No Place Like Home

Ravens whip up fans, whip up on Steelers

September 20, 2004|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

A sea of purple-clad fans jammed M&T Bank Stadium yesterday for the Ravens' first home game, and for what they hoped would be the start of the path to a Super Bowl.

But those not-so-lucky souls, who couldn't snag a ticket for the game, packed sports bars and parties throughout the area to praise their team, heckle Pittsburgh Steelers fans and overindulge on fried foods and rivers of beer.

And when the Ravens convincingly defeated the Steelers, 30-13, the fans miles away from the stadium were just as frenzied as those who watched the game from the 50-yard line.

Ravens hangouts seemed tailored to the level of fan intensity, from the congenial ambience of Canton's neighborhood pubs to the frat party-atmosphere of Mother's Federal Hill Grille, where Baltimore radio station 98 Rock blasted hip-hop's OutKast.

At Mother's, revelers from an Elvis impersonator clothed head to toe in purple to people in their 20s cradling plastic cups began streaming into the patio as early as 9 a.m. to pre-party before the 1 p.m. kickoff.

"One time we were here, there was a huge puddle and after the game, a friend of mine, just dove into it," said Callie Wolven, who noted that the patio often floods after heavy rain.

Fans are known to brave the snow, rain and ice to get down at Mother's, but nothing compares to the first home game, said some regulars.

"This weekend is beautiful weather, so tons of people are out," said Matt McVey, a bouncer who checked IDs outside the patio. "This is the allure of Baltimore. It's one big family. And it's out of control like this every weekend."

Owners Dave and Kelly Rather are huge fans themselves. While Dave Rather attended yesterday's game, Kelly made sure all was running smoothly at the indoor bar, where fans crammed shoulder-to-shoulder hollered at television screens.

Kelly Rather said she more than doubled the restaurant staff to 47 people to keep up with the demand before, during and after the game.

The Rathers are admittedly Ravens-obsessed, and it's no secret who's their favorite player.

Their 3-year-old English Bulldog is named "52," after the number emblazoned on Ray Lewis' jersey. There's also a Ray Lewis Super Bowl jersey displayed in the restaurant. And the best-selling breakfast entrM-ie is filet tips and eggs, also know as the Ray Lewis MVP Super Bowl Special.

But a far more subdued fan experience was had a few miles away in Canton's O'Donnell Square.

Dan Coyne marveled at his surroundings, declaring he was fortunate enough to find the makings of a perfect Sunday afternoon. A calm breeze wafted through the open shutters behind him, and before him lay an empty pitcher, a pint of beer and a smattering of half-gnawed chicken wings.

"We come down here all the time," Coyne said of Claddagh Pub on O'Donnell Square in Canton. "The open windows, the neighborhood setting. It's a beautiful day."

"And we're beating Pittsburgh, so yeah, that's all that really matters," chimed in his wife, Kelly Coyne of Towson.

Of course, when the Ravens are facing the Steelers, a gentle breeze is clearly of secondary importance to the rivalry.

Still, the Coynes, joined by their children Stephanie and Melissa and friend Janet Neely, said they enjoy the pub's low-key atmosphere. They'd rather watch the game at their favorite local watering hole, which has its own cast of characters.

"We love Billy the bartender," said Neely, jokingly referring to the bartender as "Mr. Personality."

"It takes him a year and a half to warm up to you. He won't say anything for like a year, then one day you'll come in and he'll say `I know what you're drinking.'"

The bar attracts regulars, both newcomers to Canton and longtime residents, or those who once lived in the area and moved to the suburbs.

And although the fans can be rowdy, it's a family-friendly place, Neely said.

Amid all the Ravens revelry, about 100 Steelers fans took refuge at the Purple Goose Saloon in Southwest Baltimore, where members of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore have gathered for 14 years.

On the front door was a warning scrawled in red ink that stated: "Closed for Private Party. Steelers Fans Only," an attempt to keep away the Ravens riffraff.

Ravens fans from the bar across Washington Boulevard have clashed in the street with Steelers in the past, but "everyone behaves themselves now," said Purple Goose manager Todd Sullivan. "We brought that under control."

The mood in the dimly lit wood-paneled bar went from depressing to riotous by the fourth quarter when the Steelers scored their only touchdown of the game.

Yellow-and-black "terrible towels" went flying in the air, and graying men danced to a polka, the Steelers traditional celebration song.

Derrick Rees, a lifelong Steelers fan from Columbia, said he was glad to be in the company of "family" during the game.

"I may not know this guy right here, but when I come here, we're brothers," he said.

Although he had one coveted ticket to yesterday's game, he gave it away rather than risk the jeers of Ravens fans. "If I had more than one ticket, that would be different," he said. "But I couldn't go in there alone."

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