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Fan hopes towels, T-shirts will make for a more intimidating crowd

Shawn Parsons has been going to Ravens games since the team first arrived in Baltimore, putting on his favorite purple jersey, tailgating with friends and cheering on the home team in customary ways. Now the local artist is set to combine his professional talents with his passion for his hometown team.

Parsons is not trying to change the color scheme at M&T Bank Stadium for home games, but the 42-year-old illustrator and graphic designer from Fallston does hope to darken the mood — at least when it comes to creating a more intimidating home field advantage.

In conjunction with a charitable foundation run by Ravens tailback Willis McGahee, Parsons has recently begun selling a new line of black towels that he expects to see fans wave, as well as T-shirts and tank tops for them to wear to games, beginning with Sunday's home opener against the Cleveland Browns.

It is being called "The Baltimore Blackout," the start of what Parsons is confident will become a tradition at Ravens games. What he envisions will not be a cheap imitation of Pittsburgh's Terrible Towels, but something that will be identifiable in its own right.

In picking the color, Parsons immediately thought about a celebrated Baltimore poet and how the team derived its name.

"When I went back to the drawing table and thought what would be a really cool look for the Ravens, I chose black because of the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and how dark that period was," Parsons said. "When you come to the stadium and it gets blacked out, it becomes ominous looking."

Based on the 500-plus orders Parsons has received since the website was launched two weeks ago, he believes that "Baltimore fans are really yearning for something like this." He knows there will be skeptics accusing him of copying the Steelers.

"As part of our presentation (to the Ravens), we addressed the Pittsburgh rivalry," Parsons said. "If Pittsburgh's wearing cleats with 1 1/2-inch pegs, then we can't wear the same cleats? Or Pittsburgh has cheerleaders, so we shouldn't have cheerleaders?

"Why shouldn't we take an idea and improve it? In fact, that's how the United States was built, taking something existing and making it a little bit better and making it a little bit more of your own."

Phil Friedman, a Washington attorney and longtime season-ticket holder who grew up going to Oakland Raiders games, said Friday that he wouldn't mind seeing a little intensity among the fans at M&T Bank Stadium but "waving a different colored towel is not very original. I'm all for doing something that is unique to Baltmore."

McGahee was skeptical himself initially, until he said he received positive feedback after putting it out on Twitter.

"It's just about having fun, letting the crowd participate with the team," said McGahee, whose foundation's activities will be linked to the blackout website. "We know they're supporting us, but when you see that, it's a different story."

Part of the proceeds will go to McGahee's foundation, which also has been involved in turkey drives for Thanksgiving and buying Christmas presents and school supplies for disadvantaged children. The Ravens agreed to allow Parsons to sell his line of paraphernalia at the stadium because of the tie to the foundation.

The Ravens don't have any financial or emotional investment in the idea, according to Baker Koppelman, the team's vice-president for ticket sales and operations.

"It's up to the fans," said Koppelman, who acts as the liaison for retail agreements. "It's not in our best interest to contrive something. If it takes off and becomes popular, that's great. If it doesn't, it won't be the first time."

Koppelman admitted that the predominance of black-clad fans "is a little bit tricky because our brand is purple."

Said Parsons: "We're not trying to take the purple out of it. We want to unite the fans."

Parsons said that has received orders from as far away as Australia. According to Parsons, a Ravens fan in New Orleans who is about to open the city's first Ravens bar ordered 50 large towels to cover the walls.

T-shirts were emblazoned with images Parsons thought would be apropos or, perhaps, apro-Poe.

One design has a picture of a purple-clad Grim Reaper overlooking Baltimore's skyline with a flock of ravens flying toward the stadium. Others have phrases such as "Darkness comes and nothing more" or "Fear the darkness." The 15x18 inch towels simply read, "Baltimore Blackout".

Rachel Kagey, an aesthetician from Towson who plans to wear one of the black tank tops and wave one of the towels she recently purchased to the games she attends, said that "black is definitely the way to go. I think it brings out a little darkness."

In researching the project, Parsons, a former University of Maryland art major, became a history student. He kept replaying a clip on YouTube of the Georgia-Auburn game in 2007.

Georgia fans were told to wear black to the game in Athens, Ga, and the team's legendary mascot, Uga, was adorned in black.

"When you wave the towel in the blackout, it looks like thousands of ravens flying throughout the stadium," Parsons said.

Ravens defensive back Prince Miller and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe played on that Georgia team. Miller recalled how, "it gave us some extra motivation."

"When it's all blacked out," Ellerbe said, "it's a different kind of game, different kind of energy."

The Bulldogs wore all-black uniforms that day, as well as for the team's Sugar Bowl win that season against Hawaii.

"Uniforms are not going to win the game for you," Miller said, recalling how the Bulldogs lost to Alabama in a blackout during the 2008 season.

Said Parsons, "When the team wears black, the fans are more pumped up, the players are pumped up, there's a little more swagger in everybody."

According to Koppelman, the Ravens will not wear black Sunday, but will wear black jerseys for two "Back to Black Games" later in the season — against Tampa Bay and New Orleans.

Parsons is hoping that it becomes more than a one-game shtick in the stands, as happened when fans were given white towels to wave during the playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts during the 2007 season. The Ravens lost, and the towels, one of which sits in Parsons' home studio, were retired.

"We don't want to do it for just one game. We want it be an every-game staple and we'll use it every game, every year, so that when we make the playoffs it wasn't just about (blacking out) one game," Parsons said. "We want it to be that we win because we're unified as a team, as a city and as fans."

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