Fans: heights, depths

Spirits soar before kickoff, but emotions are stiff, sore by game's end

Ravens Extra

January 14, 2007|By Brent Jones and Julie Scharper | Brent Jones and Julie Scharper,Sun reporters

It was the walk the brothers dreaded, a nightmare come true.

Thomas and Mike Bowler trudged through the concourse at M&T Bank Stadium after the Ravens' 15-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, winding through a crowd of equally despondent fans.

Mike Bowler, who calls himself Raven Alien and wore an otherworldly green mask, a cape highlighting the Ravens' Super Bowl season of 2000 and a black and purple robe that looked like a space suit, collected his thoughts and tried to put things in perspective.

"We really wanted to win this because they're stealing our heritage," the 40-year-old electrician from Sparrows Point said.

But the Colts successfully played the role of spoiler, shrugging off the negative energy produced by more than 70,000 fans who resented their sneaky departure out of Baltimore nearly 23 years ago.

Bowler, still buzzing after an afternoon full of beers, let loose a few profanities while the yells of other fans echoed off the cement walls. Some threw down their purple towels, shaking their heads that the favored Ravens were beaten and held without a touchdown.

The day had started out well for Michael Vinson, 40, of northeast Baltimore. Wearing purple camouflage paint, a cowboy hat and a Ray Lewis jersey, he drove his wife Sheila, 40, and their 3-year-old son, Nathaniel, to a relative's home in Joppa, two Ravens flags flapping on the car.

When they arrived, Sheila's sister, Maria Alston, 45, a purple iris tucked behind her ear, was shaking shrimp in batter and pulling pizzas out of the oven.

Her husband, Frank Alston Sr., 46, sat on the couch in what he called his "Ravens Roost." Framed posters of players hung on the wall, along with a Ravens wreath and clock. Ravens bobblehead dolls sat atop the big screen TV and even the trashcan was emblazoned with the team logo.

A former Colts fan, Frank Alston Sr. said that it was easy to root for the Ravens. "Trust me, I've gotten over the Colts by now.

Everyone at the gathering was wearing Ravens gear, even the Alston's youngest grandchild, three-month old-Jasmine, who wore a tiny cheerleader's outfit and purple barrettes.

Frank Alston Jr., 21, led his family in cheers. "Whose house they in? Our house," they chanted, the noise setting off a sound-activated Ray Charles doll that began to sing.

But the mood dampened after the Ravens' misplays multiplied. "Y'all cannot be doing this," Sheila Vinson said, addressing the players on TV. Frank Alston Sr. clutched his head in his hands while his grandson, James Rodgers, 9, vowed that he would have a heart attack if the Ravens lost.

An hour before the game, Joe Valentino, Brendan Shea and Glen Stanford walked on the outside of the stadium in search of the closest entrance to their upper deck seats.

But before they entered the gates, the friends wanted to let anyone wearing the Colts' blue and white know they were not welcome in Ravenstown. The Colts will never be welcomed back, they said.

"I remember my mother crying in March 1984 when the Colts left here," Valentino said. "It's personal.

"I'm fired up, and we're going to say things. It's verbal, nothing physical, but we're going to give it to the Irsays all game long," he said, referring to the Colts owners who took the team away.

Valentino refused to call the Colts the Colts. For him, they were always the Irsays. "We love the Ravens more than we hate the them, though," Valentino said. "The Ravens are the only good thing to come out of that jerk leaving town."

In the stadium at halftime, Eboni Martin slid into a seat in the lower bowl next to her sister, Debra Johnson. She left her seat in the upper deck to sit closer to the players, who were then trailing the Colts, 9-3.

"They need me," said Martin, now sitting a few rows up from the field in one of the end zones. "I had to come down here so they know that I'm here. They're going to be coming this way in the fourth quarter."

After the game, Thomas Bowler, 38, thought for a moment and found some solace. It came - not surprisingly, considering how the day unfolded - before kickoff.

"It was priceless when the Ravens came out on the field, all the emotion that went through this stadium," Bowler said. "I'm not a crier, but I actually started to tear up. The whole season was for this, win or lose."

Sun reporter John Woestendiek contributed to this article.

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