Ravens fan inspires following

Bobby Nyk is a Ravens devotee who has captured fans of his own, turning game day into a party

January 12, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

There are football fans, and then there is Bobby Nyk.

The Howard High School Spanish teacher -- his real name is Robert Nykyforchyn -- has been to every Ravens game since 1999, a total of 122.

He estimates that he has traveled more than 96,000 miles in his quest to see his beloved team, and he has turned nearly every game into a party, either setting up a tailgate or commandeering a bar and turning it into Ravens headquarters.

Over the years, he has gotten to know the families of the players, including Mike and Kathy Flynn, mother and father of center Mike Flynn. The Flynns go to every game, but that is to be expected, since their son is on the field. Mike Flynn said he knows of no fan with the same level of devotion as Bobby Nyk.

"There are fans that maybe pick a game or two games a year and go," he said, but "he is probably the only one I have ever met that goes to every game."

Bobby Nyk, 56, grew up in the Baltimore neighborhood of Brooklyn, where it seemed as if everybody was a Colts fan, he said. His parents had season tickets, and he started going to games when he was about 7.

"It was a way of life," he said. His dad, James, would mix a pitcher of whiskey sours and his mom, Josephine, would make a batch of chili.

As the oldest son -- he has two sisters and a brother -- he was the one who went to the most games, he said.

Though he was only eight at the time, he remembers when his parents went to New York to see the Colts championship game against the Giants in 1958 -- "the greatest game ever played."

It was difficult for Nykyforchyn, at first, to support the Ravens after falling so hard for the Colts, who left town in March of 1984. But Nykyforchyn, who is divorced, likens his relationships with the teams to a love affair. After your first love leaves you, you have to move on.

"When the Ravens came to town, I was not really ready to embrace them yet because I was still smarting from the Colts move," he said. "I went to the games, but did not have the passion."

Now, there is no doubt in his mind he wants the Ravens to beat the Colts in tomorrow's playoff game.

"I am so excited," said Nykyforchyn, a season ticket holder since 1998. "How can you have a better match-up?"

He has already ordered a suckling pig from J.W. Treuth's in Oella that he plans to cook with ribs and other food at the tailgating party he will host.

And he is making arrangements in case his team goes all the way to the Super Bowl. "I have already ordered my purple convertible from Hertz," he said. "If you are in Miami, you need to have a convertible."

Nykyforchyn played football at Culver-Stockton College in Missouri and then moved back to Maryland after graduating in 1972. He began teaching in 1974 at Atholton, his alma mater, where he was also an assistant football coach.

He also developed some other interests -- namely umpiring and disc jockeying. Nykyforchyn took sports officiating courses and began umpiring high school and junior high baseball, basketball and football games.

That, combined with his ability to speak Spanish, eventually earned him a job as umpire for the United States Baseball Federation. He traveled to Cuba and other Spanish-speaking countries to serve as a translator.

During the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, he was hired by NBC to be a disc jockey on a lavish ship it had rented for the event.

In 1981, he took a sabbatical from teaching to attend the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt. While there, he began working for the local radio station and got his own radio show, he said.

These days, he works as a DJ mainly at corporate events and at Ravens-related parties. Everywhere he travels, he tries to set up a gig at a sports bar or at least host a tailgating party.

He books them himself. Being named best Baltimore DJ by Baltimore Magazine in 1994 helps him get the gigs, he said.

Often, he will raise money for charity, such as the recent Tennessee tailgating party that collected more than $4,500 for the Harris-Hillman Special Education School in Nashville.

Simply providing Ravens fans with a haven might be charity enough for some fellow travelers. "He helps the fans out because sometimes when they are away, they do not have anyplace to go," Flynn said. Getting to the games can be difficult, but Nykyforchyn always shows up wearing purple and usually a Ravens helmet.

Framed photos on the walls of his office show him with Johnny Unitas, Kyle Boller and others.

But he wants to be clear that his first love is teaching.

"Teaching is what I do," said Nykyforchyn, who has been at Howard High for 13 years. "I am a teacher."

His students are constantly amazed to see him in class on Tuesday mornings after a Monday night game, he said.

But there are signs he may be slowing down. Nykyforchyn used to go to exhibition games and regular-season ones, but he curtailed that this season.

Newly elected state Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin considers himself a Ravens and a Bobby Nyk fan. The two met in Cleveland, when the Ravens were playing there, Zirkin recalled. He saw Nykyforchyn wearing a Ravens helmet and decided to follow him.

"I saw this big guy, walking around with a Ravens helmet on," Zirkin recalled. "I said, `We are in Cleveland; they do not like us here, I may as well follow the big guy with the helmet.'"

Since then, the two have gone to many games together. Zirkin goes to as many games as possible, but a little thing like his political campaign ate up a lot of time this fall, he said.

So maybe he is not quite as committed as Bobby Nyk.

"He is a fanatic," Zirkin said. "He is incredible."

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