Players flock to meet mascots

Live ravens ready for opener

July 29, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Reporter

It was a typical, practice-ending huddle at Westminster, except for the African white-nape raven balanced on coach John Harbaugh's arm.

Conquer, the 13-week-old raven destined to lead the Ravens onto the field at M&T Bank Stadium on opening day, made his way to the middle of the team huddle yesterday morning, onto Harbaugh's arm and then veteran Derrick Mason's for the huddle breakdown.

Consider it the formal christening of the team's new live mascot.

Actually, there are two new mascots. Rise and Conquer - named following a team poll - are the inspiration of Gabrielle Dow, Ravens vice president for marketing. The plan is for one, or both, of the birds to fly out of the tunnel ahead of players before each game, to the arm of trainer Daniel Walthers at the 50-yard line.

Walthers and his wife, Teresa, flew to Baltimore on Sunday with both ravens. Rise, the more "laid-back" of the two, stayed in the background while Conquer met fans and team members.

"They're so used to all the stimulation we've given them that this stuff is so much easier for them than normal birds," Walthers said.

At his 40-acre ranch in Commerce, Ga., Walthers plays rock music and game videos for the birds as part of their training. He took Conquer to a July 4 fireworks display for the noise.

"He was awesome," Walthers said.

After a story on the two mascots ran in The Sun on June 27, PETA protested and asked the Ravens to scratch plans to use live birds. Dow said yesterday the team has no plans to abandon the project, however.

"We understand their concerns," she said, "but we're moving forward. We have handlers who have 30 years experience and who take the utmost care of the birds."

Walthers has no qualms about taking the birds into a stadium of Ravens fans. He has meticulously prepared them for the task.

"I want to do the best things for these birds and make sure they're taken care of," he said.

On the practice field, several Ravens wanted the chance to hold Conquer. In addition to Mason, quarterback Troy Smith, cornerback Ronnie Prude, defensive tackle Salomon Solano and kicker Matt Stover all took turns after the huddle broke.

Cornerback Chris McAlister wanted no part of Conquer, though.

"Keep that thing away from me," he squawked.

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