NFL playoff fever is sweeping through Harford County as the Ravens prepare to make their first postseason appearance in four years Sunday.

Customers have asked repeatedly at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Bel Air about playoff-themed merchandise since the team clinched the AFC North with its defeat last Sunday of the Cleveland Browns.

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“Every other customer asks for it,” Michael Montgomery, the assistant store manager, said Wednesday.

The store has just received hats marking the Ravens’ AFC North title, Montgomery said. Those hats were sold out Thursday, Robert Schuster of Dick’s said in a follow-up interview. Schuster said more team merchandise is expected if the Ravens continue in the playoffs.

The Ravens play the Los Angeles Chargers, whom they beat Dec. 22 in regular-season play. The rematch happens at 1:05 p.m. in M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, 21, will be the youngest NFL quarterback to start a playoff game, according to the Baltimore Ravens website.

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"It's a brotherhood," Ravens rookie tight end Mark Andrews said. "I think that helps this team, makes this team closer. The teams I've been around, the closer the team, the better you are.”

Lamar Jackson jerseys have been “huge” among the Bel Air Dick’s customers, Montgomery said.

“We can’t keep them in stock,” he said. “Lamar Jackson, that’s really all anybody wants right now.”

The Ravens made their last postseason appearance during the 2014 season; their last Super Bowl victory happened in 2013, the franchise’s second championship since being established in 1996.

Montgomery, who has worked at Dick’s for about eight years, remembers when the store was opened at midnight for fans after the Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers to become world champions in February 2013. About $88,000 worth of merchandise was sold between midnight and 3 a.m.

“It was a madhouse, that’s for sure,” Montgomery recalled.

Renato Buontempo, owner of the Main Street Tower restaurant and co-owner of the Buontempo Bros. pizza shop, both in downtown Bel Air, had a different kind of experience six years ago — he was in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII, watching it live at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

His daughter, who now works as a dental hygienist, was a cheerleader with the Ravens at the time.

“I was so excited to be there,” he said, although he also recalls the power outage at the Superdome that forced a delay of the game.

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He and his brother — and Tower general manager — Mario Buontempo showed an Aegis reporter around the restaurant’s new second floor. Construction started on the roughly 4,000 square-foot enclosed bar and entertainment venue in 2017, and it opened in early July of 2018, ahead of the NFL season, according to the Buontempos.

It is above the Tower’s downstairs bar and dining areas. The establishment opened in 2002.

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“It’s been very popular since we opened up here,” Renato Buontempo said of the second story.

Mario Buontempo discussed the drink specials that will be available Sunday, such as a $10 bucket with Miller Lite, Coors Light and Bud Light.

There will also be raffles of Ravens merchandise and other items such as a cornhole game board.

“I am very [much] looking forward to the playoffs, and I hope the Ravens, they’re going to go all the way,” he said. “I do have faith in them — they’re going to go all the way.”

Mario Buontempo said the second story, which also has a recreation area with video games and pool tables — the pool tables have purple covers in honor of the Ravens — has been “very successful” with patrons who want to watch sports.

“Anything sports related, we will televise,” he said.

Brothers Renato, left, and Mario Buontempo, owner and general manager of the Main Street Tower restaurant in downtown Bel Air, stand in the enclosed second-floor bar area Thursday. They expect it will be busy Sunday as the Ravens host a playoff game.
Brothers Renato, left, and Mario Buontempo, owner and general manager of the Main Street Tower restaurant in downtown Bel Air, stand in the enclosed second-floor bar area Thursday. They expect it will be busy Sunday as the Ravens host a playoff game. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Buontempo pointed out the Zumex juicer in the bar area, calling it “the best Orange Crush in Bel Air — in Harford County I should say.”

He demonstrated it by putting several whole oranges in the machine, which turned them into sweet orange juice with no pulp. He said the juice can be mixed with alcohol such as vodka.

“You get out the last drop [of orange juice],” he said.

Buontempo, who is originally from Naples, Italy, has lived in Bel Air for 20 years. He moved to Harford County from Sandusky, Ohio, in the late 1990s.

He ran pizza shops and restaurants while living in Sandusky and followed the Cleveland Browns — Cleveland is about 66 miles from Sandusky. Buontempo recalled football fans would travel from towns such as Sandusky and Youngstown to Cleveland to hold tailgate parties and watch the Browns.

Then-owner Art Modell announced in 1995 that the Browns would move to Baltimore, and the team became the Ravens. Buontempo himself moved to Maryland in 1999.

He said local teams getting into the playoffs “definitely boosts the economy.”

“People go out and have a good time, and people buy clothing, shirts and things,” he said.

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