Football passion vs. chill


It was a cold night for a picnic, but Ravens fans by the hundreds had no need for sunshine to keep warm last night amid the tailgate hoopla that began hours before last night's game - the home team's first appearance on the nationally televised Monday Night Football since the home team was a wingless animal.

But as with Colts fans of old, it was passion keeping them warm. And liquor, crab soup, marinated pork loin - you get the idea.

With the temperature hovering in the 30s and the cold exacerbated by a biting breeze, the diehards hunkered down in the parking lots along Pratt Street with their coolers and grills, and largely refused to acknowledge Mother Nature, or even mention the underdog Minnesota Vikings, who stood between the Ravens and the NFL playoffs.

Eight loyal fans calling themselves The Ravens 8 set up shop next to a 1972 Ford Shasta motor home - dubbed the "Ravenmobile"-on the lot of Maish's Auto Service at Paca and Pratt streets by 4 p.m.

"We get here early enough where we don't have to worry about parking, and we leave late enough where traffic is not a problem," Shane "Big Daddy" Fagan, 30, of Highlandtown said of their ritual. "We have to support the Ravens."

The aroma of Maryland crab soup and deep-fried cajun turkey (in honor of defensive tackle Tony "Goose" Siragusa, they said, somewhat inexplicably) mixed in the air as the eight friends gathered around a portable-fireplace bonfire as the Baha Men's "Who Let The Dogs Out" blared from the motor home's outdoor speakers.

"Whether we win or lose, we have to support the team," said Ravenmobile owner Neil Crumbacker, 34, of Annapolis. "We don't have jackets, just jerseys. Just like the players."

The troop has been keeping the fires burning there, alongside the 19-foot vehicle, since 1996. The mural-sized Ravens logo on its sides drew honks of support from rush-hour commuters on Pratt Street.

If it had snowed yesterday, Crumbacker said, he and his friends could have cozied up inside the camper, with loud purple and black upholstery featuring the Ravens logo, a Sega Dreamcast video game system, and what The Ravens 8 describe as a pro-Ravens bathroom: A lift of the toilet seat reveals a Redskins bumper sticker inside. And when you're done, you can dry your hands on a Steelers blanket. (They claim they stole it from a Steelers fan.)

"It's like a bachelor pad," Crumbacker said. "She's a little sad because it's the last home game of the season," he said of the motor home, which carries "Ravnest" vanity license tags.

Jennifer and David Thompson closed their Linthicum flower shop early to join in the "festivusivities" - which all hoped would maximize Ravens spirit to the Super Bowl.

"We're tailgating fools," said Jennifer Thompson, who arrived at 2:45 p.m. to set up their feast, which included marinated pork loin sandwiches, homemade oyster soup and chili, to say nothing of rum-laden Jell-O shots. "We like to get here early so we can salute the opposing teams as they pass by," she said with an impish grin.

"It beats sitting in front of the television," said Thompson's cousin, Chuck Schneider, an environmental scientist who left his job in Bel Air early for the game.

Neither rain, sleet nor snow could have kept the Thompsons away. But she was disappointed that more "purple and black maniacs" weren't there. "I honestly thought there would be more people out here," she said, surveying a half-full 300-car parking lot at Pratt and Howard streets. "I guess a lot of people stayed at work."

Then again, it was only 6 p.m. - three hours before kickoff.

For some, hanging out before the game was a chance to come full circle. Rick Willson, 52, of Parkville said he was at the last previous Monday night game in Baltimore, when the Colts played the Redskins in 1978.

"I was here for the last one," he said. "I got to be here for this one."

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