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Fans line up to turn in their Ray Rice jerseys at M&T Bank Stadium

The Baltimore Sun

For some Ravens fans, there might always be a place in their hearts for Ray Rice — at least the Ray Rice of old — but not on their backs.

Thousands of fans lined up at M&T Bank Stadium on Friday to exchange their No. 27 jerseys for other shirts, part of the team's attempt to move past the scandal over the former player's videotaped assault of his future wife in February that led to his being cut.

"It was hard to support him after what he did," said Harriet Watkins, 59, who spent more than an hour and a half in line to trade her Rice jersey for one with quarterback Joe Flacco's name and number.

So many fans traded in gear — and more are expected Saturday — "that the jersey supply for our most popular sizes and players has become depleted," the Ravens said in a statement. Fans who couldn't get a jersey in the right size were given vouchers they can redeem Oct. 25.

Watkins said Rice's actions and the way the NFL responded — first with a two-game suspension and then an indefinite one after the video of the attack was publicized — left her with "mixed emotions" about the sport she has long loved.

"For a while, I didn't feel real good about it," the Reisterstown woman said. "But then I thought: The other guys on the team work real hard every year, and I can't really blame them."

The atmosphere was oddly festive yet also pensive at the stadium as fans lined up as if for playoff tickets but instead to unburden themselves of the fallen player.

Some took pictures of themselves with the new Ray Lewis statue or just with their brand-new jerseys. Conversations sprung up between those spending time together on a sunny day, from reminiscences of Rice on and off the field to the issue of domestic violence that is now inextricably linked to his name.

Ravens officials said they would not give a tally of how many jerseys were turned in until Saturday. But the long line surprised some.

"I didn't know there were that many Ray Rice fans," said Bruce Supovitz of Owings Mills. After about an hour and a half in line, which he joined around noon, he found that only Elvis Dumervil jerseys were left in men's sizes. There were more options in women's and youth sizes, making at least one girl happy when her father exchanged a jersey in his size for one in hers.

Saturday's exchange runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., as did Friday's. But Zachary Blankenship, 19, of Laurel arrived about four hours early Friday to be first in line — the better to secure a Justin Tucker jersey. He probably could have slept in a little longer: The next person in line didn't arrive for another two hours.

"What [Rice] did wasn't right, and I don't want to wear a jersey of a player who acted like that," said Blankenship, a college student. "He was my favorite player. I could care less about him now."

Others were more forgiving.

"I still like Ray. Yeah, he messed up," said Joseph Pierce, 30, of Glen Burnie. "But everyone makes mistakes, and his wife still stands by his side."

Pierce said he thinks the NFL overreacted after the video of the assault was released by celebrity news website TMZ.

He went to the stadium Friday thinking he would exchange his No. 27 jersey for that of the player who shares his last name: Bernard Pierce. When he couldn't find that among the options, he was happy to leave with his original gear.

"I ain't going to be ashamed to wear his jersey," Pierce said.

Other fans were still trying to reconcile the Rice they knew before this year, the player who worked to stop bullying, among other causes, with the person seen in the video punching his then-fiancee Janay Palmer and then dragging her out of the elevator.

"It seemed so out of character," said Tom Maronick Jr., 37, of Columbia, a lawyer who has met Rice several times at charitable events. "But when you watch that video, it's horrifying."

Still, he said, the jersey exchange seemed like the team's attempt to erase Rice from its history and pretend the incident never happened.

"No matter how you look at it, there are no winners here," said Maronick. He was trading in a jersey for his girlfriend.

Jeanne Hill, 33, viewed the exchange as "a peace offering from the team," and brought her 8-year-old daughter's jersey to trade in. She wished, however, that she didn't have to try to explain the incident to so young a fan.

"There's no way to keep them from it," Hill said. "She doesn't understand it. She doesn't understand why someone would do that."

Hill said she still loves the Ravens, and she defended the NFL's handling of the incident.

"I'm a big fan. It doesn't change how I felt about the team," she said. "I think they followed the court's lead — the man was given counseling, and I don't think the NFL can be expected to punish him more than the courts did."

By the time the gates opened at 8 a.m. Friday, the line of fans snaked more than halfway around the stadium. It was a different scene from that of the first two home games, where a number of fans wore Rice jerseys.

Fans could exchange only one jersey, and it had to be licensed by the NFL and made by Nike or Reebok. Those who showed up with unlicensed jerseys got to pick from a table of memorabilia so they wouldn't go home empty-handed.

A Ravens spokesman would not say what the team planned to do with the returned jerseys.

For some, a burden had been lifted.

Courtney Jenkins, a 26-year-old postal worker from Baltimore, said he remains a fan of Rice but was tired of the reactions when he wore the No. 27 jersey.

"People are quick to jump to assumptions," Jenkins said. "I don't really have the time to explain myself every time someone wants to stop me or give me a look or ask me why I'm still wearing a [Rice] jersey."

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