A frenzy of preparations for Ravens-Bears game

After the snow came a storm of shoveling. For most, the Bears game was the easy part

December 21, 2009|By Don Markus | don.markus@baltsun.com

They shoveled. They plowed. They tailgated.

And then they celebrated.

By the time most Ravens fans left M&T Bank Stadium Sunday night after a 31-7 victory over the Chicago Bears, many had forgotten about the trouble it took to get there and the preparations that went into making sure the game itself - likely the last home game in Baltimore this season - could be played.

It turned out to be something of the calm after the storm.

After preparing for longer-than-normal commutes and fewer-than-usual parking spots around M&T Bank Stadium, most Ravens fans were pleasantly surprised at how easy things turned out for Sunday's final regular-season home game.

The hard part had come Saturday, when many had started digging out from the major storm that dumped more than 2 feet of snow in parts of Maryland and well over a foot around Baltimore.

"I had to shovel my driveway three times, knowing that I wanted to get out" for the game, Michael Abrahamson of Reisterstown said about an hour before kickoff.

Abrahamson wasn't alone, as many Ravens fans talked about their taxing pre-game preparations. But when they arrived - the majority drove despite warnings by state officials of snow-clogged lots - most were impressed by the job done clearing the parking areas, walkways and the stadium itself.

While some snow remained in the upper deck and there were a couple of 50-foot piles outside the stadium, nearly all of it seemingly had disappeared. It was the result of 36 hours of one of the most impressive shoveling jobs this side of Green Bay's Lambeau Field.

More than 1,750 people started shoveling Friday night, and many of them slept in luxury suites and continued the job on Saturday. Among those clearing out the tons of snow inside the stadium were more than 200 inmates and their corrections supervisors - most from a pre-release unit of the state's Department of Corrections and the rest from the city's detention center.

Roy Sommerhof, the Ravens' vice president of stadium operations, said the snow removal cost nearly $500,000 and was "extremely challenging."

He called it "the most unique experience we've had at M&T Bank Stadium. ... We just put everything we had into it."

Sommerhof said discussions began Wednesday when forecasts called for the possibility of a major East Coast storm. On Friday, team president Dick Cass got the league to move the kickoff from 1 p.m. to 4:15. But the preparations, Sommerhof said, began in October.

"If you prepare for it, if you have the people in place and the equipment, you can do it," Sommerhof said.

Even with the plan in place, executing it was difficult.

Playing music to keep shovelers awake and rotating workers through two-hour shifts that allowed for some sleep in between, the crews kept working throughout the 25-hour snowstorm. When the snow finally stopped around 11 p.m. Saturday, it was little more than 16 hours to game time.

"We had kept shoveling, because we didn't have time on the back end," Sommerhof said.

Then there was the matter of the Bears getting here, after their flight from Chicago was delayed Friday because of mechanical problems and later canceled because of deteriorating weather in Baltimore.

As the storm intensified, the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport was closed. But workers cleared one runway late Saturday, enabling the Bears' plane to land.

One airport official quipped that the same consideration might not have been provided had the storm hit a week later and been the Ravens' next opponent that was facing travel trouble.

"I'll be frank," said Paul Wiedefeld, BWI's director of operations. "If it had been the Pittsburgh Steelers, they'd still be going around and around up in the air, hoping to land. I'm not sure my workers would have worked quite as hard for Pittsburgh to land."

With major roads cleared, getting to the stadium was not too difficult for most fans. Not that some did not have a little excitement.

As Joe Bell was pulling onto a ramp to Interstate 95 near Catonsville, traffic came to a halt. Then cars in front of him began to back up.

"We asked a guy what was going on and he said, 'A bus ran into a ditch,' " Bell said. "As we started to back up, a 4-point buck comes out and jumps right over the front of us. It was beautiful. It was a little different."

And Ravens fans were rewarded, too, with a victory that kept the team in the hunt for a wild-card spot going into next week's game at Pittsburgh.

Asked to describe the Ravens' season, Mark Colaianni of East Point sounded as if he were forecasting the weather.

"Unpredictable," he said.

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