They always watch the game at the same house, often in the same seat. They always watch the game upstairs. They always watch it downstairs.
They watch the game wearing the same cap, the same socks, the same sweatshirts (sometimes unwashed). They watch it with the same people. They watch it while eating the same food, drinking the same drinks.
They're Baltimore Ravens fans, and this Sunday, their tics, traditions, rituals and superstitions will be on full display all across Howard County.
The Ravens are headed to their first Super Bowl since the 2000 season, led by a rejuvenated defense, a retiring future Hall of Fame linebacker and a quarterback with a fast-growing reputation. But the Ravens also will have the support of a legion of fans convinced that their behavior before and during the game will help — or hurt — their team.
"It's sports-wide — sports fan-wide," said Rick Hubata, owner of the Dugout Zone, an Ellicott City sports memorabilia store, of fan superstitions. "You see it all the time."
Hubata cited the current Bud Light commercial, showing sports fans exhibiting their rituals to the tune of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," and finishing with the tagline: "It's only weird if it doesn't work."
"That's it exactly," he said. "It's only crazy if it doesn't work.
"Do people really believe it?" he added. "When all is said and done, probably not. But it's another piece of camaraderie between the fans and their team."
Hubata himself watches Ravens games with a group of friends that engages in one of the more creative local rituals. Before every game, home and away, these fans tailgate around an open grill. And after the food is cooked, one of them, Mike Neapolitan, pulls out a handful of cards depicting players on the opposing team.
"I shout out the player's name, rip the card in half, set it in the coals," said Neapolitan, who started the tradition a half-dozen years ago. "People get really excited."
Earlier this season, Neapolitan, 58, forgot the cards. The result: The Ravens lost the game.
"I said, 'I'll never do that again,' " Neapolitan said. "I credit the ritual with our lengthy home win streak."
He concedes that the card-burning might not be the only secret to the Ravens' success Sunday, but he and his friends have a few others.
"We'll return to the exact same place where we've watched the last three games (a friend's townhouse in Columbia)," he explained. "We'll sit in the exact same places, and wear the same outfits — unlaundered in my case.
"My friend's son and his friends will be there, but they have to sit downstairs, and they're not allowed to come upstairs during the game. If they come up at halftime for something to eat, say, and they start to play again, we'll send them back downstairs. Otherwise they'll jinx it.
Of course they do. Ravens fans everywhere would understand.
Cristy Slaughter has been a Ravens fan since the team arrived in Maryland in 1996. On Sunday, she will join her friend Janice Twardowicz and a few others at Twardowicz' Columbia home.
During the game, Slaughter, 46, will wear the same Ravens socks that she's worn throughout the Ravens' playoff run, even though they belong to her daughter. ("She'll get them back after the Super Bowl").
Also, she might ban her other daughter, who's watched the Ravens march to the Super Bowl while working at the Green Turtle but has off Sunday, from watching it with her family at Twardowicz' house. ("I'm afraid to let her watch it with us; maybe she should go to the Green Turtle.")
Perhaps most curiously, a toy Ravens football will be put in a special spot on the floor of Twardowicz' living room during the game, and woe betide anyone who moves it.
This tradition started when the Ravens beat the New England Patriots two weeks ago, according to Slaughter. During the first half, she and others were tossing the football around playfully, and the Ravens played badly.
During the second half, the football was sitting on the floor and the Ravens played well — so well, that when Slaughter picked up the football to toss it around again, she recalled, "Someone said, 'Don't touch the football. It's lucky there.' "
She put the football back, the Ravens continued their terrific play and a new tradition was born. Since the Patriots game, the football's good-luck spot on the floor has been marked with tape to make sure it will be in the same place come Sunday.
Superstitious behavior is not confined to longtime Ravens fans. Susan Mascaro, chief of staff for the Howard County Public School System, wasn't sure she had ever watched a football game until her daughter, Jennifer, attended the University of Delaware — at the same time as Joe Flacco.
Since Flacco became the Ravens quarterback five years ago, Mascaro and her daughter have seldom missed a game, and the family's list of rituals is growing.
Mascaro will watch the Super Bowl in her Ellicott City living room with about 10 family members and friends. "We all have our own seats, and if somebody new is there, we bring in a new chair," she explained.
"We have three pictures set up in front of the television: Joe Flacco is on the left; Ray Lewis in the middle, front and center, it's a signed picture; and Ray Rice is on the far right.
"When the Ravens have the ball, the TV sound is on 45 — that's the lucky number. When the other team has the ball, it's on 40."
No, that's not the end of it.
"To drink, at least for some of us, we'll have purple wine coolers. And we have two Ravens serving dishes with the same food: barbecue potato chips in one, cheese and crackers in the other.
"And it goes without saying we all wear the same jerseys. Oh, and I have purple fuzzy socks I wear."
Good-luck apparel, as Mascaro suggested, is paramount, whether it's a jersey, socks, or something more unusual.
Kelli Jenkins, a specialist in the county school system's Office of Student, Family and Community Services, wears the same earrings and the same Ravens jersey for games. But also, since the first playoff game she has sported a purple feather she had put in her hair.
She'll keep the feather in through Sunday, she said, but she has one concern: Her daughters, 5 and 7, also had purple feathers in their hair, but they have fallen out. "I'm a little worried about that," she said.
Jaci Goldhammer, of Ellicott City, meanwhile, will be sporting the same pair of purple, light-flashing sunglasses that she's been wearing for Ravens games the past several weeks.
During the Denver Broncos' game a few weeks ago, she and her husband, Lee, members of Ravens Roost No. 4 in Ellicott City, were tailgating at a friend's house and she left the glasses in her purse. She didn't put them on until the last few minutes of the game, and, needless to say, the Ravens won.
"They were flashing wildly," Goldhammer wrote in an email. "Everyone said that we won because of the glasses."
A week later, in New England, she had them on, but someone ("a Redskins fan") talked her into changing the setting. She eventually switched back to the normal setting and, yes, the Ravens won.
"I will definitely have those glasses on Sunday," Goldhammer wrote. "Go Ravens!!!!"
Megan Monahan and boyfriend, Kevin Gaylor, meanwhile, have refused all requests to attend Super Bowl parties and will watch the game in the privacy of their Ellicott City condo.
"I'm not normally superstitious," said Monahan, 35, whose dog is named Raven. "But we watched the last two playoff games there, in the same jerseys on the same couch. Now, we're being asked to all these Super Bowl parties, and we're looking at each other and saying, 'We can't go. We've got to stay home and watch.'
"We're not crazy," Monahan added, expressing a sentiment likely to be echoed by most Ravens fans asked to explain their Super Bowl plans. "We know it has no effect. But we just feel that if we did something different, if we went to a party, say, and the Ravens lose, well, we'll think, 'We should've stayed home. We shouldn't have changed things.' "