Throwing in towel

Fed-up Ravens fans may open door to Steelers invasion

December 28, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

In a season where nothing has seemed to go right, the Ravens' final home game might not even be a true home game.

Thousands of disgruntled Ravens fans are selling their tickets to the usually hated Steelers Nation, which could make M&T Bank Stadium look like Heinz Field on Sunday.

Some fans are upset about the nine-game losing streak. Some are upset with coach Brian Billick. And some are upset with just about everything linked to the most disappointing season in Ravens history.

This has led loyal Ravens fans to give up their tickets to their most dreaded rivals, causing a surge in tickets being put up for sale on Internet auction sites. By Sunday, waves of black-and-gold jerseys could change the downtown landscape, with fans waving their Terrible Towels while downing Iron City Beer.

"I am looking forward to 30 to 40 percent being Steelers fans," said Ed McConnell, 60, a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Maryland.

Traditionally, Steelers fans have made the four-hour drive from Western Pennsylvania to buy between 3,000 and 5,000 tickets at Baltimore's 71,008-seat stadium.

But the combination of the Ravens' struggles and the Steelers' success could translate to the best showing ever by Pittsburgh fans. There is a chance that as many as 20,000 from the Steel City will watch their AFC North champions close out the regular season against the downtrodden Ravens.

The Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Maryland, whose Web site's banner reads "Baltiburgh," is hosting an all-day rally tomorrow at a Pasadena bar with appearances by former Steelers players.

Steelers fans are being allowed to infiltrate M&T Bank Stadium because of disheartened fans such as William Price, a season-ticket holder since the Ravens' inaugural season in 1996.

Price, 45, a program manager from Leesburg, Va., who grew up in the Baltimore area, is trying to get double the face value on two tickets by selling them on StubHub.

"This season has been particularly embarrassing for the franchise," Price said. "It all started with the six turnovers in Cincinnati, and then to lose to Miami ... we haven't been ready to play, and that's the coach's responsibility. I appreciate Brian Billick for winning a Super Bowl, but I don't think he's the guy to get us there again."

Selling tickets to opposing fans is not a problem isolated to Baltimore.

Just this week, many New York Giants fans were hawking their tickets to New England Patriots fans who want to see their team try to finish a perfect regular season.

But Price said this is more of a way to protest than profit.

"We are all grateful for having a team, but I think we deserve a better product than what's been presented," he said. "It seems like everybody except the owner knows we need a new coach."

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs considers the fans who sell tickets traitors.

"That's a slap in the face," he said. "We still belong to the city of Baltimore. We don't belong to Pittsburgh. If they're selling their tickets to Steelers fans, maybe they should be Steelers fans. I don't know what to say to that."

When trying to predict Sunday's atmosphere, the Ravens' locker room is split.

There are some optimistic players who think Ravens fans will clearly outnumber those of the Steelers.

"I'm not even going to think about it because I know our fans will come out in multitudes," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "They've supported us through it all, regardless of who we have played. They've gotten on our backs in the end, but our fans have supported us through this trying season. So I see it being the same."

To try to keep the home-field advantage, Mason offered some advice.

"So all you Ravens fans, if Pittsburgh fans ask you for tickets, say no. Say you don't have anymore. Say we're all sold out," he said. "They're going to have their fans, obviously, but our fans outweigh their fans."

If there is a heavy confluence of Steelers fans, it wouldn't anger some Ravens players.

"We haven't given the team and the fans what they deserve, which is high-quality football on a consistent basis," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We have some of the best fans in the world. You don't want to see a lot of Steelers fans out there, but I can understand. Nobody wants to sit out there and freeze their butt off when they already have an idea of how the outcome is going to come."

Billick, who told fans selling their tickets two years ago to get a premium price, wanted to stay out of the discussion this time.

"I'm past trying to figure out when [Steelers fans] come, when they don't come," Billick said. "They didn't come much last year. I don't know whether it was because they couldn't get tickets or they weren't interested."

Baltimore isn't the only NFL city that Steelers fans crash.

One of the most hard-core football followings in the nation, Steelers fans began showing up at road games by the thousands in the 1990s.

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