Ravens are not the only road warriors

Fans get ready for opening trip up to New Jersey

September 12, 2010|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

Monday night, Ravens fans are finally going to get what they've been talking about since January — a football game that counts in the standings.

But for many of the team's most fanatical followers — those either too impatient or too passionate to wait two more weeks for the first regular-season game of the year at M&T Bank Stadium — it's not enough. They need to be there, even if that means a foray into hostile football territory.

Matt Gramil is making his seventh trip to a Ravens away game, heading to the New Meadowlands Stadium for today's season opener against the New York Jets with a group of friends eager to start heckling the notoriously ornery Big Apple fans on their home turf. Brian Snyder has booked more than 100 people to join him on a bus headed north.

For them, and hundreds like them, the perils of a hostile crowd, the unique thrill that comes with being a purple patch within the screaming tapestry of another team's colors, is all just part of being a Ravens fan.

"You want to get into that environment and show the team some love," said Brian Davies, who will be joining Gramil for the trip to New Jersey. "It's like with the Orioles and the Yankees. All the fans come down from New York and heckle us. It's nice to be able to return that even though we'll be on the short end when it comes to the number of fans."

It should certainly be worth the trip, considering that Monday's season opener between the Ravens and Jets in East Rutherford, N.J. is a matchup of teams being hyped as serious Super Bowl contenders.

It comes a decade after the Ravens beat New York's other NFL team for professional football's most coveted prize — the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

While playing the Jets might not evoke the same emotions as in Pittsburgh or Cleveland or Indianapolis — where wearing Ravens colors could be comparable to donning a Yankees cap in Fenway Park — comments this week by Jets coach Rex Ryan and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis could stir things up a bit in the $1.6 billion stadium.

What happens on the field will ultimately determine how Gramil and other Ravens fans making the trek to the Meadowlands are treated.

Recalling a December 2007 trip to Miami that ended with an overtime loss to a then-winless Dolphins team, Gramil said, "We were heckled pretty badly. When we were walking out, one of their fans said to me, 'You flew all the way from Baltimore for this? Thanks for the early Christmas present.' But it was all in good fun."

Gramil is expecting a different reception from Jets fans, considering what happened when he and some buddies went to a Giants game on the road two years ago.

"If I would pick all the games I've been to on the road, Giants fans were the rudest," said Gramil, whose Ravens road trips also included going to see them play the Dallas Cowboys in the last regular season game at Texas Stadium. "New York fans always think they're the best in everything."

Though the Giants fans celebrated that day, Gramil and his friends were able to remind them which team won Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Fla. at the end of the 2000 season.

With the Ravens opening the season with two straight games away from Baltimore for the first time in franchise history — one of three NFL teams this season to start with back-to-back road games — third-year coach John Harbaugh said after the team's practice Saturday that fan support away from home is much appreciated.

Unlike most of his coaching counterparts, Harbaugh has gone as far as high-fiving the fans sitting close to the field after a number of road wins.

"We have great fans," Harbaugh said." We've got really loyal fans — that's the thing — and our fans show up wherever we're at. They were in San Diego last year; they've been all over the country with us. It makes a big difference. You hear the 'O' on the National Anthem, and you hear them cheering. And sometimes at the end of games, when things are going the way we want them to go, they're the only ones left, and we appreciate that."

The trip to see the opening regular season game at the Jets' new stadium is partly business for Snyder, who has combined his passion for the Ravens and his fledgling social networking company, BMORE Around Town, into a potential gold (or is that purple?) mine.

Snyder, who helped organize a trip for himself and eight friends in a 12-passenger van for road trips to Foxboro, Mass., and Indianapolis for last season's playoff games, advertised for a bus trip to the Meadowlands back in May that also included a tailgate party. The cost of the trip with a game ticket is $329, and $99 for those getting their own tickets. At least three other Baltimore-area groups have also organized bus trips to the game

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