As a process server for the Baltimore City sheriff’s office, Hikeen Crampton wears a bulletproof vest. Delivering divorce papers, restraining orders and criminal summonses can be dangerous work.
But as Crampton stood Sunday in Section 533 at M&T Bank Stadium, he had to cover his eyes as the Baltimore Ravens defense lined up to face a do-or-die fourth down against a rolling Cleveland Browns offense.
When the crowd exploded with cheers, the 39-year-old Baltimore man with three Ravens tattoos opened his eyes, which quickly filled with tears when he saw a replay of the interception that won the game 26-24, secured the AFC North title and gave the Ravens their first playoff appearance since 2014.
“The woman next to me asked, ‘Are you crying?’ ” Crampton said Monday. “I said, ‘You just don’t know. This is so emotional. We’ve been waiting for this for four years.””
His next thought was “I got to get me some playoff tickets.”
That’s good news for the Ravens, whose request for fans to pack the stadium against the Browns was answered by a sellout crowd of 70,925 that erupted in a rapturous celebration in the stands and on the streets after the game.
“It was like winning the Super Bowl,” Crampton said.
The Ravens’ request was an unusual move for a team that has long enjoyed a dedicated fan base. But in a frustrating, up-and-down season, thousands of seats have gone unused. Fans and commentators doubted a playoff run after quarterback Joe Flacco fell to injury in November. But rookie quarterback sensation Lamar Jackson and a resurgent defense turned the season around, and interest from fans has surged.
The Ravens sold out the batch of playoff tickets they put on sale last week when it became clear that beating the Browns could lead to a home game. After the victory Sunday over Cleveland, the team began selling tickets again to its home wild-card playoff game this Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Interest continues to mount in the secondary market for tickets. The average asking price for tickets to Sunday’s game against the Chargers is $489, with the cheapest tickets selling for $122, said Ralph Garcia, a spokesman for ticket aggregator TicketIQ. The average price has increased 15 percent since Christmas and is up from $150 at the beginning of the season. The Ravens’ website lists face values of between $81 for seats in the upper end zone sections to $435 for the best club level seats.
“People are scrambling for playoff tickets,” said Baker Koppelman, senior vice president for Ravens ticket sales and operations. “There are a few thousand seats available.”
The team worried that the sellout of tickets offered last week could have confused fans that no more playoff seats were left, Koppelman said. But once the New Year’s holiday ends, he expects fans to get a clear picture that tickets are still available.
“We expect we’ll be sold out by Wednesday,” he said. “We expect demand for this game to be so high that people will buy what we have and we’ll see a similar scene to what we saw on Sunday.”
Darryl Oliver of Timonium hopes to be one of those fans. The T. Rowe Price employee is “eagerly searching for tickets.”
He’s reached out to a friend with season tickets to see if he would sell him a ticket.
“I’m sure he’s a popular guy right now,” said Oliver, 47.
And he’s looking for a good deal at the Ravens website and other online ticket sellers.
While Oliver saw that tickets were on sale last week for the wild-card game, he held off buying because he was not sure whether the game would be in Baltimore or whether the Ravens would even make it that far.
The married father of four has already entered to win the Ravens’ Week of Winning promotion, which on Thursday is offering two tickets to Sunday’s game (plus a $100 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card).
“Hopefully, I’ll have tickets by then,” he said. “I’ve never been to a playoff game.”
Oliver said his entire family was nervous about the game against the Browns because they were not watching it on the porch of their Timonium home, as is their weekly tradition. Instead, he and his wife and their two sons violated their superstition by watching with his parents in their Joppatowne home.
“It’s been a tale of two seasons — a mediocre first half and a stellar second half,” he said. “But the way it was shaping up on Sunday I was like, ‘Oh, no, here we go again.’ We were all praying, biting our nails. I don’t think I was breathing.”
He started asking around about tickets almost as soon as the game ended.
So, too, did Baltimore resident Morgon Stephenson.
Getting fans to watch games live rather than on television has long been a struggle for NFL teams. For a fan who typically watches games on TV, Stephenson said, his stadium experience for the game with the Browns was “1,000 percent more exciting.” And he wants more of that adrenaline.
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“When it came down to the last minute and a half of the game and the Ravens defense needed that extra support from the fans, everybody pulled together and made so much noise, sending just enough extra purple power to the defense that the Browns couldn’t score against us,” said Stephenson, 37, a waiter at Woodberry Kitchen. “As we were walking out of the stadium, it felt like the whole purple army had won an important battle.”
Baltimore Deputy Sheriff Donald Rheubottom felt that enthusiasm through the television as he watched, prompting him to start looking online for tickets after the last-minute victory. He wanted to be part of the live presence — even more so after running into Crampton at work Monday morning.
Crampton was wearing the AFC North Champions hat he bought at the stadium Sunday and was carrying The Baltimore Sun’s front-page tribute to the win.
The two placed the newspaper on the desk of a clerk who is a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the divisional rival eliminated from playoff contention by the Ravens’ victory. Such levity was a welcome end to a high-pressure regular season, especially in a tough year for a city that saw another 300-plus homicides and other problems, Rheubottom said.
“It’s been a high-blood-pressure-medication type of season,” Rheubottom said. “With all the stuff going on in the city, the negative news, we got something that everyone — Democrat or Republican, black or white — can wrap their head around. That was a great moment at the stadium.”
On Sunday, Rheubottom would prefer to be present for a similar experience rather than watching it on television.
“I’m ready to draw up a cardboard sign that says ‘Will Work for Tickets’ and get out on the corner,” he said.