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Rescheduled Ravens kickoff poses problems for fans on New Year's Eve

Brian Hart sets tables at Mother's Federal Hill Grille. The restaurant’s staff was already scheduled to work Sunday, but the schedules have to be shuffled to get the right number of employees working at the busiest times for the Ravens game and New Year's Eve.
Brian Hart sets tables at Mother's Federal Hill Grille. The restaurant’s staff was already scheduled to work Sunday, but the schedules have to be shuffled to get the right number of employees working at the busiest times for the Ravens game and New Year's Eve.(Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

The NFL has thrown a wrench into the plans for Baltimore Ravens fans and New Year’s Eve revelers with the decision to delay the kickoff of Sunday’s final regular-season game.

The league bumped the kickoff from 1 p.m. back to 4:25 p.m. so that multiple games that could decide playoff berths — including the Ravens’ home game against the Cincinnati Bengals — are all played at the same time. But now the game will run into end-of-the-year dinners and parties.

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The game is one of five being moved to later kickoffs. Now all of Sunday’s games are to be played in the afternoon. There will be no Sunday night showcase game.

Howard Katz, the NFL’s senior vice president for broadcasting, said that reshuffling start times to place all the games in the afternoon was “the most fair thing to do” both “from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective.”

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But the move is causing problems for fans — and also for bars and restaurants, which are now figuring out how to squeeze a football game and New Year’s Eve celebrations into a shorter window of time.

And it has Ravens coach John Harbaugh wondering if the purple seats at M&T Bank Stadium will be filled for a crucial game.

“I hope our fans are OK with it,” Harbaugh said. “I hope they’re into it. I hope people get there. The people that have plans, I hope they give their tickets to somebody else so they get there. I want the place to be packed. I want the place to be packed and loud.”

Fans face choices. It’s arguably the biggest game of the season: If they win, the Ravens make the playoffs. But now it will be played during colder, darker hours, and could get in the way of dinner reservations or party plans.

The 4:25 p.m. start means the game should end around 7:30 p.m. The original kickoff of 1 p.m. would have put the conclusion of the game around 4 p.m., making it easier for people to fit in both the purple-and-black and New Year’s dinner or parties.

Eastern Shore residents Shaun and Meaghan Poulin are determined to make the game — a rare treat for the parents of two who will celebrate his 37th birthday and her 35th birthday by cheering on the purple-and-black. Her boss gave them tickets to the game and grandparents agreed to babysit the kids.

“If we’re lucky we go once a year,” Shaun Poulin said. “It’s more like once every other year.”

But the Poulins live in the small town of Newark near Ocean City — meaning that their drive home is more than three hours. When the game was expected to end at 4, they figured they’d be home by 8, with plenty of time to celebrate the new year.

Now they won’t get home until near 11 p.m.

“It’s an awkward choice now to get home at 11 and not have any plans,” Poulin said. “Or do you make a decision to stay in Baltimore and spend more money than you were anticipating?”

Still without New Year’s Eve plans? We compiled a sampling of some ways to ring in 2018 in Baltimore.

The New Year’s Eve Spectacular at the Inner Harbor kicks off at 9 p.m. with music and entertainment leading up to fireworks at midnight.

Poulin has been researching hotel rooms in the city, but was still unsure about the couple’s final plans.

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“You’re left kind of scrambling,” he said.

David Vanicky, a season ticket holder for more than 20 years, won’t be going to the game. He’s offering his two seats online for $60 each. The face value is $115 each.

Vanicky said he’s frustrated with the NFL on multiple fronts, from “ticky tack” penalties stopping play and changing the momentum of games to constant schedule changes. No longer is football solely a Sunday afternoon activity, he said. Now the league schedules games on Thursday nights, Sunday nights and Monday nights.

“It starts to be a hassle,” the Bel Air man said.

For this weekend, Vanicky said, he’d just rather stay home.

“It sounds a lot nicer to me to sit home with a fire and watch it and then go out and get something to eat,” he said. “It is fun, but it is schlepping from Bel Air down to the stadium, being in the cold, dressed like I’m going to the tundra, then traffic back.”

Larry Warble of Perry Hall is selling his ticket, too. He’s part of a group of 13 relatives who have seats together in the 500 level.

“Trying to juggle a tailgate and Ravens game and New Year’s Eve, I can’t do it with two kids,” Warble said. “I can’t swing this one. I think it sucks because it’s such a big game for the team. I want to go, and I want to be there, but I think family is more important.”

Warble will probably watch the game with his wife and 5-year-old and 6-year-old boys at his brother’s house, where a New Year’s Eve party is planned.

Sports bars and restaurants are also adjusting their plans to accommodate a game that will now end just as New Year’s revelers hit the town.

Mother’s Federal Hill Grille does booming game-day business on its Purple Patio. It also expects a crowd to ring in the new year at midnight.

“It became a little more unpredictable,” manager David Pollitt said.

The restaurant’s entire staff was already scheduled to work, Pollitt said, but the schedules now have to be shuffled to get the right number of employees working at the busiest times.

Pollitt isn’t sure whether people will hang out at Mother’s for the game and then just stay through the night, or whether guests might visit for just the game or the New Year’s party — but not both.

“One will run directly into the other,” he said.

The NFL moved Ravens-Bengals to a 4:25 p.m. kickoff Sunday so that all of the AFC wild-card hopefuls will be playing at the same time.

At Charles Village Pub and Patio in Towson, another popular sports bar, general manager Nick Zahirsky expects his Ravens-related business to fall off.

“I do expect less of a crowd because it’s later in the day,” he said. “It starts cutting into New Year’s Eve parties. I’m going to guess more people are going to stay home.”

No matter how many customers show up, Zahirsky said, he’ll be fully staffed for the game, through midnight toasts and straight on until 10 a.m. It’s one of the few bars in the area that stays open so long on New Year’s.

In Harford County, Lindsey Estes is part of a group of 16 friends — 15 of them Ravens fans — that had planned a nice dinner at a restaurant to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

The change in the game time put the Ravens game smack in the middle of their dinner, and after a series of text messages, the group rethought their plans. Now they’re having a Ravens-watching house party in Bel Air with catered food instead.

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“Everybody wants to watch the game instead of being at a restaurant,” Estes said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

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