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'Cheese' banner a memorial to a Ravens fan whose loyalty never wavered

Baltimore RavensIndianapolis ColtsNFLArt ModellMemorial Stadium

Matthew Cheswick was a Ravens fan, big time. And even months after he was killed by a drunken driver while crossing an Ocean City street, he remains a presence at M&T Bank Stadium.

His dad makes sure of that.

"I think the Ravens meant just about everything to him, outside of his mom and me and his brother," says Chris Cheswick, 57, who has hung a banner with his son's nickname, "Cheese," at Ravens home games this year. "It's what he loved the most."

Matt lived and breathed Ravens football, his dad says, and the two were never happier than when they were surrounded by the purple and black. Even on those rare occasions when they couldn't make it to the stadium, their obsession with the team never diminished.

"If I weren't at the game, and he wasn't there watching it with me, we'd call or text maybe 20 times during the course of the game," Chris Cheswick says, "just to solicit opinions from one another."

The elder Cheswick pauses a moment. "I miss that a whole lot," he says.

Football had always meant a lot to the Cheswicks. Chris Cheswick says he can remember going to Colts games with his dad. The team's 1984 move to Indianapolis left a noticeable void in his life, he says, and the prospect of his sons growing up without an NFL team to root for — let's just say it didn't sit well with him.

"I was so delighted that both he and his brother, Luke, had an opportunity to have a team of their own," says Chris Cheswick, a retired Baltimore County teacher. "I always wanted to write Art Modell a letter, to thank him … for giving my sons the opportunity to have a team of their very own. I had the Colts, they had the Ravens."

After he took young Matt to the Ravens' first home game, at Memorial Stadium, back in 1996, his son took to the team right away, Chris Cheswick says. And he was never a fair-weather fan.

"That first season, we didn't have a particularly good season that year," he recalls, "and there was some booing. I remember, Matt looked at me and said, 'Why are these people booing? It's our team.' I'll never forget that."

The "Cheese" nickname, Chris Cheswick says, describes his son in two ways. First, it was a play on his last name. But it is also, he notes, the word someone says when they're trying to make a person smile. And his son, he says, was always smiling.

"When I began to meet more of his friends, they were telling me his nickname was either 'Cheese' or 'Smiles,' because he was always smiling and always happy."

Matt Cheswick, 22, died May 28. He was hit by a car as he was crossing Coastal Highway at 54th Street. The driver, 30-year-old Diogo Miller Facchini of Lorton, Va., was charged with homicide by a motor vehicle while intoxicated, leaving the scene of a fatal collision and other traffic-related offenses. Earlier this month, he was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $5,000.

Matt's friends wore Ravens uniform shirts to his son's funeral. "That should indicate what kind of fan he was," Chris Cheswick says.

Going to this year's Ravens opening day, the first one without his older son, was hard, Chris Cheswick acknowledges. But the banner, and the support of the gameday fans the Cheswicks have come to know over the years, helped.

"I don't think Luke and I shed any tears, but there wasn't an instant where we didn't think about Matthew," he says. Unfurling that banner, "I really sensed, and I do every time I hang it up, that he's there with it."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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