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Ravens fans find a home away from home in Denver

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The first time David Caplan walked into Chopper's Sports Grill in Denver in 2009, he was in search of fellow Ravens fans, who he had heard gathered at the bar.

"I showed up at the first game not knowing anyone, and saw a bunch of purple and black, and I said, 'All right, I feel comfortable,'" the 31-year-old Columbia native recalled.

Since then, that gathering has become an important source of community for Caplan and dozens of other Baltimore-area transplants in the Mile High City — and members are getting primed for Saturday's playoff game against the hometown Broncos.

"We're proud of how the group has grown, and super pumped for the game this weekend," said Bill Rollins. He grew up in Towson but moved to Denver for an IT job four years ago and immediately began looking for fellow Ravens fans.

Rollins, 30, found Nicci Hyatt, one of the group's founders, and the ball kept rolling from there.

"The first season we were getting together, we had 10 or 12 core members," said Hyatt, 40, who was raised in Chicago but became a die-hard Ravens fan after marrying her husband, Phil, of Pikesville. "Then by the third season, there were more like 30 core members, and now we're more like 50 at every single game."

This week, the group is in full-on preparation mode, organizing tailgates, talking with local media and coordinating meet-ups with other Ravens groups heading to town not only from Baltimore, but also from destinations like Los Angeles and Las Vegas, members said.

"It's great fun," said Maggie Shoemaker, 34, another Towson transplant who joined the group in 2010 and enjoys the camaraderie.

"You still get to put on your little purple outfits and go to the game and cheer like idiots for the team you love, and meet new people ... fellow Baltimorons," said Shoemaker. She was in Baltimore for less than 48 hours this past weekend to witness Ray Lewis' final home game before flying back to Denver.

Over the years, Caplan, who works at a Coors plant, has made some of his best friends in the city through the Ravens gatherings, where he also met girlfriend Hannah Misner, 26.

Misner, who grew up in Waynesboro, Pa., and has always rooted for the Ravens, said she sought out the group after moving to Colorado for law school. She found that going to bars and watching the team on small televisions without sound — because Broncos games always took up prime TV real estate — "just wasn't the same" as rooting for the team back home.

"I started getting almost depressed," she said of football before finding Chopper's.

At Chopper's, which also hosts meet-ups for Texas Longhorns football and Kansas Jayhawks basketball fans, the group has its own side bar where the televisions all play Ravens games with the volume up. Caplan and Misner are just two of dozens of regular attendees for games; big matchups and playoff games have drawn hundreds, members said.

"They're all nuts, die-hard fans for sure," said K.C. Lucas, manager of the bar in the Cherry Creek area. "They are absolutely, far and away, the second-strongest support we've had after Broncos fans. They've been great."

During last month's matchup between the Broncos and Ravens, which Denver won 34-17, there was some "back and forth" and "some good smack-talking" between the two fan bases. But it was "all in fun," Lucas said, noting the Ravens group has a slew of chants and other "rituals" to get them pumped up after touchdowns and big plays.

"Everyone's pretty intense, but also pretty fair," he said of the way the Ravens fans are accepted by others at the bar.

Group members are still trying to figure out their schedule for this weekend, but most said they plan to have a large tailgate event before attending the game. There also might be an event at Chopper's Friday night. Those without tickets might post up at the bar for the game.

Hyatt and her husband, who still have a house in Federal Hill because they are often back in Baltimore, have tickets to the game, but plan to be fully involved in the group's tailgate beforehand.

Dimitri Sotiriou, 34, a Silver Spring native who moved to Denver about five years ago with his wife, Marissa, who is from Chesapeake Beach, has been preparing for the event since early this week. Last April, Sotiriou launched a food truck called Capt'n Crabby, which serves authentic blue crab dishes.

Naturally, the Ravens group — which Sotiriou is part of — loves the food, he said. He wouldn't miss the tailgate.

"There's so much energy, so much excitement," he said. "It's a beautiful thing, man."

Sotiriou said he's in discussions with groups from Baltimore about playing a role in their tailgates, too.

Nikki Cimino, 29, and her fiance, Steve Schott, 27, who both grew up in Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood and moved to Denver in the summer of 2011, will set their pre-game plans based on what the majority of the group is doing.

"Whatever they're doing, we're pretty much going to do," Cimino said. Once the game starts, it will be into the nosebleeds — seats high in the stadium. Cimino thinks the Ravens can win, despite their loss to the Broncos last month.

"We're still going to be riding high from the game on Sunday," she said. "We've learned how not to play against Peyton Manning, so it's a tossup. I just hope it's not another blowout. I don't think my heart could handle that."

Regardless of the outcome, the group of Ravens fans will endure in Denver for years to come, members said.

"It's about more than just the Ravens," said Misner, noting that the group also gets together occasionally for Orioles games and has an annual summer crab feast. "We have a big group of friends, and we do everything Baltimore-related out here."

"The growth of social media has really made this possible, not just in Denver but anywhere," Hyatt said. "We've traveled for games, and we've been able to find other purple fans showing purple pride. I think it's so good for Baltimore and the legacy we're building."

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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