A SCORE TO SETTLE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

revenge -- to inflict damage, injury or punishment in return for an injury, insult, etc.; a chance to retaliate or get satisfaction.

2& -- Webster's New World Dictionary.

"A little rage, a little revenge, clears the air and cleans out the system. It's emotional roughage."

-- Anonymous talk show caller quoted in Regina Barreca's book "Sweet Revenge: The Wicked Delights of Getting Even." INDIANAPOLIS -- As human beings, we take our revenge when we can.

In "The Godfather," a seething Michael Corleone waited until the day of his son's baptism to whack dozens of mob rivals in a splendid Technicolor frenzy of bullets and blood. In "Thelma and Louise," the two enraged protagonists teach a menacing trucker a lesson by whipping out their .45s and blowing up his propane truck.

Then there are Baltimore football fans.

Nursing a grudge the size of Montana, they waited 12 1/2 years for a chance to stick it to Bob Irsay, the hated carpetbagger who packed up the Colts as if they were so much Tupperware and moved them to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. And so this past weekend, ex-Colts fans journeyed to Naptown by the hundreds, by plane and bus and car, to see their new team, the Ravens, put a hurting on their old team in what was billed (in Crabtown, anyway) as the Revenge Bowl.

But that's the thing about revenge: It's rarely, if ever, guaranteed. The Colts held on for a 26-21 win in the charged biosphere that was the RCA Dome, capitalizing on a pass from Ravens quarterback Vinnie Testaverde that wobbled like a wounded game bird and was intercepted for the touchdown that broke the Ravens backs, and with it, the dreams of vengeance of their fans.

Still, for most Baltimore fans, the weekend could hardly be considered a loss, revenge or no revenge.

"In a lot of ways, this was closure," said Larry Farrell, 33, an amiable contractor from Canton, nursing a beer at a downtown hotel bar early yesterday morning with dozens of other Ravens fans.

Besides, as Regina Barreca points out in her excellent book: "Though revenge may be wrong, selfish or motivated by deep insecurities, it is rarely if ever boring."

It is 9: 25 a.m. Saturday at Detroit Metro Airport, an aging facility with all the charm of a broom closet. Henryk Wisniewski, a 30-year-old bartender from Fells Point, has just boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 1099 en route to Indianapolis.

Wisniewski is traveling with a large group of Ravens fans organized by Major League Vacations, a tour operation out of Philadelphia. He had a flight out of BWI at 7 after getting very little sleep the night before, due to the fact he's been buzzed for weeks anticipating this trip.

Too quiet

Now, boarding his connecting flight, Wisniewski, a slender man with wispy hair and a goatee, decides things are far too quiet for his liking.

Standing in the aisle, he places a Ravens hard-hat atop his head and smiles beatifically. In the interest of accuracy, it also must be pointed out that Wisniewski appears to have had a few cocktails.

"ANY RAVENS FANS HERE?!" he shouts.

A smattering of cheers echoes from the rear seats. Emboldened, Wisniewski launches into a lively harangue about how Baltimore got shafted by Irsay, how the National Football League turned its back on us, how the city lived with this gaping wound in its psyche for all these years until eventually "we had to steal a team!"

Curiously, this speech seems directed toward the flight attendants, who are bustling about the cabin in preparation for takeoff.

"Who are you with?" Gloria, the head flight attendant, asks Wisniewski.

Somewhat chastened, Wisniewski sits and seems to develop a strange fascination for a spot on the plane's ceiling.

"I'm the biggest Ravens fan there is!" Wisniewski, a season ticket holder (Section 15, Row 31) says later. This is a man whose every utterance seems to demand an exclamation mark. "I've never in my life been so excited about a trip! My head is throbbing! They put us in first class! The cocktails were flowing!

"This is it! We're finally going to avenge the robbery!"

He holds up a sign: "Indianapolis -- It's Not Just a Game, It's Personal."

"RAY-VENS! All right!" he shouts, and the words trail off as Gloria's voice, thin and detached as a 411 operator's, echoes over the intercom with pre-flight safety instructions.

Just before takeoff, Henryk checks his seat belt and smiles happily.

Men used to ride into battle on dusky steeds, their armor flashing in the sun, in order to extract their revenge.

Now they board silent, gleaming Boeing 757s with complimentary cocktail service, bound for antiseptic domed stadiums where the real warriors, in lightweight, space-age plastic shoulder pads and Riddell helmets, battle each other on artificial grass.

Throughout the afternoon and evening Saturday, a strange phenomenon takes place on the fifth floor of the Omni Severin Hotel, headquarters for a large contingent of Ravens fans.

Every hour or so, a door to a room near the elevators is flung open and loud, slurred chants of "RAY-VENS! RAY-VENS" are heard.

At 4: 30 p.m., the door is flung open and a man screams: "Gimme an A! Gimme a V! Gimme an E! Gimme an -- "

Give him an 'R'

"What happened to the R?" a female voice in the room asks suddenly.

With that, the door slams shut amid peals of embarrassed laughter.

Barreca points out that a number of theorists feel the desire for revenge is an outward manifestation of an inward lack of self-worth -- if you feel good enough about yourself, say the eggheads, you won't feel a need to "get even."

Which begs the question: Can you feel good about yourself if you can't spell? If you don't know Ravens starts with an R?

It's a clear and warm Saturday night and Ravens fans have

fanned out throughout downtown Indy, many encamped in front of big-screen TVs in various bars to watch the Orioles get thrashed by the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

A group of about 35 fans has joined WWLG sports talk show

host Nestor Aparicio at Hooters. The group was watching the game at a bar called Jackass Flats until they either a) got tired of the slipshod service and decided to leave or b) one of them mooned the waitress and they were asked to leave. It depends on whose story you believe.

After the Yanks' Darryl Strawberry hits a two-run homer to break the game open in the eighth inning, a soaring blast that is probably still traveling somewhere near the Delaware border, Aparicio tells this story:

Seeing the sights

A few hours earlier, he and his friends Anissa Marion, 29, a systems analyst from Columbia, and Jack Stevens, 39, a data analyst, are looking for kicks.

This being Indianapolis, where you take your kicks where you find them, they decide to visit the Canterbury Hotel, the wonderful old inn on Illinois Street best known as the site of boxer Mike Tyson's infamous assault on Desiree Washington, for which he spent a stretch in the slammer.

Naturally, the folks running the Canterbury would rather put this incident behind them and are somewhat squeamish about publicity vis-a-vis the Tyson incident. But somehow, Aparicio, Marion and Stevens talk a friendly concierge into letting them visit the sixth floor, where the assault occurred.

"It was eerie, spooky," Aparicio said.

"We had a moment of silence," said Stevens, helpfully.

"The concierge said he thought it was consensual, with Tyson and that woman," said Marion.

"Did you know Elvis' last concert was right here at Market Square Arena?" Stevens chimed in, apropos of nothing.

Barreca says feelings of revenge aren't governed by logic or controlled by intellect, but instead emerge from the most buried parts of ourselves.

You want to ask Stevens where in hell that Elvis business was buried. But perhaps it's better not to find out.

Game time finally arrives Sunday. It is a gorgeous evening in Indianapolis, and the Ravens fans are pumped. Sweet revenge is finally near. In the lobby of the Omni Severin, Casey Larkin, 24, of Catonsville, here as part of a group attending a bachelor party of all things, leads one final, beer-fueled cheer before heading across the street to the RCA Dome.

"Gimme a C!" he yells, contorting his body into something that only vaguely resembles the third letter of the alphabet.

"C!" yell his pals.

"Gimme an O! Gimme an L! Gimme a T! Gimme an S! What's that spell?!" Larkin screams.

"Ravens!" sneer his pals, roaring with laughter at an old joke.

One supposes you could bring up the whole spelling-vs.-self-worth business again, but what's the point?

In the Dome, Ravens fans make an unsettling discovery: Instead of being seated together in one large group, they are scattered throughout the sellout crowd of 56,000. This tends to diffuse much of their energy, to leave them vulnerable to the ugly hazing of Colts fans, to diminish the creativity and bite of their cheers.

They are lonely islands of purple, black and gold in a vast sea of bright blue Colt jerseys and caps worn by happy, corn-fed Midwesterners. Nevertheless, they are plucky, these Ravens fans. They bellow "O!" at the right place during the national anthem, just like back home, and they cheer and cry and scream for their team, although not always tastefully.

The first time the Colts touch the ball, a group of Ravens fans in Section 128 can be heard cheering: "Die, Bob, die!" in reference to Irsay's recent serious illness.

Later the same group chants: "Pull the plug! Pull the plug!" apparently oblivious to the fact that the Colts owner was recently released from the hospital after many months and has returned home.

No, revenge isn't pretty. And on this night, at least, revenge would have to wait for Baltimore football fans.

The Colts jump out to a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, and the tone of the game seems set. Nervous Ravens fans turn to each other and whisper: At least let's keep the score respectable. Which is what the Ravens do, taking their fans on a dizzying fourth quarter odyssey that is at once exhilarating, nerve-wracking and ultimately disappointing, as their final drive fizzles with the noise level in the Dome approaching the space shuttle at liftoff.

Aftermath

After the game, the Ravens fans file quietly from the Dome, except the ones who are too drunk to do anything quietly, never mind exit a stadium. Nevertheless, by the time they return to their various hotels, many have a bounce in their step again.

"I just wanted to win today so we could put this behind us," said Dick Barnes of Pasadena, a former lineman for the semipro Baltimore Eagles nursing a bourbon and water in the bar of the Omni Severin.

Then, in a soft voice, he added: "But I'm glad I was here. I'm glad I made the trip."

"I think we're all glad we came," agreed Larry Farrell at the other end of the bar, a Budweiser cradled in his hand.

On the trip home yesterday, many Ravens fans seem drained from their weekend in Indianapolis. The ones catching a 10: 40 flight to Detroit and connecting flight to Baltimore take their seats wearily, some nursing the monstrous hangovers that often come with such ventures.

Even Henryk Wisniewski seems subdued, although when the plane finally touches down at BWI and he retrieves his luggage, he is smiling again.

"The Colts fans were throwing peanuts at me yesterday!" he says, eyes twinkling at the memory. "I spread my arms out and yelled 'Go ahead, I love peanuts!' Then they really let me have it! Man, it was great!"

It was Mark Twain who once said: "Revenge is wicked and unchristian and in every way unbecoming (But it is powerful sweet anyway.)"

Ravens fans will have to wait a while to find out.

Pub Date: 10/15/96

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