Haruki Nakamura's charity event at Ripken Stadium raised $60,000 for emergency relief in Japan on Saturday.
Nakamura, a backup safety for the Ravens who is one of several NFL players of Japanese descent, organized the event with the Red Cross to support the country after the disaster hit last month. He said he got "goosebumps" when he arrived and saw all of the purple-clad fans already lined up outside the stadium.
"This just shows how much people truly care," Nakamura said. "It's not about football players looking to give autographs. This is for something that's very special. We're trying to make an impact on a society 'that's in grave danger of nuclear issues and with lasting effects of a tsunami. This is what we're here for. And the fact that these people are here to support that is awesome."
An estimated crowd of 3,000 waited for hours and lined up along the lower concourse of the Aberdeen minor-league stadium in the drizzling rain. Each paid $50 to meet Joe Flacco, Ed Reed, Ray Rice, Chris Carr, Brandon McKinney and Qadry Ismail.
All proceeds from the autograph sessions and day-long raffles will be donated to the Red Cross International Relief Fund, which is providing emergency relief for Japanese victims.
"As a team, we stuck together when Katrina hit," said Reed, who is a native of New Orleans. "So, we know how catastrophic things are over there without even being there. You want to do as much as you can. Being that Ru [Haruki] is like a brother to me, it was easy when he called to do the event. We knew how much of a struggle people are going through right now. Tough times right now."
Rice said he didn't hesitate to show up to the signing after Nakamura called him.
"We're all a family," he said. "It's great to come out to events like this when you've got a guy whose family is out there and is affected by things like this."
Not all fans left happy. Dave Taylor, 25, of Bel Air, showed up at 11 a.m., an hour before the event began, to specifically get Reed's signature. But he never got to see the Pro Bowl safety.
"It was for a good cause so I really can't complain," Taylor said. "But it's disappointing to hear the event goes to 3 p.m. and all the big names were gone by 1:30."
Laura Dahl, 26, of Rising Sun, went to the event with her family including 3-year-old daughter and 7-month-old son, and said she spent $200 for autographs. She said did not receive autographs from the players she wanted : Flacco, Reed and Rice. She estimated that 500 others were unable to get those autographs.
"It's very disheartening," she said. "Everybody was there for a good cause and I don't want to downplay that. But we came for autographs and not a donation. It was very upsetting because whenever we hear about the Ravens we hear about their dedication to the community and to their fans. I feel let down by them today."
An attempt to reach organizers with the Ironbirds was unsuccessful.
This event was one of the few times that Ravens players got together since last month's lockout.
The players asked for patience from fans during this labor battle, which Rice compared to a family feud.
"Bottom line, we didn't do anything as players," Flacco said. "We had a deal in place and they [the owners] are asking for more. Now, they're saying they want to meet us halfway. They're not meeting us halfway. They're meeting us halfway with the numbers they created. I think the average fan has a pretty good understanding and can see us as players want to play. It's just a matter of getting it done. At some point, one of the sides is going to compromise in order for us to play football."
The players' injunction to end the lockout will be heard April 6.
"We hope — and all the fans should hope — that the players win that injunction," Carr said. "If we win, the lockout will be over and be illegal. Whoever loses the injunction, there will be an immediate appeal. If the players win the appeal, then there will no lockout. And the fans and everybody should be really happy because there will be a season."