The Ravens invited their fans to remain at M&T Bank Stadium after the team's preseason game to watch Michael Phelps go for his unprecedented eighth gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, and thousands took them up on the offer. Estimates of the crowd, which filled about half the lower level, ranged from 10,000 to 15,000.
Some swimming fans even showed up at the stadium after the Ravens game to join in the local anticipation and celebration of Phelps' global triumph, a scene that was filmed by NBC's local affiliate (WBAL-11) and broadcast live to the entire NBC audience before and after the 4x100 medley that climaxed his amazing string of victories.
Fans held up signs that read Ravens for Phelps and the cheering neared a crescendo as Phelps completed the butterfly leg and gave way to Jason Lezak, the same relay partner whose dramatic anchor leg kept Phelps' dream alive in the 4x100 free relay last Sunday night. Lezak (shown in the pool at left) did it again and what started as a lackluster night of preseason football turned into one of those where-were-you-when moments for those who chose to stay and enjoy an accomplishment that will live forever in Baltimore sports history.
Just so you know, it wasn't as simple as just turning the SmartVision videoboards to WBAL-11. It took quite a bit of lobbying on the part of the Ravens and the local NBC affiliate to convince the NBC bigwigs in New York to sacrifice a chunk of the home audience in Baltimore for a semi-spontaneous celebration in a large stadium.
There were some local ratings points at stake -- and the network would have preferred that the Ravens simply encourage their fans to rush home after the game to get in front of their individual television sets -- but NBC finally gave in and added the Ravens crowd scene to its overall coverage.
Phelps didn't see it live, but it was replayed for him during his post-race interview with Bob Costas and Michael seemed geniunely moved by it.
Associated Press photo