Ravens fans painting the town to get ready for Super Bowl
BALTIMORE (AP) -- After years of mourning the dear, departed Colts, Baltimore has fallen in love again.
The City Hall dome and the top of the Bromo-Seltzer tower are bathed in purple light to honor the Super Bowl-bound Baltimore Ravens. Team flags are flying on hotels and office buildings. Nearly 10,000 fans stood in the cold at PSINet Stadium last weekend to watch on giant video screens as the Ravens dismantled the Oakland Raiders.
All the enthusiasm was slow in coming.
By the time the Ravens arrived after the 1995 season, Baltimore had languished without an NFL team since 1984, the year Robert Irsay moved his Colts to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. The city was left with 30 years of fond memories highlighted by a Super Bowl victory in 1971.
"I think it took people a long time to warm up to the Ravens after the long, proud tradition of the Colts, and the heart-wrenching departure of the Colts," Mayor Martin O'Malley said. "I think this town was still mourning the Colts when the Ravens arrived."
But lately, even the most dedicated Colts fans are celebrating the Ravens, who have won 10 straight games and will face the New York Giants in the Super Bowl on Jan. 28.
"I buried a ghost last night," said Dave Collins, 66, of Lutherville, Md., a lifelong Colts fan, after the victory over the Raiders. "It's taken me awhile, but I'm over it."
The mayor thinks the Ravens have been able to tap into the psyche of their working-class city not only because they win, but because of how they win: grinding it out with no-frills offense and unyielding defense.
"There's a certain blue-collar charm about this team," he said.
The Ravens have also given the city some welcome headlines.
Perhaps best known among visitors for its steamed crabs and its waterfront Fells Point neighborhood, Baltimore had more than 300 murders every year during the 1990s. It was ridiculed in 1997 for having the nation's highest rates of syphilis and gonorrhea -- rates that have since plummeted. And a federal study last summer said Baltimore leads the nation in heroin use.
Its national image for a while was also shaped by TV's Homicide: Life on the Streets, an acclaimed show based in Baltimore that was canceled in 1999 after seven seasons.
Peggy Kueberth, 52, of Arnold, Md., became president of her town's Colts fan club in 1985 - the year after the Colts left. When the Ravens arrived, the club was revamped as the Ravens Roosts.
"It's so wonderful that Baltimore is finally getting some recognition,' Kueberth said. 'The Ravens are going to the Super Bowl and people are saying, 'Who are they?'"
O'Malley has relished the attention Baltimore is getting for something other than its murder rate and sexually transmitted diseases.
"It's very important to show the whole country that Baltimore's back, that Baltimore's on the rebound and that Baltimore's joining the ranks of the comeback cities," O'Malley said.
The mayor challenged city businesses to match the sea of purple flooding public property, and they responded. Employers are holding "Wear purple to work" days, and businesses have put up lights, balloons and banners. The Love Zone, a lingerie shop in Fells Point, is offering purple underwear. Once slow-selling Ravens gear is flying off the shelves.
"People come on their paydays and spend their entire check," said Zach Crocetti, an employee of N&D Sports. "We call it 'embroidered crack' because they can't stop."