BY DAVID ANDERSON, email@example.com
6:20 AM EST, January 26, 2013
It was a sea of purple at the Dark Horse Saloon in Bel Air Friday evening as eager Baltimore Ravens fans lined up to meet one of the team's breakout stars of the 2012 season.
Several fans shouted "Kruger!" as outside linebacker No. 99 Paul Kruger popped in through Dark Horse's South Main Street entrance and made his way to a table laden with photographs and football helmets for him to sign.
Kruger, who was about 90 minutes late because of Friday evening's snowy conditions, apologized for being tardy.
That didn't stop fans, who had paid $25 a ticket, from coming up and offering footballs and other merchandise to the three-year Ravens' veteran for his signature.
The first was 14-year-old Katy Marchman, of Churchville. Katy came with her parents, Mark and Kim, and 12-year-old sister, Alex.
The die-hard Ravens fan, who lives with the neuro-genetic disorder Angelman Syndrome and autism, had her orthotic device signed by Kruger.
Kim Marchman noted her daughter's birthday is Feb. 4, the day after the Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
"That's what she wants for her birthday, a Ravens victory," she said of her daughter.
Kim Brandon, of Bel Air, who clutched a football with Kruger's signature, said the player "seemed pretty nice; most of them are."
She has obtained autographs from a number of other Ravens players, including retiring linebacker Ray Lewis, and wide receiver Torrey Smith, through her work with the Patrick Xavier Ward Scholarship Foundation, which she founded in the wake of the 2011 murder of her friend, Patrick Ward, in his Bel Air residence.
"[Kruger]'s great," Brandon continued. "He's a great defensive player; he's definitely made a mark this year."
Kruger, who was drafted by the Ravens in 2009 and struggled to get playing time during his first seasons, picked up a career-high nine sacks in the 2012 regular season – including one of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Kruger also took down Denver Broncos quarterback – and future NFL Hall of Famer – Peyton Manning in the postseason.
Several fans at Dark Horse expressed concerns about the Ravens' ability to keep Kruger after this season. He, along with fellow defensive players Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams, will be free agents next season, and team officials must determine how to keep those key players, as well as sign quarterback Joe Flacco to a long-term contract without hitting the NFL's salary cap.
"He's a dominant force in the NFL," Essex resident Brian Marchetti said while waiting for Kruger. "I just hope the Ravens can keep him next season."
Kruger told The Baltimore Sun earlier this month that he wanted to remain in Charm City.
"It's an awesome place to play," he said. "I would love to be here."
Marchetti traveled from Essex to Bel Air Friday to help his friend, Chris Lupton, of Lupton's Sport Collectibles in Westminster, work with Dark Horse staff to run the signing event.
Lupton's will also be on hand at the Dark Horse Sunday, running a 4 p.m. signing event featuring wide receiver and kick returner Jacoby Jones.
Tickets for the Jones signing event will be $30 each and can be obtained by either calling the Dark Horse at 443-371-7993 or visiting the establishment at 119 S. Main St. in Bel Air.
Wide receiver Smith is scheduled to meet fans, but not sign autographs, at the Olive Tree in Aberdeen Sunday. That event is sold out.
Ravens players are making are slew of appearances around the Baltimore area before they head to New Orleans for the Super Bowl Monday.
A number of fans at Dark Horse Friday were youths who were either babies or young children when the Ravens appeared in Super Bowl XXXV in 2001.
Jacob Edwards, 12, of Aberdeen, stood in line with his parents, Shawn and Craig. He had a football covered with Ravens players signatures, and hoped to add Kruger's.
His parents said he was two months old when the Ravens were last in the Super Bowl.
"I like that he always gets the quarterback and gets around the offensive line," Edwards said.
The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.