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It's never offseason in Ravens 'fan caves'

Ravens' fans go to great lengths to create purple "fan caves" in their basements. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun video)

It always feels like football season — and Christmas— in the basement of Bill and Karen Lambka's Pasadena home.

The walls are painted Ravens purple, an oversize team logo hangs on the wall and a Christmas tree, topped with a purple bow, is displayed year-round.

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The Ravens fans originally only planned to add a bathroom to their finished basement, but their enthusiasm for football got the better of them.

By the time the basement was done, the couple had — some $20,000 later — created a purple world in which to retreat with their 65-inch TV.

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The Lambkas are among Ravens superfans devoting considerable time and money to shrine-like spaces for their beloved football team. Some, like the Lambkas, hire builders to create the right look. Others, like Paul Ervin Jr. of Accokeek or Matthew Szewczyk and Brit O'Donnell of Hampstead, do it themselves.

The key, the fans say, is to create rooms appealing enough to spend time in even when the Ravens aren't playing. The residents want something more elegant than a college dorm room.

Designed about four years ago, the Lambkas' basement in their Colonial home mixes style with team memorabilia.

"It started with a bathroom, but while the contractor was here, I asked him if he was interested in working with the rest of the room," said Karen Lambka, 58. "The top of the walls are white and the bottom is purple. Everything is framed in black. The baseboards and frames around the doors and chair rail molding is all black."

They hung signed photos of Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs and other players on the wall. There are framed jerseys and posters, and purple carpeting on the basement stairs. Ravens-themed pillows were placed on the sectional couch and a new rug — with yard lines mimicking a football field — was laid on the floor.

The room, about 26 by 20 feet, is not without its quirky charm. The artificial Christmas tree sits in a corner, decorated in part with Ravens-themed ornaments.

If the grass looks greener to fans at M&T Bank Stadium when the Ravens season opens Sunday, it's not just because the artificial turf has been replaced with more than 50,000 square feet of pristine, natural grass. Eight months after a losing season marked by injuries to key stars and conspicuously empty purple seats, the new playing field offers an apt metaphor for a fan base with a fresh outlook based partly on the team's history of rebounding from disappointment.

Bill Lambka, 63, who manages a Beltsville machine shop, has been a football fan for years and belongs to a Ravens Roost fan club in Glen Burnie. Karen's devotion to the Ravens came later but is no less intense.

"She got into the Ravens, and there was no stopping her," her husband said. "We had finished off the bathroom and, while she was doing it, she was the one that got the idea to do the Ravens basement," he said. "It always was a finished basement. It had drywall and it was painted. But it wasn't nice."

Now the Lambkas have a space to watch the Ravens play, at least when they're not at M&T Bank Stadium watching in person.

"We do plan on going to a few games this year," Bill Lambka said.

Szewczyk's and O'Donnell's plan was less spontaneous. The couple moved into a Hampstead Colonial in February intent on fashioning a Ravens space before football season.

"We had a townhouse before, and we were looking for a basement. That was key," said Szewczyk, 33, a systems engineer. "Brit had a ton of memorabilia already. We both had been collecting stuff for a long time, so the basement was just perfect."

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Karen Lambka started her Ravens memorabilia collection with this Ray Lewis picture, her favorite, and one of Joe Flacco, not pictured, in 2008. She has since turned her basement into a Ravens "fan cave" by 2011 and hosted Superbowl parties for the last three years.
Karen Lambka started her Ravens memorabilia collection with this Ray Lewis picture, her favorite, and one of Joe Flacco, not pictured, in 2008. She has since turned her basement into a Ravens "fan cave" by 2011 and hosted Superbowl parties for the last three years. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Among the first tasks was finding the right paint. The NFL licenses and approves team paint color schemes, including the shades of purple, gold and red matching the colors in the Ravens logo. Szewczyk selected Ravens purple for some walls and used orange — to match the principal Orioles' color — for others.

Szewczyk built a bar near where the 60-inch flat-screen TV is mounted.

"I did look at buying a pre-made bar, and there was nothing I liked." He said. "My buddy and I custom-built the bar to fit into the existing countertop. It took us about a month or two."

The bar counter is decorated with colorful Ravens and Orioles logos and a sign reading "Man Cave."

Basement shelves are filled with Orioles and Ravens memorabilia, including a signed helmet from the Super Bowl-winning 2000 season. That prized item, a gift to O'Donnell, sits in a glass case.

Like Szewczyk, Ervin, 58, a federal employee, handled his basement restoration himself — with a key assist from his wife.

"The Raven cave-office has been there since 2011. I built the entire office and home theater myself," he said.

In a YouTube video, Ervin offers a tour. An oversize Ray Lewis photo is attached to the wall outside the home theater, as if standing guard. The theater has a giant screen, cushy chairs and popcorn machine. There is a Ravens throw rug and floor mat.

Off the theater, a door leads to a cozy home office that was previously unfinished. A drop ceiling was added and "my wife surprised me when she painted the room" purple and placed green artificial turf on the floor with mock yard-line markers, Ervin said.

The room, with a desk and computer monitors, is filled with Ravens memorabilia for Ervin to gaze at while he's working.

"Ravens Fan Cave," a plaque on the door reads. "Where there's NO offseason."

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