Again, Ravens Fans Have High Hopes

11,000 Strong, They Show Their Love At First Full-team Workout

August 01, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

The first full-squad practice at Ravens training camp Friday attracted an overflow crowd, over-the-top expectations and a kiss for the team's iconic star, linebacker Ray Lewis.

An estimated throng of 11,000 marked the largest crowd for a nonscrimmage practice in Ravens' history. Fans serenaded the team with chants, cheers and lots of love as the Ravens embarked on their latest Super Bowl chase.

"Amazing atmosphere," coach John Harbaugh said afterward. "I don't know how many were here, but the place is absolutely stuffed. I remember standing behind, as we started the live drill, looking up, and they were on levels back here - up on the steps, on the hillside and everything. Guys are excited about that. It makes it fun to get out here. We have great fans."

Fans were lined up seven-deep, and the bleacher section along one side of the practice field was filled. Even a balcony at the end of McDaniel's gymnasium was bulging with people.

A year ago, a crowd of 6,625 was on hand in Westminster for Harbaugh's first full-team practice. This year, after an appearance in the AFC championship game, the buzz of anticipation has grown to a deafening roar of expectation.

"It's probably [that] the expectations are high, but people are anxious to get back to football," team president Dick Cass said. "And I think this crowd reinforces the fact we made the right decision to keep the camp in a place like McDaniel College, where the fans can get up close and personal."

Players noticed the difference, too.

"You can definitely notice a big increase from last year, that's for sure. You can definitely hear them out there," said offensive guard Marshal Yanda.

They came from near and far. Erin Ingrisano, 47, and her son Mike, 20, came from Fairfax County, Va., where she is a special education teacher and a huge Ray Lewis fan. Lewis was the last player off the field after the morning workout, and he exited only after signing a lot of autographs.

Ingrisano got one of them - on a close-up picture that bore the intensity in Lewis' face - and before he could slip away, she asked a question: "Ray, can I get a kiss?"

Lewis leaned across the barrier and Ingrisano gave him a kiss on the cheek. "I'm happy," she said. "Ray is the most inspiring player to watch."

The fan who perhaps came the farthest to see the opening practice was Reginald Johnson, an insurance agent who lives in Dallas. He brought his 12-year-old nephew, Timothy Johnson of Shreveport, La., with him for a five-day visit to Westminster.

Johnson, 51, said he has been coming every year since 2002, but has followed the team since it moved from Cleveland in 1996.

"When they moved here, it was like a new beginning for them and I just wanted to start with the team," he said. "I love [former owner] Art Modell and [general manager] Ozzie Newsome. They've done a fantastic job here. I like [current owner] Steve Bisciotti, too."

Johnson balances his expectations between the Ravens' offseason additions and a challenging schedule that includes a trip to New England in October, a home game against Indianapolis in November, and two West Coast trips.

"I'm really excited about the team, but their schedule is harder," Johnson said. "I think they can [reach the Super Bowl]. I think they can get over the hump and beat Pittsburgh this year."

Rob Flury, 38, from Perry Hall, didn't temper his expectations.

"The Super Bowl, of course," he said.

Flury, a season-ticket holder for the past eight seasons, brought his two children (Ryan, 8, and Madison, 6) to the practice. When Ravens' attendants noticed that Madison wore casts on two broken arms, she was shuttled to the front of the fan section for a better chance at autographs. She secured several from players.

"I like doing this because I'm a fan and this is awesome," Flury said. "I haven't been to other teams, but I'm sure this is as good as it gets."

Ingrisano and her husband, Joe, a lawyer in Washington, became Ravens fans after they failed to score Redskins' season tickets. "This is a friendly franchise," she said.

She has come to Westminster with her son, Mike, now a junior at West Virginia University, since 2003. The trip serves as a send-off before he goes back to school. Her husband, she said, plans to join them for today's workouts.

Mike Ingrisano allowed that "sometimes people get a little too crazy with expectations," but he was pleased with what he saw on Friday.

"Coach Harbaugh has them working out here," he said. "He's a big fan of all the players, always praising them in the media. But out here on the field, he's pushing them. I believe they can go farther this year. They've got a great coach. And the atmosphere around here is to get better every day."

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