Ex-Raven Thomas gets bittersweet send-off from admiring fans

Pro football

March 15, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

Farewell parties are a bit of a contradiction, aren't they?

Sure, you get to celebrate with the guest of honor, but eventually, it's time to say goodbye to someone you love and admire.

That was the sentiment of about 100 Ravens fans and diners who showed up at Babalu Grill near the Inner Harbor to bid farewell to former Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas last night.

Thomas, who spent the first seven years of his NFL career with the Ravens, signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract to play for the New England Patriots earlier this month and made his final public appearance with the final broadcast of "The Adalius Thomas Show" on 1300 AM.

"I want to say, `Thanks a lot,'" Thomas said to his supporters. "We had a lot of good memories and some bad ones. The Baltimore fans can be hard, but that's part of the business. I will really miss them."

Fans like Dan Goral, a 54-year-old facilities manager from White Marsh, made their way to the restaurant at 4 p.m. - two hours before Thomas appeared.

"I'm happy for him and his family and that they will benefit as a result of this," Goral said. "It's truly a sad and happy day of equal proportions for me."

Many of those in attendance did not blame Thomas for seeking richer pastures or the Ravens for letting him go.

"I believe he's got to do what's best for him and his family," said Jason Blackwell, a 34-year-old metal worker from West Baltimore.

Stories of Thomas' kinship with his fans were plentiful. Memories of Thomas plunking down at a table and asking, "Hey, dawg, what's going on?" Tales of Thomas making every appearance at his radio show in 2005 when the team limped through a 6-10 season.

Goral recounted how Thomas personally called him during the 2000 season - Thomas' rookie year - after a mutual friend informed the player that Goral had ordered a No. 96 jersey that had yet to be produced.

"From an off-the-field standpoint, you couldn't ask for a better person," Goral said. "There won't be another NFL player who embraces his fans on a regular basis as AD did."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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