Keep your purple on, and duck

Ravens fans heading west, braving the terrors of Steelers country to back their team

January 14, 2009|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

It will be cold, dark and overrun with brutish Steelers fans.

Still, hundreds of Ravens fans plan on making the trip to Pittsburgh for the AFC championship game Sunday night. Fans who paid top dollar for flights to Miami or drove 12 hours to Nashville, Tenn., to see the previous two playoff games are at least grateful that this one takes place in a neighboring state.

But tickets are more expensive than the past playoff games - anywhere from $200 to $2,500. Ravens fans also worry that wearing purple will make them easy targets for aggressive Steelers boosters. Not that it's stopping them from going.

"You get one or two morons who will throw stuff at you. But the key is to just mind your own business," said Andrew Levine, 44, who is going to the game with his wife. He suggests fans remove their Ravens flags from their cars when they park in Pittsburgh, but sporting Ravens colors at the game is mandatory, he said.

"Tell the fans: Wear your purple. It's OK. That's why you're going," said Levine, who lives in Lutherville and is self-employed.

The intensity of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry is a big factor drawing fans to the game. The teams have already met twice this year, with the Steelers taking both contests. Some fans say the game will feature the two best teams in football, and they don't want to miss that, at any cost.

"It's one of those unique opportunities to go to an AFC championship game and see the biggest rivals play each other," said Brad Layman, 23, a teacher in New York City. Layman, who grew up in Ellicott City and graduated from the University of Maryland, will drive from Baltimore to Pittsburgh with two college friends. They found tickets online for $260 apiece.

Layman said he'll wear his Ray Lewis jersey to the game - and, in fact, he's been wearing it while teaching his middle school classes this week - and take his chances with the Steelers fans. He predicts the Ravens will win by a field goal.

On TicketsNow.com yesterday, about 1,700 tickets to the game were available, for an average price of $455. Other ticket sites reported similar prices and high demand. Baltimore-based Superior Tours Motor Coach sold 80 playoff packages, priced at $500 each, which included a game ticket and transportation on a charter bus.

Tickets to the Ravens-Steelers game are selling for more than tickets to the NFC championship game that sends the Philadelphia Eagles to meet the Arizona Cardinals. One reason is the loyal Baltimore fan base.

"Ravens fans are definitely some of the more committed fans in the NFL," said Scott Roback, vice president of business development for RazorGator, a ticket site. "When you looked out [in the stands] in Tennessee, you saw an impressive contingent of Ravens fans. I think you can expect to see that again because this is a pretty epic game."

He said two factors could mitigate demand: the economy and the weather. The forecast for Sunday in Pittsburgh calls for temperatures in the 20s and possible snow showers. The weather and ticket prices, combined with hostile Steelers fans, have persuaded a few Ravens fans to stay home and watch the game from bars or private parties.

But Pittsburgh is the closest and easiest to reach of the Ravens' playoff games this month. And the matchup is a lure.

"It's smash-mouth East Coast AFC football and just the nature of the run that the Ravens are on and obviously the Steelers being one of America's teams, if you will," Roback said. "So demand is holding."

Jarrod Sharp and a friend purchased lower-deck tickets for $298 each Sunday night when it became clear the Steelers would win and be the Ravens' opponent in the AFC championship. Sharp, 31, a network security engineer in Bethesda and Ravens season-ticket holder, said it was too difficult to get to the Miami and Nashville games. But he didn't hesitate about traveling to Pittsburgh.

"It's worth it to me to actually see us ruin Pittsburgh's hopes at Heinz Field," he said. "I'm a bit nervous because I know the Steelers' fans' reputation. But I just have such a good feeling about our team that I really think we're going to repeat the success we had in 2000-2001."

Sharp and his friend, who both intend to wear Joe Flacco jerseys, are driving up Saturday to meet up with Steelers fans they met in Baltimore when the Steelers played here earlier in the season. They'll go out with those fans Saturday night and attend their tailgate Sunday. But once the game starts, it's a different story.

"My real concern is aggressive, drunk Steelers fans starting trouble," Sharp said. "Hopefully, they'll be respectful because I've got a girl with me, but I might be thinking too highly of them."

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