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For rich and poor alike, life halted during Ravens game

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Deverick Howell could only stare at the television as Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff's last-chance field goal attempt hooked left of the uprights, dealing the team and its fans a heartbreaking 23-20 loss Sunday to the New England Patriots.

"I feel angry and disappointed," said Howell, who had worn his purple sneakers and loudly cheered the team on with fellow residents of Christopher Place, a residence for 60 formerly homeless men at the Our Daily Bread Employment Center on Fallsway.

Howell probably spoke for fans across the region who were itching for the team to return to the Super Bowl for the first time in 11 years. That dream ended abruptly in Foxborough, Mass., with an errant boot that would have sent the game to overtime and kept the Ravens' chances alive.

Right up to that moment, fans had good reason to hope, and spirits were high. It may just be football, but all over the Baltimore area, the rhythms of daily life more or less ground to a halt for three hours Sunday. The region turned into one big Ravens roost.

Sure, bars in Canton and Federal Hill predictably overflowed with purple-clad people imbibing lots of beer and screaming for the home team. Living rooms and dens, too. But eyes were also fixed on the game everywhere from the swanky restaurants of Harbor East to unusually quiet fire stations to the lobby at Our Daily Bread.

Staff at Christopher House said it was a no-brainer to throw an AFC Championship game party for its residents, complete with snacks.

"Pretty much everybody here is rooting for the Ravens," program assistant Gregory Johnson said. The way he sees it, the team gives Baltimoreans from all walks of life something to root for together — "even infant babies," as he put it.

Howell's stunned disbelief at the game's unexpected ending stood in stark contrast to the enthusiasm and optimism that earlier filled the waiting room at Our Daily bread, where chairs were set up in front of the flat-screen TV.

The Ravens were underdogs, something Howell can identify with as a formerly homeless man who's trying to turn his life around. He says he spent a few months locked up for stealing $180 in a credit card theft. For the past eight months, he's been at Christopher Place. "I want to live life right," he said.

Fellow resident Ronnie Hyser, 34, had no choice but to watch the game at Our Daily Bread. As a recent arrival to the program, he can't yet leave the building on personal business.

Hyser said he was released from prison a few weeks ago, after serving 18 months for auto theft. He said he's been "in and out of jail all my life" and battled a heroin addiction. A roofer by trade, he said he'd gone to Christopher Place to get back on track: "I wanted a better life for myself."

He enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow fans, with the possible exception of resident Michael Hinton, a longtime — and unabashedly vocal — Patriots fan. Though heavily outnumbered, the 42-year-old Hinton didn't hesitate to jump up and dance around when a play went New England's way.

Nor did he mind being razzed by the others, not even when Howell insultingly referred to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as "Tiffany."

"When I first came here I had anger issues," said Hinton, who credited God with helping him tackle his drug addiction. "There are a lot of things I learned about myself. I know how to ignore stuff."

The rest of the Christopher Place crew maintained its optimism about the Ravens for much of the game. They certainly didn't worry when the Patriots jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. When a field goal tied the score, Howell declared, "It's a whole new game now."

With so many in the city watching football, it made for a quiet afternoon for emergency first responders. At the fire station on 25th Street, a dozen firefighters and police officers took in the game.

The best seats in the house went to firemen. Four of them looked cozy in plush recliners. A fifth sprawled out on a floral-pattern sofa, ribbing the police when three more officers walked into the room. "Time to rob a bank!" he quipped.

The atmosphere at the station was laid back, almost subdued. A high-arcing, incomplete pass thrown by Joe Flacco late in the second quarter brought several to their feet, but only for a moment.

For the most part, it was so quiet you could hear the gurgling of the fish tank and the low-volume chatter coming over Officer Pierre Dolcine's police radio.

"Right now," Dolcine told a reporter, "we're multi-tasking — watching the game and listening to the radio."

Dolcine said there was a good reason he wasn't watching the game at the Northeastern District police station on Argonne Drive. "The TV doesn't work," he said. Besides, he said, the fire station left him and fellow officers well-positioned to respond to any emergency calls in that part of the district.

Dolcine's evening shift began at kickoff, though he didn't necessarily expect the streets to remain quiet all night. "When the game is on, everyone is calm and situated," he said. Based on past experience, he added, that could change when people head outside, emotions running high.

One firefighter said by halftime, there had only been two or three ambulance calls. He joked to the assembled police officers that if they wanted a spot in one of the recliners, "all you gotta do is call in a fire somewhere."

City streets were largely desolate during the game. But a glance into windows often revealed the flicker of a television. That was true in high-end Harbor East at the bar of Roy's Hawaiian restaurant. That's where friends Noah Turner and Eric Nielsen were watching the game.

The two started the afternoon at Portside Tavern in Canton. By 1:30 it was already standing room only, and they got tired of standing. Though they live in Washington and aren't huge Ravens fans, both were pulling for the team.

They munched on calamari and sipped cocktails while keeping careful watch over the flat-screen on the wall. "The fact it's a close game against a team that's been firing on all cylinders is pretty incredible," Nielsen said during the third quarter, with New England ahead by a few points.

Ipsita Das and Shawn Kumra had the same idea, combining dinner with the game at Roy's.

Kumra, a 32-year-old dentist from Washington, said he had "converted" to the Ravens after years of Washington Redskins futility. Das, by contrast, is a devoted Ravens fan. A 34-year-old health care consultant who lives in White Marsh, she was wearing her Ray Lewis jersey as proof.

The two had seats at M&T Bank Stadium for the Ravens win over the Houston Texans. They decided on Roy's for the AFC championship because they like the food and wanted to enjoy the game without having to fight for elbow room.

Not that they weren't excited.

"Fumble!" Kumra bellowed when the Ravens recovered a loose ball.

A few feet from the bar, three valet-parking attendants could only steal glimpses of the game through a window.

"I'm not even allowed to watch it here," said Hamadi Dicko, 30, an immigrant from the West African country of Mali. But he said he had checked out the bar television through the glass. "I know my boss would do the same thing," he added with a laugh.

Another parking attendant, Tesfaye Bati, went one step further. The 30-year-old from Ethiopia watched a reflection of the game in the front window so he could literally keep an eye out for cars.

There weren't many cars to park. The restaurant had only a handful of tables, making it much slower than a typical Sunday.

Then a couple pulled up in a Mini Cooper, and all three attendants raced outside. One got in the driver's seat, another gave the driver a valet ticket and the third held open the door.

"Aloha, how are you doing today?" Dicko greeted the two patrons as they walked into the restaurant. Then he looked at the TV just in time to see the Patriots score a touchdown.

"Oh, my God," he said. "That's too bad."

Back at Our Daily Bread, Howell and his fellow residents were still entranced by the game midway through the fourth quarter, leaping to their feet when the Ravens made an acrobatic interception in the end zone.

"My God, yeah!" shouted Johnson, the program assistant. "I'm loving it."

Moments later, as the Ravens tried to move down the field, someone in the room said he might need blood pressure medication to handle the stress.

Then came an incomplete pass that would have given the Ravens a touchdown, followed soon after by Cundiff's agonizing missed field goal.

As others drifted away, Howell stood in place, staring — glaring — at the TV. The kick should have been automatic, he said. He was angry and disappointed.

But Ronnie Hyser, sporting a hand tattoo bearing the phrase "Pain is love," had already moved into philosophical mode.

"Better luck next year," he said with a thin smile. "We still love 'em."

scott.calvert@baltsun.com

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