Brought down

Ravens' failure to clinch leaves fans disappointed

Bengals, 13, Ravens 7

December 01, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun reporter

CINCINNATI -- On the Ravens first offensive play, a 15-yard run by Jamal Lewis, the six friends from Baltimore experienced the hardships that can come from being part of a minority.

Lewis' run earned the childhood buddies -- wearing purple from head to toe -- a negative reaction from the natives. They heard the taunts of a few of the surrounding Cincinnati Bengals fans, some aimed at the Ravens star running back and subsequently the team's road-warrior fans.

"You just have to let it go," said Jeff Meyers after hearing a fan curse at his group, "because I know the beatings that some of the out-of-town fans get in our stadium. I know how it is."

The Ravens might not have won their second division title in team history last night, but barbecue, beer and bonding gave the trip meaning for the friends.

They stood their ground throughout the Ravens 13-7 loss to Cincinnati, refusing to let a few loudmouths get in the way of the excitement extracted from a spur of the moment trip. They had come to see the Ravens clinch the division title with a win, outlining their desire on one of the handful of homemade signs they carried:

Six roundtrip airline tickets -- $708.

Six seats in the endzone -- $450.

Baltimore Ravens Clinch AFC North -- Priceless.

As the friends watched their team lose in Cincinnati, the hopeful Ravens nation back home in Baltimore watched in pain -- at the VFW on Fort Avenue, at a Ravens Roost in Armistead Gardens, at a Canton diner, a Pikesville synagogue, at pubs across the region.

After seemingly endless summers of lackluster baseball and a few patience-testing football seasons, Baltimore slipped on its purple jersey, poured itself a cold one, and turned on the TV yesterday to watch the Ravens clinch the division title.

In the South Baltimore VFW hall, Bert Wade had pulled down the Thanksgiving decorations from behind the bar this week and replaced them with a shiny football-shaped balloon.

"We can't wait till the town turns purple," she said. "It's green and red and white right now for Christmas, but if things go right, the day after Christmas it will turn purple."

The televisions in each corner of the VFW bar were tuned to the game, as was one very small set over the jukebox, even though the reception was so poor that it was barely possible to tell it was football on the screen.

Newsprint Ravens posters are taped to the wood-paneled walls, and they like to call the barstools PSLs, as if they're exclusive seating for the season.

At the boisterous Garden Bar in Armistead Gardens, home of Ravens Roost 83, none of the dozens of die-hard fans would admit to being fair-weather fans.

"Oh, no," said John Mal, who arrived at 6 p.m. to secure a bar seat with a good view of the big screen TV. "We're die-hards. In 2000, when they won the Super Bowl, I had purple on my face for two weeks."

Adds Todd Stachowski, a carpenter by trade and a musician in a local heavy metal band: "When they win it's exhilarating. If they win tonight, I'm not going to work tomorrow."

By the middle of the third quarter, it was pretty clear that Stachowski would be at work this morning.

And that the six guys from Baltimore who had come to Cincinnati to watch the Ravens clinch a division title would be heading home disappointed.

Now in their early 40s, they used to do trips like this all the time, back when life held less responsibility. For 10 straight years starting in 1990, they went to an NFL game, not all necessarily involving the Ravens.

Greg "Pooh" Sibol, who works for a construction company, says they've been friends for more than three decades since growing up together in Hamilton and Parkville. They connected in the early years over soccer and baseball games, and later with road trips across America to watch football.

The trips stopped in 2000. These days, the buddies are scattered around Baltimore's suburbs. Three own season tickets to M&T Bank Stadium -- though they don't sit together.

This week, Mike Lahatte decided it was time for the group to reassemble. He called Brian Hyde and proposed a quick trip to the Queen City.

"I just called him, kidding around," said Lahatte, who works in sales and sets his own schedule. "I knew I could get three of them to go."

His expectations were exceeded. The six bought flights to Columbus, Ohio, on a discount carrier Wednesday night, then rented a red SUV and made the nearly two-hour drive to Cincinnati the next morning.

Getting away from the family proved fairly easy. Having taken off years between trips, the friends say their wives cut them a break in spite of the short notice.

"When you treat your women like gold, they let you out of the house," Sibol said.

The game, however, proved painful. The Ravens were blanked in the first half. One of their better players, return specialist B.J. Sams, was carted off the field with a broken leg.

Rain showers peppered the fans through the first quarter, but Meyers, wearing an Ed Reed jersey, came prepared.

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