Clinched!

Ravens win AFC NOrth as Colts beat Bengals

December 19, 2006|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN REPORTER

Fran Foster actually feels it. When she and the other waitresses at Canton's homey Sip & Bite diner let an order sit - just for a second - to crowd a small radio to catch a score. When all of the teachers at her granddaughter's Dundalk elementary school show up for class in Ravens regalia. And how all of last year's defeatist trash talk evaporated just like that.

You know the vibe she's talking about, don't you, Baltimore?

It's the sweet feel of a winning season. Forgive Foster and the Ravens faithful, on a losing diet for three years now, for indulging.

"It's a different excitement," she says. "It's just a general up atmosphere."

Last night it became even more so as the Ravens, relaxing after Sunday's bruising victory against Cleveland, secured their first division title in three years when the Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 34-16.

At the Inner Harbor ESPN Zone, New Yorker Michael Faridi, a Hunt Valley native who comes home for all Ravens games, couldn't help thinking even bigger.

"All year the Ravens have been doing well: They win the division. They win the next few games. Then it's all about the playoffs," he said. "This is big for the city. This is good. The city's getting excited."

Meanwhile, parts of Baltimore's center city glowed violet last night - an official salute to the home team.

"This is a proud city with great football traditions," Mayor Martin O'Malley said in a statement asking downtown businesses to follow City Hall's lead and light up purple. "We shouldn't be subtle or hold back showing our appreciation for the Ravens' success this season. To show our team they have our full support, let's light their way right into the Super Bowl."

Robert Cialdini gets all this. He knows that for pure fans, their emotions, their civic pride, and even their self-esteem become entwined in their team's success. When the Ravens win, Baltimore feels like it's winning.

"They're us," the Arizona State University psychology professor says.

"When teams win, it's `we,' When they don't, it's `they.'" Cialdini says. "Everyone loves a winner."

For Baltimore, this could be even truer. When this city was down on its luck, it lost its team. Some folks really need this streak. They drink in the good news like shots of hope.

Mark Boyd, a retired police officer watching a recent game at a South Baltimore VFW, says it broke his heart when the Colts left town and even more so when the city lost the team's name to Indianapolis. But he's still a football man, and these Ravens are providing.

"It gives us one day that you can forget all your problems," he says. "One day to unite as a city."

Some Baltimoreans consider the Ravens yet another of the town's quirky charms to embrace. Their team - the NFL's only franchise named for a poem. Their recent surge - "nevermore," indeed.

Lori Fisher and her friend Chris Watson, both of Glen Burnie, slathered themselves in purple to take in every game this season.

Every Friday when Fisher goes to work at her family's orthopedic shoe store in Severna Park, she wears Ravens gear - just so, as she puts it, "everybody knows I'm a fan."

"If I was giving birth," Watson adds, "I'd be watching the game."

Fisher describes a winning moment at Ravens stadium in hushed, near reverential tones. For her, it's how the city comes alive.

"When you're in M&T stadium and you listen to the roar when something great happens, or even just when the team takes the field," she says, "you cannot hear yourself think. To be in the midst of that, sometimes you just stop yelling and you listen because it's that epic."

They unabashedly say that football is a vital part of who they are and that they've loved the Ravens through thick and thin, unconditionally.

Months ago, when the season was much less certain, Fisher booked hotel reservations in Florida, should there, could there - fingers crossed - be a Super Bowl reason. "You have to be prepared," she says.

Nat Williams, a bartender at Jerry's Belevedere Tavern on York Road, considers himself a fan. An "avid" fan, actually.

"Being a fan," he says, "is being a fan."

That said, being a fan this season is all that and then some.

"It's refreshing," he says. "Just not having to look behind you and see who's catching up."

He's concentrating on what he calls the "luxuries" of the game, like home-field advantage and playoff positioning.

Now what could pass for team spirit is even trickling down to fair-weather fans like Jamaal Williams. The father of five - all under 8 - doesn't have time for sports. What little he did have he used to spend on the Orioles. But ...

"No disrespect, but I just lost a lot of love for baseball - they don't keep me wanting, you know what I mean."

But these Ravens do.

At work at Jacob's Athletic Shoes & Sportswear in Highlandtown, he's selling more purple and black with each passing day.

"I got a feeling we're gonna take it this year. Everything's coming together now," he says. "It's been a long time coming."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

PLAYOFFS

With AFC North title in hand, the Ravens (11-3) remain behind the Chargers (12-2) and the Colts (11-3) for a first-round playoff bye.

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