Wanda Belt was with her close-knit crew of die-hard Ravens fans tailgating in the shadow of M&T Bank Stadium on Jan. 11, 2020. They ate, drank and listened to music.
As kickoff against the Tennessee Titans neared, they moseyed into the arena of 71,000 strong. Belt, 64, found her season-ticket seats and soaked it all in. There was something magical about being there.
“Being in the playoffs last year, just being in the stadium with all our fans rooting for our boys, it’s just so overwhelming,” Belt said. “And we just love every minute of it.”
The matchup had Baltimore buzzing. But the night didn’t go how most predicted, as the Titans won in a resounding upset, 28-14.
Like many fans, Belt hopes this year’s playoff appearance will yield a different result. But she’s also not alone in wishing she could celebrate like last year leading up to Sunday’s rematch with the Titans.
Instead of a tailgate and a season ticket, Belt will be watching the anticipated game Sunday from her sofa in Glen Burnie.
It’s the reality of a Ravens fan during the coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions enacted to curb the spread of COVID-19 ensured that during the 2020-21 season, fans weren’t allowed at most games; bars and restaurants could only welcome a limited number of patrons (in some places, the number at times has been zero); and tailgates and watch parties were hindered by capacity limits on gatherings inside and out.
Thankfully, Belt won’t been going it alone.
She is a member of the Ravens Roost, the “premier fan club of the Baltimore Ravens.” It’s an organized network of voracious fans that come together to do good in the community and cheer on the boys from Baltimore on Sundays. The individually numbered Roosts dot the Baltimore region: Baltimore County, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Howard, and beyond.
Typically, they gather at American Legions, pizza joints and sports bars. In Maryland, there are clubs as far away as Cumberland and Ocean City. There are locations in Virginia, Kansas City and even Germany.
Charlotte Krause, president of the council of Roosts, said the individual clubs have kept up their philanthropic work throughout the coronavirus pandemic, raising money for various charities, and come up with creative ways to get together on game days while following COVID-19 guidelines.
It’s a challenging time to celebrate. Amid a surge of coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations in Maryland and nationwide, health officials have warned against gathering with others outside of the household. They maintain the best way to prevent spreading the virus is to avoid unnecessary interaction and for people to wear masks, keep physical distance from others and wash hands.
The Ravens organization itself has been looking for ways to keep fans involved. On Thursday and Friday evening, they invited fans to a drive-thru rally at tailgate Lot C. The event advertised “car stenciling, lasers and other surprises!” Vehicles drove between two flaming Ravens-themed pillars, like players emerging from the tunnel and running onto the field.
In Dundalk, Roost 5 has adapted to the turbulent times by trading its annual pig roast for socially distanced raffles at its new home base, the Left Field Pub, said its president, Stacey Szczypinski.
Szczypinski, 50, said the money raised has gone toward a local crisis center, scholarships for three public high schools and sponsoring an elementary school family for Christmas — a proper meal and wrapped gifts.
They’ve found ways to keep up with fun this season, too.
No, there haven’t been any tailgates featuring a member’s big bus with a heater and TV. Nor have members packed the halls of the Battle Grove Democratic Club like they did for away games last year.
But Szczypinski said Left Field Pub reserves part of the bar for the Roost every Ravens game. In Baltimore County, bars and restaurants can operate at 50% capacity, restrictions slightly different from neighboring Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County.
Like she has all year, Szczypinski will go early Sunday to decorate their section with purple and to raise the Roost 5 flag. They stay seated and distanced at tables of six, with no commingling. Masks are worn. She said nobody in her Roost has contracted the virus.
They do raffles and root on the Ravens. And it doesn’t matter where they watch, game-day superstitions follow.
For Szczypinski, it’s a special pair of purple sneakers. She said they were gift before the playoffs last year. She wore them when the Titans defeated the Ravens and vowed never to sport the Vans again. But a few victories with the sneakers on this year — she only wears them on game days — has her feeling a little more confident.
Szczypinski plans to put them on Sunday, when she watches with her Roost.
About 30 miles to the south, Belt’s club is based in Annapolis.
Roost 35 has young members and nonagenarians, Belt said. Before the season, members regardless of age rolled their season tickets over to the 2021-22 season and kissed tailgating as they knew it goodbye, for now.
It was clear they were going to have to do things differently. They tried watching a game or two in a member’s lawn — distanced, of course — but even that was too scary when virus’ spread proliferated.
Then they tried Zoom.
On Sunday, Belt will have a laptop propped up near the TV. Roost members clad in purple will fill the little digital video boxes and try to feel a little closer together.
There’s a sense of comfort in having everyone together on one screen, “yelling and screaming,” Belt said.
Latest Baltimore Ravens
“[We’re] rooting them on so they can hear from afar. … It’s not being in Baltimore tailgating, but it is some sense of tailgating in the situation we’re in this year.”