On Sunday, Josh Leese’s home in Bel Air was a mini-M&T Bank Stadium.
“Seven Nation Army” poured from a Bluetooth speaker, along with “The Baltimore Fight Song” and “God Bless The U.S.A.” There was a Ravens helmet that got passed around after each touchdown, and stadium traditions abounded.
“We had an actual chain that was hanging down from our deck that we would shake every time we got a first down,” said Matt Hamilton, who attended Leese’s watch party.
Before any normal Ravens season opener, Leese and his friends would be parked between lots D and H, cooking up french fries and plenty of other tailgate fare.
The team announced in late August that, because of coronavirus concerns, it wouldn’t bring fans to the stadium for “at least the initial part” of the season, prompting fans like Leese and Hamilton to get creative.
New traditions helped soften the blow of an isolated season, fans said, alongside a strong showing by the Ravens, who crushed the Cleveland Browns 38-6, behind dominant performances by quarterback Lamar Jackson and tight end Mark Andrews.
Ezra Mintz, 10, and his dad, Doug, would have been making their way up to the stadium from Bethesda for the Week 1 game, but instead watched from their living room, munching on a special order of chicken wings.
Ezra is a lifelong Ravens fan (except for that one half-season during the first grade when he rooted for what is now Washington Football Team, which was, he admits, “weird”).
It was especially difficult to be stuck at home given the great weather Sunday afternoon.
“We sat in the living room with all the doors open,” Doug Mintz said, adding that he and his son were headed to the pool after the game.
Fan Nick Bondura said part of what made watching the game unique was how CBS managed to execute the crowd audio.
“They kind of nailed it,” said Bondura, who’s living in Ocean City. “It had the hum of a game, which was nice, because otherwise you get like the weird golf problem, where it’s almost too quiet. … It picked up a lot of player audio, which is also kind of fun.”
At local sports bars, the scene was a bit more subdued than during a typical Sunday afternoon Ravens game. At Mother’s Grille in Federal Hill, fans enjoyed a watch party in the parking lot, complete with a DJ, but less than half of the normal crowd was in attendance, due to social distancing requirements, said manager Terry Tragas.
Amy Finnerty, a server at Left Field Pub in Dundalk, said fewer people came out to watch the game.
“Today was actually a little slow because I think people are still a little bit scared,” she said.
Bargoers were in good spirits, though, she said, and many enjoyed a complimentary jello shot with every Ravens touchdown.
Mandi Kaye, a server at Turp’s Sports Bar & Restaurant in Midtown Belvedere, said the restaurant had reached capacity around halftime and would have to start turning patrons away.
“The energy is definitely the same,” she said. “Everybody is very excited.”
Ashley Romero, who watched the game from Barley’s Backyard Fells Point, said game day was a lot less intense with far fewer fans in the bar. There were fewer Ravens jerseys dotting the streets, she said, and the tailgating experience was sorely missed.
“My friend’s mom makes the best tailgate food, like she’ll make like shrimp kebabs and crab cakes. And it’s not the same like being surrounded by Ravens fans like we usually do,” she said.
James Redditt might not have watched the Ravens season opener from the stadium, but at least his cardboard cutout did.
At first, Redditt, 54, who lives in Reisterstown, didn’t see his cutout come across the screen at the two-minute warning, but an old classmate of his from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute caught it.
“I was like, 'Oh, my God, it’s really me,” Redditt said. “It was kind of exciting. And then a lot of people on Facebook saw me and they were like 'Oh, my God, Jimmy, it’s you.”
Redditt said his brother taped the game, so he’s hoping to rewind it, and find himself on TV.
Redditt, a season ticket holder, said he won’t be going to a game this season, even if the team were to open the gates, because he’s a dialysis patient. For the moment, though, he’s comfortable watching from home.
“Me and my La-Z-Boy recliner,” he said.