The real housewives of the Baltimore Ravens

If you need any more reason to be glad you live in an American rather than a British football town, consider the WAGs.

Short for Wives and Girlfriends of footballers — what we on this side of the pond would call soccer players — these blingy, label-mad, free-spending and -partying women have become fixtures in the British tabloids, their styles widely if usually poorly imitated, their every gaudy act exquisitely chronicled. Think Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham, in all her high-maintenance, meticulously coiffed glory.

Not that U.S. football players live entirely non-glam lives — supermodels, starlets and the like have been known to turn up on their arms on occasion. And to be sure, our own Baltimore Ravens are married to the kind of women who certainly hold their own in the looks and charm department.

But befitting the town's down-to-earth nature, the Ravens' wives you'll meet in this story are women more likely spotted at their kids' soccer practice than at a fashion show, in line at the grocery store than on a red carpet and, most of all, in the stands on game days with the rest of Ravens Nation.

Still, they're a group apart. They probably have a better parking space at the stadium than you do, for one thing, and, with their husbands' million-dollar-contracts, they live pretty nice lives. Yet they can also be uncertain ones, with trades and contract expirations always looming on the horizon, not to mention the possibility of one of those stadium-silencing injuries.

"It can be scary," says Kirbie Chester of watching games where the other team is basically trying to kill your husband. It's hard even watching players on the other side getting hit, she says, "because that could be someone else's husband."

They live lives in some way an inverse of ours. While most people wind down during the weekends, that is the busiest time for them, between the games themselves and the family and friends who flock to town to watch them. Their date nights with their husbands are not on Saturdays — when players are sequestered in a hotel in advance of Sunday games — but Mondays; when they juggle their kids' multiple activities, they make sure to keep Tuesday clear because that's the one day during the season that Dad is home all day. It is perhaps this unique lifestyle that gives the Ravens' wives a close bond.

"Six months a year, we don't have our husbands," said Adrianna Birk, whose husband, Matt, is the team's center. "Then the other six months, they're always around."

Usually, when players join a team, they'll know someone already there — maybe someone from college, or from a previous team. And their wives have a parallel network as well, sometimes just from the fact that they know what it's like to move to a strange town and have to find everything from a house to a pediatrician.

"We all know each other's lifestyle," said Sarah Carr, whose husband, Chris, is a cornerback on the team. "Most of us are away from our families, so we try to support each other."

Sarah Carr

A Ravens wife who sees "Sarah Carr" pop up on her phone's caller ID will generally know: Something's afoot.


The 30-year-old Carr is one of the wives most likely to organize an event, whether it's a charity dinner or just a casual girls' night out.

She and Chris met through mutual friends as students at Boise State University and have been married almost five years. She grew up on a cattle ranch in Idaho; he was from Reno and planned to be a lawyer but instead signed with the Oakland Raiders in 2005.


She worked as a dental hygienist during their time in Oakland and had planned to continue her career when he went to the Tennessee Titans.

"But in Tennessee, by the time I got licensed, three days later, we came to Baltimore," Sarah says.

She misses working and is thinking of finding a way to use her background in an educational setting, perhaps working on a dental health program for kids. Chris has his own educational plans for the future — he has interned in the off-season with a Baltimore law firm and took the LSATs last year to keep his post-football options open.

She is soft-spoken and pensive, but at the same time, she describes herself as "very social, the more the merrier." The wives aren't clique-ish, she says, and draw newcomers into their circle. Even if they've just met, they often feel an instant bond, she said, citing a quick friendship with Priscilla Redding, whose husband, Cory, joined the team this year.

"I've only known her since March, and already she feels like an old friend," Sarah says.

She says she and Chris hope to have children in the near future, and in the meantime they've gotten close to several of their neighbors and others they've met in their Baltimore County community. They look in on an 80-year-old neighbor — who still hasn't forgiven the Colts for leaving town — and she shops at farmers' markets for the healthy meals she likes to prepare. "Chris has to eat 4,500 calories a day just to maintain his weight," she says.

They keep busy with charitable works, supporting other players' foundations. She is working on "Dream Drive," a holiday effort by Sam's Club, the Salvation Army and the NFL wives' group. She and the other wives will raise money, shop and wrap gifts and give them to needy families.

"It is powerful when you do it yourself," she says, "and meet the families themselves."


Adrianna Birk

Like the ringmaster of a particularly lively circus, Adrianna Birk is one of those eye-of-the-storm people. As her five children crawl, hurtle and bounce around her, each needing something different — a mediator for a sibling squabble, a return to the nap that was interrupted by visitors — she gets calmer.

Some of that serenity, no doubt, comes from her faith. She and Matt are active members of a Bible study group that some Ravens couples attend every other week.

"I think you have to have faith to do anything," says Adrianna, 30. "God has a plan for everyone."

If so, it is one that took the couple and their growing family from their native Minnesota after Matt played 11 seasons for his hometown team, and brought them to Baltimore last year.

"I honestly feel moving made our family closer," she said of their five kids, ranging in age from 8 years to 9 months.

She marvels at how friendly people have been, from her Baltimore County neighbors who enjoy having the kids over — "It really does take a village to raise a child," she says — to the fans who will wish them well when they're out at dinner, usually at the Italian restaurants that Matt likes.


At home, she likes to cook from Food Network chef Giada de Laurentiis' books, and recently became a pescetarian — someone who is mostly vegetarian, but also eats fish — after reading about its health benefits.

The couple met when she was a college student waitressing in Minnesota and he started frequenting her cafe, eventually asking her out. She didn't follow football and didn't know he was a Viking — or employed anywhere, for that matter.

"He should dress better," she remembers thinking of her casually attired customer. "Seriously, do you not have a job?"

As it turns out, they lived four houses away from each other, making Adrianna think they were meant to meet at some point.

She is warm and cheery, with a dazzling smile and a former waitress' propensity for calling people "Honey." On this particular day, their kids are taking full advantage of a bye week and that rare treat of having both parents at their disposal — there's schoolwork they need help with; there are muffins to be baked. "Normally we would sew a quilt now," Matt Birk jokes about all this cute togetherness. "Next we'll practice our a cappella singing."

Because Adrianna just doesn't have enough on her plate at this point, she recently started a boutique business, selling women's clothes and accessories at parties — including one she's scheduled for her fellow wives. This season, she missed her first home game since she and Matt have been married to go to an apparel trade show, but now she's on board for the rest of the season — and beyond. "Our anniversary is in February," she said, "just like the Super Bowl."


Kirbie Chester

Chris Chester made a particularly good play during one of his University of Oklahoma games, winning him a "hey, great catch," from one of his classmates the next time she saw him. Chester likes to tell people that's when Kirbie, now his wife, started chasing him.

Maybe, maybe not. But Kirbie Chester, 27, did run track at the university, where they met in the first class she took and started dating the following year.

"It was a history class, and he sat behind me," she said. "We were the athletes — we always sat in the back of the room."

The tall and leggy Kirbie — she was a hurdler — now chases after their two sons, 5-year-old Sean and 15-month-old Sylas. On this rainy Thursday, Chris is at practice, she's just picked Sean up from preschool, and she has beef stew cooking in a crockpot for the friends and family due into town to see the game.

Like the other wives, she goes to just about every home game, and a few of the away ones, and takes the boys. Sean is starting to spend more time in the stands rather than in the family day care that the team offers, providing a moment that recently brought her to tears — happy ones. When Chris ran onto the field, Sean yelled, "That's my dad!"

In the past, fans who saw them out and about thought Chris was Jonathan Ogden, a fellow offensive lineman who has since retired — and who outweighed her own substantially built husband by about 30 pounds. One thing you learn as a football player's wife, she says, is to make sure any chairs you buy can handle a 300-pound-plus sitter.


"A couple years ago ... we had the whole offensive line over to grill," she said. "They were all on the deck at once, and it started creaking."

While Chris has been on the Ravens for his entire career, she sees how hard it is when families have to move after trades or free agent signings.

"That's probably the hardest part — you lose someone every year," she said. "Sometimes Sean's gotten close to their kids. But being able to be in different places and have different experiences is great."

Heather Cass

You might consider Heather Cass the first lady of the Ravens, given that she is the wife of the team's president, Dick Cass.

You might, but then, she would probably laugh at you. It's still funny to Cass, 62, and her family for that matter, that she has married into the football world.

She is wry and cerebral, a Yale-trained architect with her own practice in Washington who has taught at the University of Maryland and other schools, and served a year-long fellowship in Japan. She admittedly is "not from a big sports family" and only was drawn into football via her husband. Dick Cass, a longtime partner at the Washington law firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, represented Jerry Jones in acquiring the Cowboys, and, later, Steve Bisciotti when he bought the Ravens.


But she's made up for lost time, becoming a true-purple fan. She loves everything about game days — the quiet of the stadium before the storm of the game, the heart-stopping moments of the close matches that the team has inflicted on its fans this year, the way the mood of the entire city ebbs and flows with the team's fortunes.

"There's this whole sense, I think, that if we all do our part — if the fans make enough noise, if the chefs can prepare the crab cakes just right — we can affect the outcome of the game," she says. "It's a great energy."

As an architect, she may have a quibble or two about M&T Bank Stadium — she thinks it could be more iconic befitting the team's place, geographic and otherwise, in Baltimore's heart, along the lines of Kenzo Tange's Olympic arenas in Tokyo, or Eero Saarinen's Yale hockey stadium. But once inside, she loves the sightlines.

Her ties to the city extend beyond the team — the couple's daughter, Courtney, is the executive director of Teach for America in Baltimore and previously clerked for U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz. They also have a son, Willy, who graduated from Yale and has worked at a medical lab there.

Being in the thick of it all with the Ravens has its ups and downs, she says, from the upbeat atmosphere that pervades the area after a big win to the feeling, "Oh, how am I going to make it through this week," after a heartbreaking loss. Her husband takes the team's losses quietly, she says — "as a lawyer, he wasn't a litigator, he wasn't a screamer" — and, for her part, there's always another game day.