When the National Football League released its 2020 regular-season schedule during the first week of May, it looked as if Baltimore fans were going to get an early look at the possible AFC championship game which had eluded them when the Tennessee Titans knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs last January.
The schedule makers have the defending Kansas City Chiefs coming to Baltimore on Monday, Sept. 28 in a game many predict will eventually become the 2021 AFC title game. But because of concerns from the highly contagious coronavirus, state and city officials won’t allow the usual 70,000 to attend the game. Just 250 family members and friends of Ravens players and coaches will be allowed to attend.
This has been another bummer for Baltimore, but the optimism remains high.
“I remember seeing that schedule when it first came out and it was exciting. We’re finally playing KC here after having played them two straight years and losing two close games in Kansas City,” said Andy Gage, 55, an original Ravens personal seat license holder and health care consultant from Hagerstown. “It was going to be on Monday night, and then knowing how crazy Baltimore is going to be at that game. It was like Christmas in April.
“And now, it’s like the football gods don’t want the Ravens to have a true Monday night game,” he said. “Unfortunately, the fans won’t be there, but I still feel good about this team. I think they’ll win.”
Lou-Ellen Lallier, a Severn resident and an acute care nurse practitioner at the University of Maryland Medical Center, had declared the Ravens-Chiefs game her Super Bowl, and there was good reason. The game matched the last two NFL MVP’s, quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, against each other and both Kansas City and Baltimore were rated the top two teams by most league experts heading into this season.
Lallier and her husband, Chad, a Battalion Chief in Alexandria, Virginia, had visited several other stadiums around the country but didn’t think any could match the sounds, intensity, and atmosphere of M&T Bank. Some of the home-field advantage has disappeared with the fans.
The Monday Night game here would have only been the third since John Harbaugh became head coach in 2008.
“I wanted this so much, and we have a really good team and it’s going to be that way for a few years,” Lallier, 47, said. “And if it had happened, I would have been the happiest person on the planet. There is no other place that has this energy. The whole city can feel what is coming and emanating from that stadium. To not be there cheering, screaming, singing; well it’s devastating.”
A lot of Baltimore fans feel the same way. They describe missing the game as disappointing, unbelievable or depressing. As usual, some Baltimore fans think the NFL has conspired against them, but that’s going too far.
It is, however, easy to understand their psyche. Last year the Ravens finished the regular season with a 14-2 record, including 12 straight wins. They produced the best rushing attack in NFL history and secured home-field advantage in the playoffs. If they had beaten the Titans it appeared the Ravens were destined for a conference title game at M&T Bank against Kansas City.
It never happened. Fan spirit was crushed.
“Before the game, the whole city was energized,” Lallier said. “You could feel it everywhere. Driving up [I-295] into the city, it almost seemed like the whole city glowed purple. Everybody was out tail gaiting; the weather was wonderful. All of this made sense, everything was right with the world. We knew we were going to win.
“Then walking back [to the car] you could hear crickets all throughout Baltimore.” she said. “All the lights seemed to go out. Everybody walked shaking their heads. Everyone was a zombie, everyone was numb. You couldn’t believe it happened.”
No one was more demoralized than Paul Hocheder, 86, from Taylorsville in Carroll County. He had been a Baltimore Colts fan before welcoming the Ravens to the city in 1996. The Tennessee loss brought back memories of Super Bowl III when the New York Jets upset the Colts, 16-7, in 1969.
“That loss to the shaggy-haired Joe Namath, it took me 10 years to get over that,” Hocheder said. “After the loss to the Titans, I didn’t talk about the Ravens for six months; I was so angry and disappointed that they had to have a rotten game on that day after winning 14 games.”
Ravens fans have recovered, and they are enthusiastic about the season, especially the 2-0 start. But they have had to re-invent themselves for home games. Hocheder watches the games on a big-screen TV at home, but not before his wife, Ellen, prepares him a pregame meal that usually consists of either crab cakes, steaks or shrimp.
He is such a diehard fan even naming his 3-pound Yorkshire Terrier Lamar, after the Ravens quarterback. Like Jackson, the dog wears a No. 8 jersey.
Lallier plans to watch the game with some fans she has been tailgating with for years, including their trip to London several years ago when the Ravens played Jacksonville.
Brian Snyder, 36, is the owner and creator of Bmore Around Town, which he started in 2010 to bring the game-day experience to fans at both home and at away games.
He is used to having 1,500 to 2,000 people attend his events throughout the week, usually about 750 to 1,000 for tailgating events at home games. But now he has teamed with Power Plant Live where fans can come to watch the Ravens on the big screenwhile wearing masks and practicing social distancing. There are servers there, even a DJ who provides music during commercial breaks. There is Ravens trivia, “Squirrel Dance” contests and even appearances by “Real Fan Dan” and “Captain Defense”.
“It’s been different,” Snyder said. “You have to be aware of every feeling, whether it’s Covid or politics, and give everyone an outlet without the Covid or safety fears. More people are starting to venture out in their norms now, and by that I mean they aren’t breaking rules, but willing to do things and honor guidelines in a safe manner.”
“Real Fan Dan”, whose real name is Dan Granofsky, 60, still runs out and does his R-A-V-E-N-S cheer in his neighborhood of Pasadena even now while watching it on TV. Granofsky met his wife, Robin, when he first started attending games when M & T Bank opened in 1998. According to Granofsky, the Ravens have a fan cutup of him for current games.
“If it puts a smile on the face of a coach or player, I’m all about it,” Granofsky said. “Even when I watch it now, I go outside and lead a cheer and all my neighborhood knows about it.”
Snyder thinks new developments might lessen the game-day experience and decrease the number of fans at home games in the future. Fans might find it more comfortable to stay at home instead of arriving at 8 am for a 1 p.m. game and not getting home until 8 p.m. They’ll certainly find better and repeated analysis on TV and won’t have to deal with traffic.
But there is also a solid base of Ravens fans who will always attend the games in person.
Hocheder says the NFL missed a great opportunity to repair relationships and could have provided tickets for law enforcement officers or servicemen who are tested often for the virus. But overall, Ravens fans seem to have it in perspective, especially Lallier.
Lallier, along with nurse practitioners Michelle Klein, Patti Jones, Mindy LeBrun, Natalie Moore, Laura Sleet and Jolene Eid as well as physician assistants Meghan LaVigne and Kim Clark, served on the front line of Maryland’s COVID-19 units for several months beginning in March.
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“I have a huge respect for keeping people safe and healthy, and that’s the No. 1 goal,” Lallier said. “The decision to not have fans there is understandable, and I am happy they made that decision to keep as many people in Baltimore as safe as possible because this is my city, my people. I am glad, but hurt they made the right decision.”