Proud purple, true blue rally for football face-off

Ravens, Colts fans show true colors in Md., Ind.

January 13, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare and John Woestendiek | Mary Gail Hare and John Woestendiek,Sun Reporters

Separated by 600 miles - not to mention diametrically opposed philosophies - throngs of Ravens and Colts fans gathered yesterday for dueling pep rallies, raising to a fever pitch the fan frenzy leading up to today's playoff game.

Of the events in the Baltimore area, the most raucous was perhaps the noon rally in Bel Air, where purple was draped over downtown storefronts and an energetic crowd of about 2,000 assembled at a municipal parking lot on Main Street. Grown-ups, children and even pets sported purple hair, paint-on Ravens symbols and their favorite players' jerseys.

Barbara Ranocchia, a grandmother who is hampered by injured knees, hung a purple-ribboned wreath on her walker and joined the fray.

"We're gonna send 'em back to Indianapolis. They won't be sneaking out in no moving van," the Bel Air resident said.

Mayor Terence O. Hanley, with a purple feather boa accessorizing his staid overcoat, temporarily renamed Main Street Ravens Way. County Executive David R. Craig, in a purple fedora, proclaimed yesterday Ravens Day with a poem emphasizing Maryland's history of dominating defense, dating to the battle of Fort McHenry.

Meanwhile in Indianapolis, the blue-and-white celebrations seemed to pale by comparison. Office workers were urged to wear the team colors to work, and many complied - at least judging from the thousands who showed up at a noon "Blue Friday" rally downtown.

At the Circle Centre mall, parents carried babies with horseshoes painted on their faces, as dozens of Peyton Mannings - or at least fans wearing his No. 18 jersey --- stood in line at the food court and ex-players signed autographs while a band played Indiana native John Mellencamp's "Little Pink Houses (Ain't That America)."

It was hard to find Colts fans who planned to make the trip to Baltimore for the game. Some expressed concerns for their safety -in Baltimore and in the stadium - but sky-high ticket prices were a bigger factor in keeping them away.

The team is also still trying to enlarge its fan base and, by and large, support doesn't reach the level it does in some other NFL cities - a phenomenon some attribute to the team's relative newness, others to basketball's precedence, others to the low-key nature of Midwesterners.

"The blue-collar towns in the Midwest, like Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, do shame to our city's fans," said James T. Day, a 32-year-old energy trader who was born and raised in Indianapolis and was still making up his mind on whether to go to the game. If he did, he said, "I would silently cheer for the Colts. There's no way in hell I would wear Colts gear in your stadium."

Indianapolis pro football fans are not as intense as those in many other NFL cities, he said. "We as fans pass along to the team the lack of killer instinct to finish the other team off and to go for the jugular."

Colts fans, he added, often come in from "ritzy suburbs" such as Carmel, sit in climate-controlled comfort, then leave after the first half.

"There was a group of Carmel wives sewing at the game last week," he said. "For God's sake, it's football, man. I don't know any other city where someone needlepoints during a football game."

There was no creweling in Bel Air. Instead, the crowd included mother-daughter teams complete with beehive hairdos and pink-winged spectacles. A woman came dressed as a football field - a green vest and skirt marked with yard lines - and a man made a mechanical Ravens doll dance atop his hard hat.

"Watch for me on the stadium screen," the hat-bearer, Bill Wolfrom of Churchville, told the crowd. "I will be there tomorrow and so will my hat."

In her Ravens' cheerleader costume, 6-week-old Kaylynn Cascio won the youngest fan prize. She slept in her mother's arms, straight through raucous cheers and a rousing rendition of "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

Carrying a hot dog in his football helmet, Isaac Wright, 2, sported spiked purple hair and a face painted half white and half purple.

"He was born like this," said his dad, Dan Wright, an Abingdon resident.

For many, a win today would finally erase the memory of the Colts' flight from Baltimore to Indianapolis all those years ago.

"You won't see this truck coming," was how one poster put it.

Calling today's game "the mother of all grudge matches," Craig said a win will "erase our local sports nightmare."

Even before the game, the crowd was thinking Super Bowl. Joe Ries of Forest Hill said he planned to keep his beard dyed purple right up to the championship game in Miami.

"No reason not to," he said.

Sun reporter John Woestendiek contributed to this article from Indianapolis.

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