Offensive lines: county executive, top aide spar over AFC championship

To some, he might seem a rebel in a Ravens town. But ironically, David Nitkin is a Patriot — a fan of the New England football team, albeit one who works for a county government whose executive, Ken Ulman, bleeds the purple and black of the Baltimore Ravens.

It is under Ulman's administration that the government's George Howard Building in Ellicott City has glowed with purple lights during Baltimore's past two playoff runs.

On Tuesday morning, with the AFC Championship Game between Baltimore and New England just five days away, Ulman was wearing the purple jersey of Ravens defensive end Haloti Ngata, while Nitkin, the county's director of policy and legislative affairs, sported a Patriots hat.

Despite his location, not to mention his boss, Nitkin remains an unabashed fan.

Thanks to Ulman, he's now a bashed one, too.

"Have you gotten past the first round the last few years?" Ulman asked.

"No," Nitkin answered, chagrined.

They continued to needle each other, jocular banter between two die-hard fans. Their good-natured showdown came in a cubicle with two plates of doughnuts, one set glazed with purple, the other a reminder of the team standing between the Ravens and the Super Bowl.

"I like Boston creme," Ulman said. "I can't admit that, right?" He also credited New England for the American Revolution and Paul Revere.

Ulman, 37, grew up in Columbia but never latched on to this area's other football team, the Washington Redskins. His father was a fan of the Baltimore Colts, a franchise that moved in the middle of the night to Indianapolis in 1984. Twelve years later, the Cleveland Browns relocated. The Baltimore Ravens were born and promptly became Ulman's team.

Nitkin, 45, was born in Boston and grew up south of the city, in Randolph. His journalism career eventually brought him to Maryland, where he worked for The Baltimore Sun before joining the ranks of the county government in 2010.

"It's fun here in Maryland when the Ravens are doing well," he said. But his true loyalty lies in the Northeast.

Nitkin recalled living through the losing Patriots teams of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as the prolonged misery of being a Boston Red Sox fan. He also reminisced about the successes of the past decade: the Patriots winning the Super Bowl three times, the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series twice, the Boston Celtics winning an NBA championship and the Boston Bruins winning an NHL championship.

'Humiliating' loss

Those successes don't damper the sting from the NFL playoffs two years ago, when the Ravens clobbered the Patriots in the first round, 33-14.

"It was humiliating," Nitkin said.

"Don't get too far away from that feeling," Ulman said. "Just embrace it."

Nitkin got some shots in, too, accusing Baltimore fans of jealousy, hatred and a sense of inferiority. He recalled what some have said to mock New England, including the team's quarterback and coach.

"Tom Brady is too good looking. Bill Belichick is too intense. Come on, the Patriots win too much? That's real criticism? That's ridiculous criticism," he said. "I heard the national announcers saying the Ravens have lost a step on defense. It's not the same defense it was five, six years ago."

Ulman retorted: "Just like Tom Brady wasn't the same he was as when he won the Super Bowls. We'll find out on Sunday."

On this they agreed. "That's why they play the game," Nitkin said.

Ulman and Nitkin said they will likely watch Sunday's game from their respective homes. They might send text messages during the action.

And then there's the bet.

If the Ravens win, Nitkin has to grow a mustache akin to that of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

"I'm not sure if he can pull it off," Ulman said. "I'm not sure he's man enough to grow a Flacco mustache, just like his Patriots aren't man enough to win on Sunday."

As for what happens if New England wins, Nitkin pointed toward his five- or six-inch figurine of Tom Brady.

"If — when — the Patriots win, this needs to be on the desk of the county executive through the Super Bowl, he said.

Said Ulman: "It's so cute I'm going to cry."

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