.

In some cases, sacrifices were required.

Joe Messenger Jr., 42, of Dundalk and his bride, Joan, 31, broke up their Las Vegas wedding celebration early to head back to Baltimore, arriving early yesterday. They had to scramble to lay out a pregame spread that included 40 pounds of sweet sausage, two whole hams and a 20-pound side of beef.

But this was the playoffs.

"We were going to stay until Monday, but I found out the game was scheduled for Saturday, so we came back," he said.

The groom wasn't the only one who lost sleep because of the game.

"I got up at 5:30," said Thel Moore Jr., 39, of Baltimore, who drove to Tampa at the last minute for the 2001 Super Bowl won by the Ravens.

"I just couldn't sleep this morning," Moore said. "I made a few calls, checked some e-mails. I got my game face on."

Season ticket-holder Dave Brulinski demonstrated his devotion to the cause another way - by taking a calculated risk.

Brulinski, 36, of Abingdon, used to bring cowbells into M&T Bank Stadium until officials confiscated them during a Dec. 7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The cowbells were later returned, but Brulinski and a handful of buddies said they were told not to bring them back into the stadium because of the potential distraction.

But this was the playoffs.

So, as he ate burgers in front of his RV, Brulinski, an accountant, said he had reached a decision: "We're taking the cowbells in. I'm going to ring my bell until the police come and get me."

It turned out that he and his pals were able to get the bells to their end zone seats. Once there, they were quickly told by stadium security not to ring them - a warning the group said meant the bells would have to be saved for key moments.

Brulinski wasn't the only fan who considered it part of his mission to rattle the opposing team.

"We take it up a notch in the postseason. That's what Coach [Brian] Billick wants," said John Ziemann, 56, president of Baltimore's Marching Ravens.

Ziemann said the 400-member band "sits in the end zone raising hell - anything to make the opposition mad."

When the Ravens have the ball, Ziemann said, band members "sit there like little angels."

But when the rival quarterback is calling signals, he said, the band "is yelling `hut hut hut!' We know that when the opponents hit the 35-yard line, they are close enough to hear us. Just about anything we can do, we will do as long as we don't violate NFL rules."

Many Ravens fans used the occasion to blast the NFL for perceived slights to their team.

Many still blame the league for Baltimore's prolonged period without a franchise after the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984. Some say the league continues to slight the Ravens - with bad on-the-field calls and unfavorable schedules - because Baltimore is a relatively small television market. Fans also fear that Billick is being punished because of his criticism of referees and of the league's instant-replay system.

"We talk about it every week, how we never get a call," said tailgater Mike Stidham, 36, of Timonium. "We played a game last Sunday night, and now the league has us back playing on Saturday afternoon" without a sufficient period to recuperate.

"We're definitely the red-headed stepchild of the NFL," he said.

Scheduling a Saturday game inconvenienced not only the Ravens, but Stidham, too.

Said the father of four: "The kids have lacrosse and basketball on Saturdays, so it's harder to come out."

But this was the playoffs. So he came.

So did Eric Laughton, 37, of Towson, who said part of the appeal is that the fans get so emotionally involved. "I think the players from the Ravens seem to embrace the fans. You don't see that from the O's players."

Yesterday, fans showed their attachment with purple caps, painted faces and vehicles decorated with Ravens symbols.

Among those making a statement on the team's behalf was Diane Thomas, 42, of Reisterstown. She and her friend, Michelle Eubank, 31, decided to spray their hair purple.

But the spray came out pink - a small indignity compared with the larger cause.

This was, after all, the playoffs.

Sun staff writer Matt Kasper contributed to this article.

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