Many Ravens fans set for trip to Steelers game

After the Ravens won Sunday and gained an NFL playoff spot, Marc Lombardi of Severna Park knew he had to act quickly. So the president of Ravens Roost No. 27 phoned his uncle in Pittsburgh to score some tickets for club members to the team's wild-card matchup against the Steelers.

His uncle called back a day later with good news: 14 tickets. Apparently the forecast for a frigid, wet weekend was enough to prompt some Steelers season-ticket holders to stay home, Lombardi said.


So by Friday afternoon, two 15-seat vans packed with purple-clad Ravens fans are scheduled to be rolling toward Pittsburgh. "They're going to make a nice weekend of it," said Lombardi, 60.

But he will not be among them. "I'm not sitting up there in the snow, sleet and rain," he said.

Instead, Lombardi and his wife will watch Saturday night's game like thousands of other Ravens fans: at home or in bars. The couple are hosting about 60 roost members for a viewing event that begins more than three hours before the game and features a catered menu of oysters and ribs.

With only five days to plan for a long-shot playoff berth — including the New Year's holiday — the Baltimore region may not be buzzing with the hype that precedes a guaranteed postseason appearance. But as holiday travelers return, the short workweek ends and the New Year's Eve hangovers subside, Lombardi and other fans expect the playoff atmosphere to surge.

"Driving around the last couple of days, I think it's been pretty low-key," Lombardi said. "I don't see a lot of car flags or banners in the neighborhood."

Come Saturday, "it will start revving up."

That will certainly be the case at the Giant food store on York Road in Towson.

"We usually get a bump in business" from playoffs, said manager Kira Lamb. "We're getting excited about it. Like the rest of Baltimore."

Brian Snyder, owner of Bmore Around Town, typically starts marketing his company's trips to Ravens away games in April. While he had the Pittsburgh logistics lined up, he didn't know whether he would need two or three buses.

"We just added a third bus," Snyder said Wednesday.

While about 160 fans will pack the chartered buses for the $299 package — which includes transportation, tickets and a tailgate catered by Jimmy's Famous Seafood — another 140 fans will follow in their cars just to join the parking lot party.

The caravan will leave Saturday morning "stocked with [Budweiser], Bud Light, soda, water, snacks" and "classic movies" for the trip, Bmore Around Town's website says.

The company has provided such trips since 2009. But Snyder said this year has been trying for fans.

"People don't know what to expect," Snyder said. "People aren't as confident that we're going to win. So you don't hear as much trash talk. But I think we can pull this one off."


Having the Ravens back in the playoffs — after missing them last season — clearly shows how the team's fortunes can benefit the region, he said.

Debbie Kammerer agrees. The 54-year-old Pasadena woman will be on Snyder's bus with husband Tom, 59, their 25-year-old son, Tommy, and his girlfriend. The four of them will cram into stadium seats among the sea of black and gold. And she couldn't be more excited.

"I don't like going to Pittsburgh. They're really nasty and mean to us," Kammerer said. "But I'll do it for a playoff game."

January without the playoffs is just unbearably boring, she added. She'll be wearing a Torrey Smith jersey with a "purple tundra hat, a Ravens sweater, a Ravens winter coat, purple Ugg boots."

For fans who can't make the trip, Mother's Federal Hill Grille is a popular location to watch a Ravens game. It provides hundreds of fans with two stories of restaurant and bar space. Since the team made the playoffs, reservations have sold out and co-owner Kelly Rather expects every "nook and cranny" to be filled with fans Saturday.

"Our phone has been ringing off the hook," Rather said.

Both kitchens will be in operation to accommodate the nearly 600 people who can fit in the first-floor restaurant, the bar area and the second-floor space.

That's a big change from the way the regular season wrapped up, with the Ravens playing inconsistently.

"The last few weeks when we've had home games, business has been slow because momentum has been down," Rather said. But she saw the mood shift Sunday, when fans happily crammed into the patio area despite the rain.

Across the Inner Harbor in Fells Point, Todd Conner's will be hosting a different party. The 8-year-old restaurant is a remote outpost for Steelers fans.

Co-owner Nikki Popovich, a Harrisburg, Pa., native who grew up a Steelers fan, said she does not flaunt her allegiance. But Baltimore regulars who frequent the bar six days a week typically stay away for Sunday football games, when Steelers fans turn the restaurant into "a sea of black and gold."

Still, now that Baltimore is her home, Popovich and her husband — who also is a Steelers fan — have learned to embrace the Ravens to a certain extent. "Our oldest daughter is 6, and she came home from preschool and said she's a Ravens fan," she said.

It's going to be an exhausting few days for tavern and restaurant owners, many of whom stayed open late for New Year's Eve festivities before shifting to preparations for Saturday's game.

The same will be true for fans.

Kittu Rao, in Miami for New Year's Eve, will return Saturday to watch the game at his parents' Lutherville home.

He will be joined by his three closest friends, but the gathering will not be some casual get-together. The four men, all in their 30s, have jobs to do — maintaining a superstition that they say helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl two years ago, a game that Rao attended.

That entails sitting on the same cushions, wearing Ravens jerseys and drinking beer from the opposing team's city. The details are not finalized yet. But when Rao returns from Miami, he expects everyone to play their roles. Even his parents, who will watch in the basement — as they did two years ago.

"I'm pretty superstitious," he said.

Andrew Stephenson, an attorney in Baltimore, will be in his basement in Roland Park with his two sons. He does not subscribe to the idea that fans are any less excited because the Ravens have not had a dominating season.

"If anything is worth getting, it's worth getting the hard way," Stephenson said. "And Baltimore has set us up for the perfect underdog championship bid just like they did in 2001."