Ravens fans eat, and hunger for a win

Tailgaters brave the cold to support their team

December 04, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

Underneath the Ostend Street Bridge, the wind whipped so fast last night, Keith Levitt had trouble keeping his makeshift fire pit lit.

No matter. The celebration for Levitt and thousands of others Ravens fans who flooded the parking lots around M&T Bank Stadium went on as usual, with revelers dismissing temperatures that dropped into the 30s and wind gusts pushing 40 mph as annoying, but not devastating, to the pre-game festivities.

It may have taken longer than normal, but the chicken was barbecued. Burgers, pork loins and sides of roast beef were grilled. And as kickoff approached, Ravens fans said they were hoping those aggravating gusts invading the tailgates would turn into an advantage.

Why else would they duck out early on a workday to hang out in dark downtown parking lots? Maybe, if things go right, the New England Patriots and their high-flying aerial attack would be grounded, some Ravens fans said.

"Yeah, it's harder to get the fire going. But I'm happy for the wind if it gives us an advantage. We won't know that until after the fact," said Levitt, part of a group of 20 who have been tailgating under the bridge since 1998.

The wind helped aid a ferocious Ravens defensive effort, but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led a game-winning touchdown drive in the last three minutes, giving New England a 27-24 win.

The Ravens were a franchise-high 19-point underdog to a team that had its closest game of the season a week ago in a three-point win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Before that, New England entered last night's game undefeated, having steamrolled nearly all of its opponents, winning by such ridiculous margins that coach Bill Belichick, arguably the NFL's biggest villain, has been accused of running up the score. The Patriots were beating teams by an average of 25.7 points a game.

The Ravens, meanwhile, entered last night's game with virtually no shot at the playoffs, having lost five straight for the first time in their history, with three of the defeats coming by more than two touchdowns.

Despite the Ravens being out of the playoff race, the game, by all accounts, was a big one, and the atmosphere beforehand showcased as much.

Terri Morris and her family pitched a barbecue pit about four hours before the 8:30 p.m. kickoff. Morris, of Havre De Grace, works for Enterprise Car Rental and took a half-day off to join her father and brother in preparing food for about 60 people.

They have tailgated at the same spot under the bridge since the Ravens left Memorial Stadium after the 1997 season so they know when something special - despite the cold, dark, dank conditions - is in the air.

"Everybody is all excited to be the team to beat the Patriots," Morris, 40, said. "Even though our season has gone awry, if we beat them, it's like when Maryland beats Duke in basketball."

Morris' brother, Joe "Mess" Messenger Jr. manned the grill, which was large enough to hold two 4-pound slabs of roast, along with dozens of pieces of tenderloin and chicken.

Messenger, 47, had been a caterer for 14 years, so he knows how to feed the masses.

"And sometimes we even have some left over," he said.

For a couple of Patriots fans, the cold and windy conditions were nothing new.

Bob Bleidorn drove about nine hours from Massachusetts with his girlfriend, Paula Freiberger, for last night's game. The two bonded with other Patriots fans from Virginia, scoffing at the weather, which they say is much worse in Boston.

"I feel like I'm at home," said Bleidorn, standing near the raised trunk of his sport utility vehicle. "Not a big deal at all. I do feel sorry for the Ravens fans having to freeze their [tails] off."

Meanwhile, Levitt's night was made when he glanced up and saw a mini-celebrity while stirring a pot of Maryland crab soup.

Joe Cahn, known in the sports world as the "Commissioner of Tailgating," took in Levitt and his crew's party. Cahn has been featured on ESPN and says he's been to about 500 games in the past 12 seasons at all 31 NFL stadiums.

He ranks Baltimore fairly high.

"The Ravens are playing for pride, but the great thing about the NFL is that, on any given day, a team can win," Cahn said.

"The fans are always optimistic."

Once Levitt recognized Cahn, he shook his hand and offered him a cold one. No telling what a tailgate may bring, even in less-than-idyllic conditions.

"We can be 0-12 right now, and we'd still support our team. We're also here for the tailgate and to see our friends," Levitt said.

"Besides, football is a cold-weather sport. I hate coming to the games when it's warm and sunny."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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