Entering Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers, Ravens fans said their focus was mostly on their current team, not on a running back who used to play for them.
But with the Chargers' 27th-ranked rushing offense and Ray Rice's successful appeal to be reinstated to the NFL, some supporters in purple and black were asked to consider what it would have been like to see the former Ravens star in road whites Sunday.
Most fans said he would've been treated just like anyone else.
“If he played for San Diego today, he'd be playing with the enemy, and I'd boo him because of that,” Colleen Deems, 57, of New Freedom, Pa., said outside M&T Bank Stadium. “But I boo [former Ravens wide receiver] Anquan Boldin, too.”
Rice was arrested in February for allegedly assaulting his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator. He avoided a criminal conviction after entering a pretrial intervention program that included mandatory anger management counseling.
The subsequent league investigation; the initial two-game suspension; and a second, indefinite suspension when video of the assault was released in September seemed to draw some of the ire from Rice and to the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell.
Arbitrator Barbara S. Jones' ruling Friday, which indicated that Rice was truthful to Goodell and that the commissioner tried to punish Rice twice for the same offense, solidified that public sentiment.
“I think he got a rotten deal. He really did,” Deems said. “Everybody makes a mistake. The only difference is most aren't put out for everyone to see.”
Deems, who was standing at the foot of the Ray Lewis statue outside the stadium, said her Rice jersey was in her car, and that she'd wear it into the stadium. Her grandson brought two signs, she said. The first read, “Bring back Ray Rice.” The second was a nod to Rice's play on fourth-and-29 in San Diego several years ago, reading: “Hey diddle, Ray Rice up the middle.”
“I hope he gets a job,” Lynn Beleaguer, 57, of Bel Air, said as she waited with Deems. “It probably won't be until February, but he'll be back.”
The possibility of having Rice play with the Chargers hadn't dawned on many fans outside the stadium, many of whom said new Ravens running back Justin Forest was more on their mind.
San Diego could have used Rice earlier in the season. Starting running back Ryan Mathews has missed seven games with a knee injury. Donald Brown, a free-agent signing, averaged 2.4 yards per carry in Mathews' place before missing time with a concussion. Third-down back Danny Woodhead suffered an ankle injury in Week 3. Rookie Brandon Oliver emerged as the team's primary runner.
If Rice had been eligible to sign earlier, and had done so with the Chargers, few Ravens fans said they would have begrudged him. He would have been welcomed as any other visitor is.
“I'll give him another chance,” said Ray Signal, 33, of Sykesville. “Not here, but why not? I'm not going to cheer for him.”
Whether Rice signs elsewhere or not, Signal said his playing career in Baltimore ends a rung below that of the city's greats.
“His time here is over, and I don't think he's going to take a place with the other great players around here, but he's just another guy now,” Signal said.
The large contingent of Chargers fans in Baltimore was lukewarm to the idea of the former Pro Bowl selection boosting San Diego's playoff chances down the stretch.
John Clasing, a 19-year-old Middle River resident who stood outside the stadium in his powder-blue Chargers gear hours before the game, said Rice was a good player, but he likes Mathews more.
“I just don't want that drama on my team,” Clasing said.