Ravens defense runs away with game

The Crowd Feels At Home

Ravens 28 Raiders 6

September 18, 2006|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN REPORTER

The taxicabs begin pulling into O'Donnell Square just before noon, but no one here is bound for a Sunday church service - not in those cut-off miniskirts, oversize football jerseys and dangling, to-the-midriff purple beads.

This crowd is the first wave, the lucky ones. They have season tickets in their pockets, cold beer in their laps and close friends next to them as they ride to M&T Bank Stadium on a perfect day for football - and the Ravens home opener.

But the second wave is not far behind, streaming into Looney's Pub after the cabs leave. This is the crowd that couldn't get tickets: the people who come not for the cabs but for the company.

Looney's might not draw the largest number of Ravens fans on Sunday home games - several bars in Federal Hill, within walking distance from the stadium, could fight for that distinction.

But the Canton fixture certainly has plenty of loyal customers - many coming from the suburbs, at least a 40-minute drive from its hip, gentrified surroundings.

A good three miles from the stadium, regulars of all ages and sizes pack into the bright, airy pub for the $1.50 drafts, spicy wings a high-five from Bill "Pops" Larney Sr., the 72-year-old bartender whose son owns the place - and for Ravens football.

To watch the game, they have a choice of more than three dozen televisions on Looney's two floors - including one big-screen set that makes star linebacker Ray Lewis' face appear the size of a parachute. And when it's over, they will drive back to Bel Air or Middle River or White Marsh, to quieter lives and jobs where mesh purple jerseys might not be appropriate attire.

For a few hours on a football Sunday, Looney's becomes their home - a city community of whooping, back-slapping Baltimoreans brought together by cold beer and love of the game.

Yesterday morning, Erin Cullison needed only to utter three words to get the party started.

"Looneys. Let's go." the 24-year-old Carroll County resident says she shouted into the telephone just after 8 a.m., rousing her friend, Benjamin Brengle.

Brengle in turn woke Greg Delgarno, a friend who lives in Miami but who loves the Ravens so much that he returns from 1,100 miles away for every weekend Ravens home game. Devan Bosley rounded out the foursome, coming in from White Marsh.

"If you have a jersey on, there's a camaraderie. Everyone's happy. Unless we're losing," Cullison said. "And there's not a lot of old, creepy guys."

Added Bosley: "It's just a young, fun environment. It's beautiful, it's clean. You feel like you're outside, but you're inside."

Having already spent a small fortune on getting to Baltimore, Delgarno was determined to get to the game. He waited in a cab as Brengle, an aspiring actor, held court at the bar, clinking classes with pretty women and promising to return soon.

"Ben, for the love of God and everything that is holy, this guy is not going to wait all day," Delgarno yelled to his friend from inside a packed taxi.

A few more hand-slaps and hugs, and Brengle finally slid into the cab.

But an hour later, he called Cullison on her cell phone.

"They're coming back," Cullison shouted. "They couldn't get tickets!"

"I'm so excited," Bosley shrieked.

As the pair shared a plate of wings, Pops delivered drafts to customers in three different rooms, taking care not to spill any brew on his purple Looney's golf shirt.

Larney, who lives in Bethany Beach, Del., was supposed to help out his son only for a short time in 1996, when the Ravens arrived in Baltimore from Cleveland and ended a 12-year football drought here. But the friendly, folksy bartender liked football Sundays so much that he kept coming back -even after he retired from his job as an oil company sales manager and moved more than three hours away.

"They let me out of the old-folks home on weekends to work here," Larney says jokingly.

Just then, cousins Cortez Cosby and Kevin Wright bound into the bar and high-five Larney.

"Pops!" they say, giving him a shoulder slap.

The pair have come every Sunday since Wright's brother, a BGE worker who lives in Northeast Baltimore, drove by one game day and thought it looked like a good place for football.

"We came around here and Pops was so nice to us, he was wonderful. He just took us right in," said Wright, from Bel Air.

Violetville residents Angie and Oliver Beales, who are in their 50s, have become so close to Pops after several years of visiting Looney's on football Sundays that they now visit him in Bethany Beach. A party Wednesday at Larney's beach place ended with the longtime friends in the hot tub - and Larney still raring to go when the couple decided to call it a night.

"We were best friends from the first day we met him," Angie Beales said.

It's hard not to be, her husband added.

"Everyone who comes in will shake his hand and tell him a joke," he said. "If he hasn't seen you in a while, he'll call you, just to make sure you're OK."

One customer Larney hadn't seen in a few years came back over the weekend. When he asked where she'd been, the woman explained that she had gotten married, had a couple of children and just couldn't get into the city anymore for a drink.

That doesn't appear to be a problem for a lot of the other regulars. In a city where even the people who leave tend to come back, many of the football faithful say they'll keep returning to Looney's on Sunday afternoons - unless, of course, they get tickets. Then they'll only come in for an hour or so.

"Come back in five years, Ravens game day," Cullison predicted. "We'll be here."

rona.kobell@baltsun.com

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