Nothing could stop the black-and-gold invasion of Memorial Stadium. Not the police. Not the traffic. Not even the downpour.
Nothing except the Baltimore Ravens.
Throngs of hard-core Pittsburgh Steelers fans took over sections of the stands in yesterday's driving rain. They arrived by the bus load, determined to continue their rivalry with the team that until this year was their archfoe, the Cleveland Browns.
Old friends reunited at the gates. Pittsburgh natives who have lived for years in Maryland savored Iron City beer in the stadium parking lot. Children huddled under umbrellas and chanted: "Here we go, Steelers, here we go."
And a Pittsburgh junkyard owner, John Laws, 29, unzipped his windbreaker to show his Steelers spirit: He had painted his face and chest in black and gold.
"I was born in Pittsburgh. I was born a Steelers fan," said Jack Staley, a Baltimore mailman who organized a tailgating party for several hundred local fans. "We bleed black and gold."
Pittsburgh fans raced to buy tickets this fall. The game sold out faster than any other this season, according to Ravens officials, though 12,623 of the 64,445 ticket holders decided to stay home and stay dry.
L For Pat and Diane Varricchio, the game ended a 13-year wait.
The last time they saw the Steelers play at Memorial Stadium was in 1983, the year before the Colts left town.
"He was rooting for the Steelers, and I was rooting for the Colts, and they were beating the heck out of us," recalled Diane Varricchio, now an ardent Steelers fan.
The two have a Steelers shrine in their home, a shelf reserved for mugs, glasses, jerseys and other memorabilia they have picked up on road trips to watch the Pittsburgh team.
Their son, Tim, a 19-year-old student at Essex Community College, says he "never even gave a thought to" rooting for another football team.
Yesterday morning, the family celebrated at a pregame cookout at Calgary Cattle Co., a Parkville pub. Nearly 200 Steeltown faithful munched hamburgers and kielbasa, washed down with plenty of Iron City brew, before donning rain gear and boarding buses for the ride to the game.
They returned late in the afternoon, after the Ravens won 31-17, "soaking wet and bummed out," said Michael McKay, 35, a computer consultant from Westminster.
"We've still got some cold kielbasa and beans to eat," he said. "But we're good-natured people. We love Baltimore; it's just Cleveland and that big rivalry that we hate to lose."
Players appreciate fans
For the Steelers players, the display of loyalty nonetheless made a difference.
Myron Bell, a third-year safety from Michigan State University, said: "We already have the attitude it's-us-against-the-world when we're away, so when the fans are like that, pumped up, it just makes us that more ready to play."
Staley, 36, played college football and dreamed "like other kids" of wearing the Steelers uniform. Soon after he moved to the area, he went to the Purple Goose Saloon in Morrell Park in South Baltimore to watch a game and became the 280th member of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore. Today, the club has 1,376 members. The number of official host pubs, decorated with Steelers posters and showing broadcasts of the games, has grown to four: Purple Goose, Calgary Cattle Co., Shooters in Severna Park and Belle's in Frederick.
Why does Maryland boast such a large and loyal contingent of Steelers fans?
Fans relocated to Md.
Jim Day, who founded the fan club, attributes its success to the die-hard loyalty of Pittsburgh football fans and the team's winning streak in the 1970s, as well as its four Super Bowl victories.
But it also has grown from the sheer number of Pittsburghers who've relocated to Baltimore, he said, often because they were laid off from steel-working jobs.
Black and gold forever
"I love Baltimore. I love the bay," said Day, an engineer from the Ohio Valley who lives on Kent Island. He paused, then recited an appropriate Steelers refrain: "But as for me, I love the black and gold. I did when I was young, and I will when I am old."
Pub Date: 12/02/96