Matt and Adrianna Birk with their kids, clockwise from left:… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
If you need any more reason to be glad you live in an American rather than a British football town, consider the WAGs.
Short for Wives and Girlfriends of footballers — what we on this side of the pond would call soccer players — these blingy, label-mad, free-spending and -partying women have become fixtures in the British tabloids, their styles widely if usually poorly imitated, their every gaudy act exquisitely chronicled. Think Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham, in all her high-maintenance, meticulously coiffed glory.
Not that U.S. football players live entirely non-glam lives — supermodels, starlets and the like have been known to turn up on their arms on occasion. And to be sure, our own Baltimore Ravens are married to the kind of women who certainly hold their own in the looks and charm department.
But befitting the town's down-to-earth nature, the Ravens' wives you'll meet in this story are women more likely spotted at their kids' soccer practice than at a fashion show, in line at the grocery store than on a red carpet and, most of all, in the stands on game days with the rest of Ravens Nation.
Still, they're a group apart. They probably have a better parking space at the stadium than you do, for one thing, and, with their husbands' million-dollar-contracts, they live pretty nice lives. Yet they can also be uncertain ones, with trades and contract expirations always looming on the horizon, not to mention the possibility of one of those stadium-silencing injuries.
"It can be scary," says Kirbie Chester of watching games where the other team is basically trying to kill your husband. It's hard even watching players on the other side getting hit, she says, "because that could be someone else's husband."
They live lives in some way an inverse of ours. While most people wind down during the weekends, that is the busiest time for them, between the games themselves and the family and friends who flock to town to watch them. Their date nights with their husbands are not on Saturdays — when players are sequestered in a hotel in advance of Sunday games — but Mondays; when they juggle their kids' multiple activities, they make sure to keep Tuesday clear because that's the one day during the season that Dad is home all day. It is perhaps this unique lifestyle that gives the Ravens' wives a close bond.
"Six months a year, we don't have our husbands," said Adrianna Birk, whose husband, Matt, is the team's center. "Then the other six months, they're always around."
Usually, when players join a team, they'll know someone already there — maybe someone from college, or from a previous team. And their wives have a parallel network as well, sometimes just from the fact that they know what it's like to move to a strange town and have to find everything from a house to a pediatrician.
"We all know each other's lifestyle," said Sarah Carr, whose husband, Chris, is a cornerback on the team. "Most of us are away from our families, so we try to support each other."
A Ravens wife who sees "Sarah Carr" pop up on her phone's caller ID will generally know: Something's afoot.
The 30-year-old Carr is one of the wives most likely to organize an event, whether it's a charity dinner or just a casual girls' night out.
She and Chris met through mutual friends as students at Boise State University and have been married almost five years. She grew up on a cattle ranch in Idaho; he was from Reno and planned to be a lawyer but instead signed with the Oakland Raiders in 2005.
She worked as a dental hygienist during their time in Oakland and had planned to continue her career when he went to the Tennessee Titans.
"But in Tennessee, by the time I got licensed, three days later, we came to Baltimore," Sarah says.
She misses working and is thinking of finding a way to use her background in an educational setting, perhaps working on a dental health program for kids. Chris has his own educational plans for the future — he has interned in the off-season with a Baltimore law firm and took the LSATs last year to keep his post-football options open.
She is soft-spoken and pensive, but at the same time, she describes herself as "very social, the more the merrier." The wives aren't clique-ish, she says, and draw newcomers into their circle. Even if they've just met, they often feel an instant bond, she said, citing a quick friendship with Priscilla Redding, whose husband, Cory, joined the team this year.
"I've only known her since March, and already she feels like an old friend," Sarah says.