Ravens fever starts its spread in lead-up to Super Bowl

Chris "C-Dog" Dressel of Parkville, a Ravens rapper, left, high-fives store manager Kenny Yates at The Ravens Zone.
Chris "C-Dog" Dressel of Parkville, a Ravens rapper, left, high-fives store manager Kenny Yates at The Ravens Zone. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore is coming down with a case of Ravens fever, known to cause purple vision and unbridled joy. And the cure is still almost two weeks away.

In the meantime, area florists are ordering extra purple flowers. Babies will be swaddled in purple blankets, and adults in freshly printed commemorative T-shirts and Ray Lewis jerseys. Pep rallies are being planned, including one at Saturday's Polar Bear Plunge that will feature the Ravens cheerleading squad and marching band.

And what will Ravens die-hards eat but a $250 gold, purple and black cake?

The team's unexpected run to the Super Bowl has created problems for some but opportunities for others as fans prepare for the Feb. 3 game.

"We know there are going to be Super Bowl parties all over the city. We want to be prepared for when they happen," said Eddie Wingrat, owner of Owings Mills florist Flowers & Fancies, which has asked growers in South America to send all the purple orchids, roses and tulips they can. "It's a celebratory city for sure."

The purple passion will even spread to infants. At the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit will don caps, booties and onesies that have been dyed purple. Nurses did the same a year ago during the team's run to the AFC championship game, and they might have started it earlier this year, said hospital spokeswoman Maryann Hodes, were it not for the difficulty of finding the purple dye.

Organizers of the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, which sends 12,000 people into the chilly waters of the Chesapeake Bay for charity each year, have always considered the possibility of the event coinciding with a Ravens Super Bowl. So officials plan the fundraiser for the last Saturday before Super Bowl weekend just in case, said Special Olympics Maryland spokeswoman Linda Ellingsworth.

Because the Ravens remain in the hunt for a second Super Bowl title, quarterback Joe Flacco, a one-time event co-chairman, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata will miss the event for a practice. But organizers found what they hope will be a popular solution — turning the annual fundraiser into a "Purple Passion Pep-Party."

The team's "Purple Caravan," which includes the cheerleaders, band and possibly mascot Poe, will pump up the crowd at Sandy Point State Park.

"It's a great opportunity for us to turn the event into a huge pep rally for them," Ellingsworth said. "We're showing support for them for supporting us."

Organizers hope those who are "totally pumped up on the Ravens' success" will join the event, she said.

Some fans streamed Tuesday to stores like the Raven Zone, a specialty shop in Parkville that sells all things related to Baltimore sports. Debbie Ridgely had driven from Frederick with daughters Delanie, 13, and Ashley, 11, who was excited to grab the last Anquan Boldin jersey in her size.

"We're looking for everything we can get our hands on for getting pumped up for our party," Ridgely said.

Business has been brisk at the store since linebacker Ray Lewis announced his retirement last month, and that came after a busy fall sparked by the Orioles' postseason run, said manager Buzz Thomas. Altogether, the store has seen nearly a 30 percent increase in sales of late.

"Anything with Ray Lewis on it has been a huge seller," he said. "People are just showing their love for old Ray."

The hoopla also has made customers out of new fans, like Pat Woods of Timonium.

"I just think it's fun," she said while shopping for Ravens gear. "I was never a big fan until last year, and it's just hit me like hotcakes."

Orders are "pouring in" for Charm City Cakes' standard $250 cake, which feeds 15 people and features the Ravens logo and a gold, purple and black design, said marketing director Mary Alice Yeskey.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the bakery — which also created the official cake for President Obama's inaugural ball — had received more than a dozen requests for the cake. That's well above the normal volume of requests, especially nearly two weeks before a game, Yeskey said.

The bakery also expects to begin receiving orders for made-to-order cakes, which are more expensive. In the past, the bakery has made cakes in the shape of a helmet and "a couple of Ray Lewis kind of bursting from a cloud of cotton candy," Yeskey said.

"We're hoping to do a few of those," she said.

At Flowers & Fancies, owner Wingrat realizes there's a chance the purple flowers could die before orders come in, but said it should be a safe bet. He expects requests to start this week, with a flurry in the days leading up to the game against the San Francisco 49ers.

"We just think it's going to be a big party from Wednesday through Sunday," Wingrat said.

For some, the celebrations will be personal.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Bennett, a construction mechanic in the Navy Seabees, faces a Feb. 6 deadline to re-enlist as he completes a six-year commitment. The Glen Burnie native and die-hard Ravens fan watched much of the season via streaming Internet feeds on military-base computer labs in Afghanistan, from which he returned in November.

Comrades have re-enlisted in fun places like Disney World in the past — there just needs to be an officer present to sign off on the re-enlistment — so Bennett and his wife, Lindsay, decided there would be no better place than the Super Bowl to make his decision official. Officers stationed with Bennett already had volunteered to work at the game in New Orleans, a 45-minute drive from his Gulfport, Miss., base where he is currently stationed.

After a 14-month deployment kept Bennett in Afghanistan, the couple will be together cheering on their team. They called it "destiny."

"Him re-enlisting is a huge time in his life, and this is a huge time in our lives," Lindsay Bennett said. "It was just meant for us to go and win it."