Scrimmage on at Ravens' camp -- for autographs

The Baltimore Sun

The closer Ed Reed gets, the more Jennifer Walter bounces on her toes.

She's 34 and a teacher, but at this moment, she resembles a giddy schoolchild awaiting recess. A grin splashes across Walter's face as her right arm waves wildly, gesturing to the Ravens defensive back, who now stands but a few feet away with a Sharpie pen in hand.

Walter's plan for getting Reed's autograph centered on arriving at the McDaniel College field at sunrise, more than two hours before the start of a recent Ravens practice. Dozens of other spectators had beaten her there, some pressed up against a makeshift fence since 3 a.m.

The nearly three-week training camp is the best time to gather player autographs, and those who have turned it into a science say if you want to hit the jackpot and get a Ray Lewis, Reed or Steve McNair signature, arrive early. Real early.

Get there at 8:15 a.m. when the players take the field, and you'll be three, maybe four rows deep. And if you're that far back, your chances plummet for reeling in the players you want.

Walter arrived at 6 a.m., toting a lawn chair and a $90 replica Ravens helmet. She got her reward.

"This is the Ed Reed helmet," Walter tells the Pro Bowl safety as he approaches. "I don't want anybody else to sign it."

Reed obliges. And Walter, on cue, removes herself from the first row of autograph seekers, then puts the helmet away for safekeeping.

If you think Walter's next move will be to sell the item to the highest bidder on the Web, the Westminster resident says she won't. Walter says she'll keep the helmet on display in her basement next to autographed jerseys of Ray Lewis, Reed and linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Walter says nothing could make her sell, and she's not too fond of people who do.

"It just hurts everybody," Walter says. "Especially somebody like me, who just gets a huge kick out of it. The players are reluctant to sign if they think it's going on the Internet."

To sell or not to sell is a matter of opinion, and Tony Gusilatar of Dundalk has a different take.

Gusilatar and a couple of his friends arrive at the field with an 8-by-4-foot painting of Reed he is hoping to have signed. He says it took him about a year to complete the painting, and if he can get Reed to sign it (which he later does), he will put it on eBay and sell it for no less than $2,000.

In the painting, Reed is set against a red background, his eyes are peering ahead, slightly crossed. One leg is ahead of the other and Reed, dressed in the Ravens' all-black uniform, is crouched in a backpedal, the prototypical defensive back stance.

"It's tough getting a painting like this done," Gusilatar says. "I'll probably sell it, but if Ed Reed himself asked me for it, I'd love for him to have it. That would be the greatest compliment."

As Reed leaves the field after practice, he initially walks in the opposite direction from where Gusilatar has the painting propped. Undeterred, Gusilatar slices his way through the crowd, then persuades a security guard to take the painting to Reed, who promptly puts his signature on it.

If autograph-seekers like Gusilatar have one trait in common, it's perseverance. Those who come early, brave the 90-degree heat and high humidity, and stay for both practices tend to be the big winners.

Gwendolyn Dunn Carroll, 65, says she is in her sixth year of collecting autographs, and many of the players know her face and voice.

Carroll, a dentist in Baltimore, will ride a player unmercifully until he signs her banner. In three days of training camp this year, Dunn has more than 70 autographs, including Lewis, McNair, tight end Todd Heap and Reed.

"I get here around 5 in the morning for good position and will stay until everybody has left just in case somebody wants to drift back out and give an autograph," Carroll says after an afternoon practice, which concludes more than 12 hours after she first arrived.

She says it's hard for the players to say no to someone who is at retirement age.

"Some of them, I could be their great-grandmother," Carroll says.

Carroll says she's had two seasons where every player on the team has signed, though last year she got barely half of the players in camp to sign.

Cornerback Chris McAlister has proved especially elusive. She needs his signature and those of about seven other players to complete the set in record time.

"I have a hard time with McAlister, but eventually he signs," Carroll says. "Most of them are nice, but some play hardball. But you don't want me nagging you. I'll get louder and louder. For that last week of camp, it's going to be tough on those who haven't signed."

Carroll says she displays the banners in her office and will one day give them to the team to auction off for charity.

She's part of the "no sell" camp.

"I wouldn't sell them because, to be honest, I don't need the money," Carroll says. "I just do this because it's fun. It's just one of those thing that you do."

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