When Chip Riley urges Ravens fans to get fired up, he knows whereof he speaks.
A 25-year veteran of the Baltimore County Fire Department who retired in 2006, Riley spends his time at Ravens home games exhorting his fellow fans to get a little crazy. Decked out in a Ravens-emblazoned fire helmet and face paint that makes his head look like it's on fire, the fan known as "Fired Up" gets as much of a kick from the people around him as they do from him.
"I'm mainly there to get everybody fired up," he says. "I usually go around the stadium saying, 'Let's get fired up.' I do a 'Woooooo' behind it — remember that wrestler, Rick Flair, how he used to do a 'Woooooo'? That's what I do, and everybody around me starts to do the same thing. It's amazing."
We asked the 52-year-old Riley, who lives in Bel Air with his wife of 14 years, Sherry, about life as a Ravens booster.
Is your fandom something you transferred over from the Colts? Absolutely. My father, Charlie Riley — that's where my passion came from. He took me to my first game in 1965; I was 6. Then, in 1970 — I was 11 — I went to every game with him; my mom kinda gave up her ticket. Of course, he loved Johnny Unitas, and I got to see him play and admired him. But I was a Bert Jones fan.
How did you go from being a fan to being a superfan? I always had a little bit of it. When my father passed away, part of me died on that day in 2005. We started this foundation in memory of my dad, called the Charlie Riley Community Service Scholarship Foundation.
I kept going to games, but there was a hole, there was something missing. Meeting [fellow superfans] Rick [Bowlus] and an old friend of mine, Brian Donley, we all rode together. One day, Brian said, "Let me paint you up." That was the summer of 2007. He said, "What theme do we want?" and I said, "I don't know if I want to do this." And he said, "Come on, do it."
Have you had any interactions with the players? Absolutely. Some of the guys we've gotten to really know, like Jameel McClain, Lardarius Webb, Ed Reed, Michael Oher. And what's really neat is, some of the players' families have come over to tailgate with us this whole season. Dannell Ellerbe's family, Christian Thompson's mom comes over and tailgates with us — they come over and find us, and they end up coming back. It's good that we can kind of take care of the families.
Do you ever find yourself looking at other fans and thinking they're not doing something right, maybe wishing they could be more like you — or that you could be more like them? One thing I don't like sometimes is the language and the way they treat other fans. I try to make it the best experience for other fans that I can. When I see an unruly fan, I try — obviously, you've got to be very careful, you've got to know when to walk away — but I try to say, "Hey, let's tone it down. It's a game. We're all here for one reason, and that's to have fun. So let's make it the best experience we can."
When I see somebody that's got an unbelievable get-up and all, I go over and say, "This is awesome, man." There's no jealousy factor. …That just floors me, the passion that some of these people have. It's just unbelievable and awesome.