For months, Ravens fans have been trading in their Friday business attire, work uniforms and school clothes for purple-hued garments — flaunting their support for the team. But this Purple Friday could be the most extreme yet.
As the AFC North champions prepare to face the Houston Texans in a home playoff game this weekend, some schoolchildren will get to shed uniforms to don team colors. National Aquarium staff members are wearing Ravens jerseys or purple shirts in place of the usual blue polos, and in Annapolis, Gov. Martin O'Malley has ordered purple illumination for some state buildings and declared an official "Purple Friday" for state workers.
Purple Friday "gives everyone something to look forward to," said Cyndi Brandt, vice president of marketing for Roadnet Technologies in Towson. "I think we all forget an important concept, which is sometimes you have to play at work a little bit, and it's OK to have fun."
The events can boost the collective mood of the city and help strengthen bonds at work and school — not just for die-hard fans, said Alan Langlieb, a Baltimore psychiatrist who specializes in workplace psychiatry and works as a consultant for businesses and universities. He says the activities might be taking on added significance this year as people try to shake off bleak economic news.
"The Ravens represent one of the brighter spots in Baltimore nowadays," Langlieb said. "There is a sense that the economy and all the bad news … the job market, the housing market, has dragged on for so long that people want to have a reason to be happy. They want to root for something that's winning."
When people connect around an event or team, "it gets them talking, and it becomes a bridge," he said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maryland forged a relationship with its counterpart in Pittsburgh, thanks to the Ravens-Steelers rivalry. When the teams played during the regular season, the chief executives of the service organizations agreed that the losing city's CEO would pose for an online photo wearing the opposing team's colors. After the game, the Pittsburgh chief executive and some staff members posed in purple.
Uniting behind the team has proved to be a morale booster for the small staff, said Paula Bragg, director of marketing for the Maryland organization.
"People get excited about the game," she said. "During games, staff will be texting each other — 'Did you see that play?'"
Purple Friday, a twist on the Casual Friday phenomenon that gained favor in workplaces in the 1990s, has been promoted by the Ravens since the start of the 2007 season and is a concept celebrated by other teams — Purple Fridays for the Minnesota Vikings and Green Fridays for the Philadelphia Eagles. At Roadnet, though, this is the first season that workers have been encouraged to boost their team spirit.
Some workers have clung to superstitions to keep bad luck at bay, wearing purple only on Fridays before home games, when well over two-thirds of the workforce typically joins in. This week, some have taken no chances, Brandt said, dressing in purple since Monday. Friday is "Fu Manchu Day" a nod to quarterback Joe Flacco, and workers plan to compete in an Ultimate Purple Fan contest in the building's lobby.
M&T Bank, Legg Mason and Constellation Energy — all of which are stops in all-day Ravens rallies around the city — have issued challenges to other Baltimore-area companies to light buildings purple and involve their workers in a Ravens pride contest. (The winning company will be selected by team officials from photos uploaded to the Ravens Facebook page.) Victor Graphics, a Baltimore printer, has bathed its 25-foot-tall rooftop pineapple, the company's logo — in purple.
The Maryland-based Jos. A. Bank Clothiers is designated as the official Purple Friday menswear apparel chain. The company had an agreement with the Ravens to manufacture black and purple ties and display collections of purple-tinged sweaters and shirts at its stores, said Bob Hensley, executive vice president of real estate and human resources
"We still have a nice collection of purple attire for those who want to be properly dressed in their office or casual environment," Hensley said. "A purple tie is very in right now."
While store employees have maintained buttoned-down appearances even on Purple Fridays, workers and executives at the retailer's Hampstead headquarters are encouraged to dress down and show their Ravens colors before home game weekends, he said.
Other firms are trying to be sensitive to less-fortunate fans of the Washington Redskins, who missed the playoffs. Manekin LLC, which has its headquarters in Columbia, has no "official" Ravens events scheduled, said Melanie Brent Carrera, marketing director for the commercial brokerage and development firm.
"In our Columbia office, there are quite a few Redskin fans," Carrera said. "So we try to be very delicate about what is a company-endorsed event versus individual fun."
However, she added, "We're small enough that everyone knows who is rooting for whom. We do have some good-natured emails that fly back and forth. There are many Redskins fans — even in upper management."
Many area schools are encouraging purple-wear on Friday. But one in Towson is using the day to impart some lessons as well.
Since the student council at Immaculate Heart of Mary came up with the idea in 2009, students in Pre-K through eighth grade have been allowed to wear team or purple garb each Friday before a Ravens game instead of school uniforms — if they donate 50 cents to a designated charity. The students have raised up to $3,285 in a single school year and $1,700 since last fall.
"We're doing outreach and trying to give back to others," said Terri Archibald, the school's science coordinator and adviser to the student council. "This is a high-energy Ravens school. The children enjoy it because they get a day out of their uniforms."
Langlieb, the workplace psychiatrist, says the spirit of rallying around a city's team can be a positive whether someone is a die-hard fan or not.
At least for awhile.
"When it's over — or if they don't do well, it probably causes some people to feel sad again," he said. "But that's the magic of sports."