Ailing fan dies after learning of Ravens playoff win

Ronnie Akers, of Taneytown, in his Ravens gear.
Ronnie Akers, of Taneytown, in his Ravens gear. (Submitted photo, HANDOUT)

Surrounded by family and friends Saturday night, Taneytown resident Ronnie Akers clung to life despite repeated assurances from loved ones that it was OK for him to let go.

Ronnie, 65, did not take his last breath, however, until he was told in no uncertain terms that his beloved Baltimore Ravens were leading the Pittsburgh Steelers in their playoff matchup. With only a few minutes left in the game it was virtually impossible for the Steelers to mount a comeback.


"[Hospice caretakers] kept saying, 'Talk to him. He can probably hear you,' " his wife, Toni, recalled Tuesday.

Diagnosed with cancer in June 2014, Ronnie had experienced deteriorating health since Christmas, and he was receiving in-home hospice care for esophageal cancer that had spread to his brain.

Toni said Ronnie woke up on Christmas and by the evening "he couldn't see the dog." The next day, the couple went to the emergency room because Ronnie couldn't walk.

It was at the hospital that they learned the cancer Ronnie had been fighting had spread to his brain. Over the next week, Toni said she and Ronnie's family tried to make him comfortable and laughed at his jokes about his condition.

"The whole time he was conscious, he kept that sense of humor," Toni said.

As the Ravens' playoff game approached and Ronnie's condition worsened, someone joked he was probably holding out for one last Ravens-Steelers game, according to family friend Stephanie Ramirez.

"Who does that?" she asked. "People hold on for a long-lost relative. Who holds on for a football team?"

Toni said it would be just like Ronnie to wait for one more Ravens win.

"He wanted to see the Steelers getting their butts kicked one last time," Ronnie's nephew, Mark Stapleton said.

After hearing about the loss of such a passionate fan, the Ravens organization called Toni on Tuesday to offer their condolences The team is sending flowers to his funeral service, to be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Haight Funeral Home in Sykesville.

"I can't imagine how thrilled he would be," Toni said. "That would probably make him cry."

Toni said she was touched that any member of the organization took the time to call her during the playoff madness.

Ronnie had Ravens memorabilia throughout his home, Toni said, and particularly in his closet. She said his favorite color was purple, so he wore Ravens shirts, hats and even purple shoelaces no matter the season.

Though always a fan of Ray Lewis, Ronnie would say his favorite player was Haloti Ngata, according to Toni.


"He always said Ngata was his man. Ngata was his guy," she said.

Toni shared a video from this football season on social media Tuesday of Ronnie holding his lucky hat and cheering for Ngata during a big play.

Ronnie also had a "man cave" with photos of Ravens players throughout the years, Toni said, and he wanted it to be left as it was when he was alive for any friends or family who want to come visit.

"He did ask that his man cave remain untouched," she said.

Toni said the Ravens' win against the Steelers will mean more to her than any Super Bowl, and she said she wishes she could hug each of the players for giving Ronnie the parting gift of a win.

"There was no way any of us wanted to say, 'Hey, the Steelers won. See you on the other side,' " she said.

Toni said the family is asking for memorial contributions to be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. When Ronnie was feeling bad about his illness, he saw a commercial for the hospital and immediately decided he should not be feeling sorry for himself when there were sick children.

"He would do anything for anybody," Toni said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Carole McCauley contributed to this report.

Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email