With the Ravens 10-point underdogs and facing the better-than-ever Peyton Manning, fans should just start packing up their purple gear and accepting the end of their football season today — or so the experts seem to be saying.
To which Bernadette Ruzicka of Dundalk says quite succinctly: "Phooey on them."
Maybe it's denial, maybe it's magical thinking, maybe it's the bluster of a city tired of perennially being put down. Ravens fans like Ruzicka are heading into today's playoff game against the Denver Broncos ready to buck the odds, and carrying a familiar burden on their shoulder.
"Baltimore is not considered one of the elite metro areas of the country, and that transfers to our sports teams," said Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards. "So we walk around with a chip on our shoulder, collectively."
Without New York's swagger or Washington's self-importance, Baltimore is used to being underestimated, if not outright dissed. And perhaps nowhere does the city feel that sting more sharply than in football, after losing one team in the middle of the night and being denied a new one for years by a dismissive National Football League.
Since those dark years, though, the Ravens have offered fans a way to settle old civic scores as well as stand up to newer insults, be they from Vegas oddsmakers or naysaying pundits.
"You don't think we're good? We are good, and we're going to remember that," Gibbons said, channeling Baltimore's grudge-holding ways.
As the game neared, fans rallied at locations around the region Friday. At a jewelry store and supermarket north of Towson, cheering fans wore team jerseys and other purple-and-black clothing. In Towson, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz wore a No. 10 jersey with "COUNTY EXEC" across the back and sported a purple mustache.
Gibbons is predicting a 27-17 Ravens win, noting that several key players have returned from injuries since the team faced, and lost to, the Broncos in the regular season. Much of the pregame chatter giving the game to Denver reflects what the national media would like to see, he said, but not necessarily what they will see.
"They're so intent on seeing Denver playing New England," Gibson said of the conference championship match-up that many envision. "The national perception is we're not one of the sexy glamour teams."
Fans say the predictions of a Broncos win aren't dampening their spirits as they head into the weekend. Members of the Ravens Roost fan clubs expect big crowds at their gathering spots.
"Based on the crowd I had here Sunday," Lenny Banack of Laid Back Lenny's in Essex said, "I expect the crowd on Saturday to be huge."
About 75 people jammed into the pub to watch the wild-card round of the playoffs, his largest crowd for a home game, Banack said. The retired Social Security branch manager started Ravens Roost No. 73 about 11 years ago and ended up buying the bar where the club holds its get-togethers.
Darryl Despeaux of Roost 65 said predictions of a Denver victory won't keep his members away from their usual hangout, Beefalo Bob's in Pasadena. "That doesn't stop us from supporting our team," he said.
While Despeaux himself will be far away — he took his wife to Key West, Fla., for her birthday — he brought his Ravens flag to wave from their rented apartment and has already scoped out bars there for a spot to watch the game.
Fans say Ray Lewis' plan to retire at the end of the season adds an emotional overlay to these postseason games — each one potentially the last for the player who in many ways embodies the pride and grit of the city where he's spent his entire professional career.
If Sunday's game was fraught for any number of reasons — it was Lewis' last home game and brought the Colts back from Indianapolis to their birthplace — today's has its subtexts as well. A loss would make it Lewis' final game, while a win would potentially send the Ravens back to Foxborough, Mass., where Baltimore has some unfinished business against the Patriots after that wrenching dropped-pass, missed-field goal loss in last year's conference championship game.
"My heart tells me the guys are going to fight like warriors and find a way to get to play Tom Brady," said Bill West, who heads Ravens Roost 15, referring to the New England quarterback. "We're going to party when the Ravens beat Peyton Manning, then Tom Brady, so that Ray Lewis goes out on a high note."
Those marquee quarterbacks don't impress Ruzicka, whose husband, Melvin, owns the Ravin Store on Eastern Avenue.
"We can beat Denver. It's only Peyton Manning," she said, standing amid racks of purple attire in the store. "Our quarterback and our team is good, too."
The store ran out of Lewis jerseys but has been moving a lot of "Thanks for the Memories" shirts bearing his silhouette.
Further down Eastern Avenue, at the Baseball Card Outlet and Sports Memorabilia shop, it's been "chaos" since Lewis announced his retirement, said Mike Tanner, who owns the store with his brother. The most popular item has been autographed prints of a photo showing Lewis kneeling over the just-sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger like a hunter with his bagged quarry.
As usual on a game day, Tanner will close early today since most of his customers will not be out and about shopping for memorabilia but in front of their TVs — which is his plan as well.
"Everyone wants to win it for Ray Lewis," he said. "People are optimistic, because of how healthy the team is now. The Broncos are due to lose a game, and we're due to catch a break."
Gibbons, of the Sports Legends Museum, says the Ravens' success over the years, coupled with the Orioles' return to the postseason last fall, should go a long way in turning around the city's undeserved reputation as "second-class."
"I think nationally, despite the fact that we had Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson, we were perceived as second-rate. We were Title Town, we were fairly proud. When we lost our football team, that changed the demeanor here. We lost whatever confidence we had. Then the Orioles went to hell in a handbag," he said of the baseball team's 14-year streak of losing seasons.
"If we can be competitive next year," Gibbons said hopefully, "maybe we can lose that chip on our shoulder."
twitter.com/jean_marbellaCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun