Leters to Ravens at Giant

Josh Billello, 6, of Monkton, drops a letter to the Ravens into the "Baltimore Ravens Postal Service" box at the Cockeysville Giant food store on Jan. 7. People filled out letters to be presented to the Ravens on Thursday at their training facility. (Photo By Noah Scialom, Patuxent Publishing / January 6, 2012)

Though most of the shopping on Saturday, Jan. 7 was, lamentably, not being done for a Ravens football party, local Giant stores were still in full football mode.

The playoff-bound Ravens had set up mailboxes in Baltimore-area Giant supermarkets, in which fans could drop off letters of support to the home team in advance of the team's Divisional Round playoff game next Sunday afternoon against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium.

At the Giant on York Road in Cockeysville/Hunt Valley, young fans were busy Saturday writing notes of encouragement to their gridiron heroes.

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Patrick Genco, 6, of Sparks, addressed his letter to the team's quarterback, Joe Flacco, and wrote a note that said "Go Ravens, Go! Win, win win!"

Fittingly enough, he ended the letter with an homage to Flacco's most famous feature: "Nice mustache."

Patrick was actually disappointed the team earned a bye, but planned to watch football with his family over the weekend anyway. Unprompted, he began reciting the team's best-laid scenarios for a trip to Indianapolis.

His friends have told him the Ravens should hope for a date with the top-seeded New England Patriots "so we can knock them out," Patrick said, and he's been told Baltimore should be most concerned with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers.

His mother, Renee Genco, said she was surprised to see the mailbox at the store, but was glad her son had the opportunity to send a note to his sports idols.

"It's great," she said. "He loves the Ravens. I think it's really sweet that the Ravens get the letters and display them."

Patrick, too, was excited by the idea of Flacco seeing his letter. The letters being collected at Giant will be transported to the team's Owings Mills training facility on Thursday, and displayed before the home playoff game.

The store's manager, Ken Darling, said the Cockeysville location has been in Ravens mode since an early-season visit from the team's marching band and cheerleaders.

On Saturday, a Ravens tent arched over the purple mailbox, with a football-field carpet leading up to the mailbox.

Beside the table and mailbox, a rack displayed a football-shaped coffee mug, a Ravens grill cover, even purple and black condiment dispensers — anything a fan could need for a tailgate outside M&T Bank Stadium in January.

After he had dropped his letter into the purple mailbox, Patrick saw classmate Josh Bilello and encouraged him to do the same.

Josh, a 6-year-old from Monkton, had walked into the supermarket wearing a Ravens sweat shirt, accompanied by his father, Andy.

His letter to the Ravens wished the team a Happy new year and good luck in the playoffs. Like his classmate, Josh's favorite player is Joe Flacco.

"He's young enough that he's still learning what sports are," his father said.

Andy Bilello, who organizes the annual Faceoff Classic lacrosse tournament at M&T Bank Stadium and works with the team in that capacity, called the Ravens a "classy organization" that is successful in involving the community with activities such as the mailboxes at Giant.

South on York Road at the Giant store in Timonium, near the fairgrounds, fans and employees were getting into the act on Saturday as well, dropping notes into that store's mailbox.