Ravens fans seek thrifty path to Foxborough

Playoff date has charter firms' phones ringing off hooks

January 05, 2010|By Michael Dresser | michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Pam Wilhelm of Millersville still savors the memory of joining fellow Ravens fans in Dallas last season to witness the team's victory over the Cowboys, their last game before moving into a brand-new venue.

"We shut down Texas Stadium, Baltimore-style, with a win," she said Monday as she made plans to travel to Massachusetts in a quest for another weekend of road-game euphoria.

Wilhelm and a group of friends were expecting to decide among a variety of choices for getting to Sunday's playoff game against the New England Patriots by charter bus. They ranged from spartan, get-your-own-tickets trips without an overnight stay to full-blown party weekends with first-class accommodations and admission included.

But one way or another, Wilhelm expects to be wearing purple and yelling her head off when Baltimore takes the field in Foxborough, Mass., for the 1 p.m. kickoff.

"It's worth it to go and root them on," she said.

Like other Ravens fans, Wilhelm didn't know until Sunday evening that the team had secured a wild-card berth in the American Football Conference playoffs by beating the Oakland Raiders. It wasn't until later that night that she knew the team's destination would be New England.

But Ed Royston said it didn't take long for Baltimore Ravens fans to begin looking for a ride to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. The owner of Hunt Valley Motor Coach said he must have received at least 50 calls just in the morning once the company opened for business at 9 a.m.

"At 9:01, we started getting calls," Royston said.

Hunt Valley was one of several companies that scrambled Monday to put together travel packages for Ravens fans.

Royston said his company had put together a $99-a-person motor coach trip leaving Timonium, with a later stop in Carney, in the wee hours of Sunday morning. The plan, he said, is to get fans up to Foxborough about 10 a.m. - just in time for some tailgating - and to leave for home right after the game.

The catch: Riders have to secure their own tickets. But Royston said that shouldn't be too much of a stretch because tickets were plentiful - and not overly expensive - at the many Web sites that offer them.

"If you'll get the ticket, we'll get you there," he said.

In Manchester, Bill Rohrbaugh's Charter Service Inc. posted a similar, tickets-not-included deal - only at an asking price of $82 round-trip. The Rohrbaugh service will leave Manchester at 2:15 a.m. and make stops at Timonium and White Marsh. Charter sales manager Lori Parr estimated the trip would take at least six or seven hours.

"It's quite a while up there, for sure," she said.

One option Wilhelm was considering was a caravan sponsored by radio station WNST (1570 AM) in Towson.

The station is chartering at least two buses to take fans and some of its on-air personalities - including Nestor Aparicio, Drew Forrester and Glenn Clark - to Providence, R.I., Saturday for a party and overnight stay at a four-star hotel, continuing Sunday to nearby Foxborough. Prices start at $400 per person for a quad - four people sharing a room - and go up to $475 per person for a single fan occupying a room alone.

Aparicio, WNST's owner, said the station has been sponsoring such trips for as long as the Ravens have been going to playoff games. He said the station has taken thousands of Ravens fans to out-of-state playoff games over the years, with few complaints.

"Everybody wears purple. Everybody has a lot of fun. Everybody drinks a little Miller Lite," he said - getting in a plug for a sponsor.

Wilhelm said she and her friends will also discuss the even more gold-plated option of a two- or three-night weekend with RavensTrips.com at the Sheraton Boston. That junket by motor coach weighs in at a minimum of $550 per person, double occupancy, for a two-night stay and $625 for three nights. The cost of tickets and a cocktail party on playoff eve are included.

Those who don't fancy a long bus trip can choose a package such as that offered by Chicago-based Sports Traveler, which rushed to market with an offer of a two-night Boston hotel-and-ticket package priced at $415, plus $185 for airfare. But by Monday night, the company was warning it had few airline tickets left at that price.

With costs that daunting, some fans were laying plans to make the trek by car.

Kevin Allen of Herndon, Va., a former photographer for the Orioles, Colts and Ravens, said he's planning to drive up Saturday with a group of friends. He said he's made the drive many times and has found it's smooth sailing once he crosses the Hudson River via the George Washington Bridge.

But for some Ravens fans - even the most faithful - the economy presents reasons to stay home and watch on TV what they'd like to see in person.

Don Miller of Carney said that last year he put about 2,400 miles on his car traveling to the Ravens' three postseason road games in Miami, Tennessee and Pittsburgh. The expenses of those trips made it improbable that he would see any Ravens road playoff games this season, he said.

Steve LaPlanche, who says he has "dedicated his life to football," is another fan skipping the trip to Foxborough.

He said his wife lost her job recently and that he won't be traveling for football unless the Ravens make the Super Bowl.

If that happens, the Anne Arundel Sheriff's Department captain said, all bets are off. It just so happens that this year, the final NFL showdown falls on his birthday.

"That'll be a nice birthday present," he said.

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