Shawn Furgis might have been the happiest fan at M&T Bank Stadium Saturday. It would have been hard to prove otherwise.
The manager of a Washington Boulevard McDonald's, he squirmed through a tangle of fans to score a Joe Flacco autograph. When he got the quarterback's signature, he held it high and proclaimed, "Baltimore is a great city and the Ravens are ready to play."
Such sentiments seemed to fill the stadium, where fans got a free taste of the football, even if they had to do without traditional practice sessions in Westminster this lockout-shortened preseason.
Three players for the North Harford Recreation Council's Jarrettsville Ravens, Michael McNulty, 11; Kendall Outing, 9; and his brother, Chaz, 12, all walked away with big-name Ravens autographs as well..
The three waited until after the practice scrimmage, when only the autograph seekers remained in the stadium, and maneuvered successfully into the gaggle of fans leaning over a wall where players signed programs, caps and almost anything purple.
While they left the stadium with souvenirs, others were just relieved just to have an NFL season ahead of them after months of tumultuous labor negotiations between the owners and players.
"Today's a mea culpa for the lockout, but obviously somebody's thinking right," said Shaun Smith, a Randallstown resident who arrived at the stadium at 8:30 a.m. "The lockout was nothing but posturing among millionaires."
Smith, who works in data processing, gestured toward the announced crowd of 24,078 fans in the stadium and said, "The lockout was just about business. It was not about the fans, but today is about us. Obviously Baltimore loves the Ravens."
Saturday's attendance figure was up from the comparable 2010 pre-season fan event, when 17,851 persons attended.
The lockout amounted to little more than tired old news to die-hard Ravens fans, a few of whom arrived at Russell Street in the pre-dawn hours. Most showed up well before the 10 a.m. start time and had their pick of seats that would normally fetch fancy prices in regular season play.
Richie Simpson, a West Lombard Street resident, walked to the stadium with a 10-year-old niece, Gina and 4-year-old nephew, C.J.
"The lockout was all about the money," Simpson said. "You've got all these millionaires on the field."
The lower half of the stadium was mostly filled by 10 a.m. Many Ravens fans arrived with children.
Some, like Art Weaver, a Pasadena fan who works in medical supplies, had never been in the stadium before.
"I like it," he said, unsure that he would make it back again to a regular season seat. He normally prefers to watch at home.
Mark Seifert, a native Baltimorean who now lives in Hochessin, Del., arrived with his sons, Blaine, 11 and Cole, 8.
Seifert recalled August days during his childhood in the Cedarcroft section of North Baltimore.
"The Colts were a big part of our youth," he said. "I grew up watching the Colts practice in the summers at Towson University. I would walk there with my buddy. The practice sessions drew maybe 100 to 200 people. It was all so safe then. As kids we just walked over from out homes."
As Siefert spoke, linebacker Ray Lewis appeared on the field — trailing most of his teammates by several minutes.
"When you are that good, you can come out when you want," Siefert said.
When Joe Flacco appeared, Seifert noted the quarterback's recent weight gain. "They said he put on 10 pounds of muscle in the weight room."
Then Blaine caught a gray Ravens T-shirt tossed into the crowds.
"We're looking to get some autographs later," he said. "This is a great turnout. These folks are really excited about the season."
Sara Miller lives in the Westminster area, about three miles from McDaniel University where the Ravens would have practiced in a non-lockout year. She said she was "disappointed but not annoyed" at the events this year.
"The town of Westminster just goes purple," she said. "But look, now the season is getting going and it is business as usual, We are ready for football."