Stadium-seating does offer more realistic experience

October 09, 2004|By ROB KASPER

LIKE MOST fans of the Baltimore Ravens, their 27-24 loss to Kansas City Chiefs Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium left me in pain. It is a pretty safe bet, I think, that my pain was worse than most.

I took a header for the team. In the high-fiving celebration in the stands after a touchdown by Raven scatback B.J. Sams, a big guy in the row behind me lost his balance and went airborne. I never got the fellow's name, but I will call him "Tim" as in " Timmmmber."

Tim knocked me off my feet and propelled me down a row, into a woman wearing a Todd Heap jersey. I ended up wedged in that row with my legs stuck between a couple of seat backs, and my hips being jabbed by a seat arm. Tim's 200-plus pounds were squashing me, and, somewhere in the human jumble, was the Todd Heap woman.

Once it became clear that no one was seriously injured, there was a lot of laughing. The male companion of the squashed woman got a little angry (and I got a little worried) before he figured out that his honey was OK. As he yanked Tim's hulking form off his sweetheart, he did not even notice me, the pressed ham in the middle of this Ravens fan sandwich.

It took a few minutes to untangle the limbs and get everyone back in their seats. As I lay splayed out on the seats, I told myself this would never happen if I were at home, sitting in the Barcalounger watching the game on television.

It also made me worry about what would happen if the Ravens ever scored another touchdown. Would there be more flying bodies? Happily for us in the "landing zone" but unhappily for the Ravens, the team reached the end zone only once more, on a short run by Jamal Lewis. This time as the crowd celebrated the score, I remained hunkered down in my seat keeping a sharp lookout over my shoulder for anything "incoming."

The outing left me with a couple of bruises, a back ache, and several thoughts about the benefits and drawbacks of attending a Ravens game.

On the plus side there is the color, the pageantry and the sense of local pride that sweeps over the stadium as the Ravens charge onto the field and Ray Lewis does his unique "dance." Moreover, there is a sense of camaraderie as you share hand slaps, insights and suggested play calls with people sitting near you, many of them complete strangers. Finally, on game day the stadium becomes a civic rallying point, an attraction that draws thousands of folks to downtown Baltimore, where they feel safe and comfortable.

Yet there is a flip side. When the beer flows and the team sputters, the fourth-quarter mood can turn ugly. Barbs directed at fans of the opposing team shift from good-natured shots to scatological invectives. Insults hurled at the opposing team and its coaches turn personal. Sometimes, things get physical. Some of this behavior, I tell myself, is human nature. Pro football is a rough game, and fans care deeply about whether their team wins. Some of the game-day incidents, like those of tumbling Tim, stem from too much suds, even when beers cost $7 a pop.

A lot, I think, depends on where you sit. Over the years, I have watched Ravens games from a variety of vantage points. The few times I cadged club level tickets, the sight lines were striking, yet the mood was sedate . Nobody, I guess, wants to misbehave in front of the boss or potential clients. The upper reaches of the stadium, where I bought a $40 ticket for Monday night's game, has in my experience, more regular folks and more rowdy behavior. It is also more fun if potentially more combustible in the nose-bleed seats. The highs are higher, and the lows give you bruises.

I guess I got what I paid for last Monday night. I wanted to be with the true fans, and I ended up with one of them planted on my legs. I will still root for the Ravens, but for the next few games, I'll watch them from the safety of the Barcalounger.

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