Parking was no problem for Ravens fans who came early and paid dearly.
Or for those who staked out old haunts a 20-minute walk or more from Memorial Stadium.
Thousands more stowed their cars at suburban park-and-ride lots to take the bus, much to the delight of Mass Transit Administration officials who had banked on a big response to pre-game publicity amid Baltimore's return to the National Football League.
For many, getting there seemed to be half the fun, as cars poured in early to stadium lots and tailgating thrived despite an advertised ban on the football ritual.
"This is the most excitement I've had since I've been here," said stadium neighbor Angela Distance, who had just sold a parking space behind her Lakeside Avenue home for $20.
"I said $10, and he said he'd give me $20," said Distance, who did not live in the neighborhood when the Colts and Orioles called the stadium home.
In neighborhoods west of the stadium, residents employed a winter strategy -- reserving their parking places with lawn chairs and garbage cans.
In the 700 block of Melville Ave., five chairs were tied together with rope, saving two parking places.
"This is the greatest thing that ever happened," said Aberdeen resident Danny Stinson, referring to the return of professional football.
He and several friends stood behind their car in the stadium lot, as Mark Silvia worked through an assortment of nuts and bolts that would become the group's miniature grill -- ready soon, they hoped, for the waiting hot dogs and hamburgers.
Along The Alameda, near its intersection with Loch Raven Boulevard, some fans picked up where they left off 13 years ago -- returning to parking spaces and ad hoc picnicking grounds they used then.
"This is a great place," said Bruce Johnson of Westminster, as he and three others lounged in the shadow of the former VA Baltimore Medical Center on The Alameda.
Johnson said the low brick wall he was sitting on was a good spot for a small grill and the grassy lawn behind him was a fine place to toss a football.
With his wife, Sheila, and friends Nick and Matt Herbert of Woodlawn, Johnson was eating peanuts, drinking beer and looking forward to his "football experience" menu of Polish hot dogs.
Nick Herbert said the group considered riding a bus from the Owings Mills park-and-ride lot, but decided against it. "We didn't leave any earlier than if we'd taken the bus, and we can sit down and relax," he said.
Brian Hebbel of Owings Mills said in Colt days he always parked in the same area, an uphill 20-minute walk from the stadium. He was there yesterday with his son, Kevin, and six friends.
Despite the $15 price tag, the stadium parking spots drew fans more than six hours before game time -- an hour before the lots opened.
"We were here at 1: 30, but they told us the lots didn't open until 2, so we came back about 2: 15," said Joe Osborne of Ironton, Ohio, who was in a five-car contingent of Baltimore and Ohio fans.
An hour later, the group of 15 had their cars carefully arranged trunk-to-trunk for serving ease, the Grateful Dead blaring and the snacks bags opened. They were biding time until they thought it safe to light the grill.
By 6 p.m., they had grilled chicken and Italian sausages -- and dumped white coals on the pavement. "The police came through and said the cops will be sweeping through here in five minutes," Stewart Nickel of Bethesda said. "They said we'd get a citation for the grill; that was 20 minutes ago."
Although there were a number of grills smoking, the announced ban kept some folks from bringing theirs. Chris McClain, Jason Siemer and three friends shared only liquid refreshments from the trunk of their car in the stadium lot. They promised, however, to have a grill going early in the season.
"We're trying to hop on the new tradition," said McClain, a recent Towson State graduate. "I've been a Browns fan for the last eight years. Now, my team's coming to me. It's a dream come true."
Police officials squirmed a little about the tailgating ban. City police Lt. Kenneth Streets, who was in charge of the traffic operation, said it was up to the district officers to enforce the tailgating ban.
"It's a party atmosphere. There's a limit to how many you can shut down," he said.
The MTA's park-and-ride campaign was "wildly successful," said Charles Carnaggio, director of transit operations for the MTA. By 6 p.m., the 15 outlying lots were half-full of cars, he said, and some sites were calling for extra buses.
There were already 300 buses on the street, 100 more than the MTA had ever used for an event, he said. MTA spokesman Anthony Brown said about 16,000 people rode buses to the game last night, with some of the heaviest ridership coming from Owings Mills and White Marsh, which each had about 2,300 passengers.
"We're real excited about the numbers," he said.
Brian Foust of Abingdon praised the MTA for the nice set-up at the White Marsh lot. "They had maybe 15 buses waiting," said Foust, who rode in with his 10-year-old son, Evan.
Next time, however, Foust said he might drive because he had discovered that the lot on the east side of the stadium, which he thought was reserved for permit holders, was open to cash customers.
George Hirschbein of Owings Mills and three friends rode the bus even though they had a premium parking pass.
"We thought it would be too much of a hassle to drive down to the game, and we figured it would be worse trying to get out," he said. They arrived at the Owings Mills station about 5: 15, and an hour later they were inside the stadium. "It was very easy. There was nothing to it."
The $15 stadium parking fee drew the most criticism from game-goers.
"Fifteen dollars is outrageous. I've been to a lot of concerts and I've never paid more than $10," said Philadelphia Eagles fan Karl Kuhl of West Chester, Pa. "This is crazy."
He had lots of company among Ravens fans, too.
But, Kuhl said, "Once we get in the stadium, we'll forget all about it."
Pub Date: 8/04/96