At the start of the very first Ravens game, back in Memorial Stadium, a recent graduate of Morgan State University stepped forward to sing the national anthem, burnishing the words with his velvety baritone.
Since then, through good seasons and bad, Mishael Miller has sung "The Star-Spangled Banner" at nearly every home game. His voice has become a part of the experience of attending a Ravens game — something as authentically Baltimore as the plush purple seats and the song itself, which was, of course, written here.
On Sunday, Miller will lift his voice one last time in Ravens M&T Bank Stadium. After 18 seasons, he is moving on, heading south to Birmingham, where he will become the pastor of a congregation.
"It's a very emotional time for me," said Miller, whose voice is nearly as sonorous when speaking as singing. "I have a lot of memories behind me."
Although Miller has not personally met the members of the team, they, as well as their fans, feel a personal connection to him.
"Man, he's awesome," Ravens kicker Justin Tucker — himself an opera singer — said of Miller this week. "It's hard not to get a little jacked up when he's doing the "Star-Spangled Banner" before the game and all the fans come in and say 'O.' It's a pretty cool thing to be part of."
Coach John Harbaugh praised Miller's "phenomenal efforts."
"I think the world of him," Harbaugh said. "It's been an honor standing on the sideline when he sings the national anthem."
Fans, many of whom took to Twitter and Facebook to express sadness at Miller's departure, said the singer's rendition had become the definitive version of the anthem for them.
"I pay more attention to the lyrics when he sings it," said Kelly Connelly, 40, a nonprofit worker who lives in Charles Village. "There's an understated power about the way he sings it, so it's really about the song."
As a season ticket holder since the team's inception, Cheryl Goodell, 68, a retired substitute teacher from Fallston, has heard most of Miller's 180-some performances at home games.
"It makes me feel so patriotic," Goodell said. "I put my hand over my heart and my husband takes off his hat."
Goodell said she sometimes travels to watch Ravens games on the road, and Miller trumps most of the singers in other stadiums.
He was even better, she said, than Zendaya, the Disney Channel starlette who sang the anthem last month, one of the rare home games at which Miller did not sing.
That Miller would have sung for crowds of tens of thousands for seventeen years, would surprise those who saw him sing publicly for the first time as a small child, in front of the congregation in Philadelphia in which he was raised. He cried.
Afterwards, Miller recalled, his father asked him why he was frightened in front of a crowd when he sang so beautifully at home. A short time later, Miller and his sister sung a duet, "Up Where We Belong," and he began to understand he had a gift for public performances.
He sang in high school and as soloist for the Morgan State Choir. It was his former choir director there who recommended that Miller sing at that first game at Memorial Stadium.
Kevin Byrne, senior vice president of the Ravens, said the team leadership quickly decided that they wanted Miller to sing at each home game.
"We wanted a singer who can bring the right amount of reverence to the song," he said. Miller's powerful voice and "ability to lift … the audience to the meaning of the words" made him a perfect choice, Byrne said.
Miller said the first performances in front of such a vast crowd made him nervous, but, over time, he learned to focus on a clock or a flag rather than the sea of faces before him.