By Bo Smolka, Kaitlyn Wilson & Kevin Eck
Getting your family to London might seem like a logistical challenge -- managing passports, foreign currency and hotel arrangements, not to mention that whole driving-on-the-left-side-of-the-road thing.
Now imagine trying to get 53 football players, staff and all the team's equipment and technology across the pond and you can begin to understand the challenge facing Ravens vice president of operations Bob Eller as Baltimore prepares to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in London's Wembley Stadium Sept. 24.
"It will be a different type of trip for sure," said Eller, who along with director of team travel Joan Fennekohl is responsible for the logistics in getting the team from Point A to Point B for each of its road games.
For a typical game, that includes coordinating with the equipment staff, athletic trainers and others to ensure all gear bags, video equipment and medical supplies arrive safely -- and that ground transportation and hotel rooms are ready at the other end.
A game in London has additional hurdles, such as making sure everyone in the official travel party of about 190 has a valid passport, the lengthy process of clearing customs with all the team equipment at the airport, arranging a practice facility and working with local medical personnel and security.
And while some fans are building vacations around this game, the team has no such luxury. The Ravens host the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium seven days before playing in London and host the Pittsburgh Steelers seven days afterward.
Given that schedule, this will be a quick business trip for the Ravens, not much more than a bus-window tour of London, with arrival Friday morning, Sept. 22, and departure immediately after the game. (The Ravens could have requested a bye week after the London game, as many teams have done, but they prefer the bye later in the season.)
Head coach John Harbaugh is a creature of habit, and the Ravens are approaching the Jaguars game much like other long road games. Rather than spend the whole week in London, as some teams opt to do, the Ravens will practice at their Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Md., during the first part of the week and will fly Thursday night, Sept. 21, landing at London's Heathrow Airport the next morning.
The Ravens will practice Friday, Sept. 22, at the Hazelwood rugby facility in suburban London. It has been used by other NFL teams, so the facility already has NFL practice equipment such as first-down chains and goalposts.
Then they will have a standard light walkthrough practice Saturday at Wembley Stadium, and there could be some promotional appearances in conjunction with NFL UK.
"The goal is to keep it in the rhythm of the week to week," Eller said.
For starters, every player will need a valid passport, and they have all been told to bring passports to training camp. This will give the team several weeks to sort out any potential issues.
The Ravens unofficially began planning this trip last October, when an NFL official told team president Dick Cass that a Ravens game in London in 2017 was likely. It was already known that the Jaguars would host the Ravens this season, and the Jaguars were scheduled to be the host team for one of the London games.
So when the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins played in London last season during the Ravens' bye week, Eller and Fennekohl went to observe and scout out potential practice and hotel sites. They returned to London in March once the game was confirmed.
"Everybody over there has been so pleasant and accommodating," Eller said. "They want it to be a good experience for the teams, although it is a very, very different type of game."
It helps that the league has been staging regular-season games in London since 2007. So in planning for this game, the Ravens have drawn on the experience of veteran NFL staffers and the Jaguars, who will be playing in London for the fourth straight season.
"We're very fortunate to have the resources of the league office, because they've been doing this a long time," Eller said. "They really kind of have a system down. ... They are very well organized."
One of the biggest issues to arise in the past few months has been security in light of terrorist attacks in London this spring.
"We will be making the trip," Harbaugh said after one OTA workout. "I just think it underscores the gratitude and the respect that we all absolutely have to have for those who protect us."
Eller said team officials and the NFL have had "many discussions about it, and [NFL and local authorities] are acutely aware of the challenges they face and they really do a very, very good job. ... Believe me, it's on everybody's radar, and every precaution that can be taken is being taken."
-- Bo Smolka
Ravens Nation Travels Abroad
Perry Hall, Md., resident Ed Stylc has never been overseas. In fact, he hasn't been on a plane since 2000.
This September, however, he'll embark on his first European adventure. And it's all because of the Ravens.
"Absolutely, no question about it. If they weren't playing I wasn't going," Stylc said. "... The combination of it being my favorite team and, well, I never really thought I was going to go over to Europe. But in this case, it was like if the Ravens are going to be there, why not?"
Stylc, 48, grew up in Highlandtown, Md., and attended Calvert Hall. He was a Baltimore Colts fan in grade school and became a Ravens fan when the team came to town for the 1996 season. He's been a season-ticket holder since M&T Bank Stadium opened in 1998.
With an 11-year-old daughter, Stylc said he and his wife have never had much of an interest in traveling. They often vacation in the Outer Banks and enjoy their routine. This year, however, they aren't making their annual beach trip, so Stylc and a friend decided to take on London.
Having never been overseas -- and not even on a plane since 9/11 -- Stylc said recent security concerns in Europe have crossed his mind but haven't dampened his enthusiasm.
"I'm not the greatest flyer in the world," he said. " ... I can't tell you that going to Europe doesn't bother me a little bit, but the likelihood of it being a problem is pretty unlikely."
Stylc is one of many Ravens fans who will need passports in hand as they catch the purple and black across the pond. Whether through a group or on their own, a seven-plus-hour flight, thousands of dollars and time off work won't keep diehard fans from making the trip.
"We enjoy going and seeing other cities and towns and seeing other stadiums and just supporting the Ravens away," said Laura Weber of Baltimore. "There's a huge congregation of Ravens fans that show up at away games. You would be surprised if you've never been."
Weber, 60, and her husband will be traveling to London for the first time. A former season-ticket holder for 12 years, Weber and her husband often travel to see the Ravens play, but this is the first time they'll need a passport.
"Well, London was on my husband's and my bucket list for travel," Weber said. "We love to travel. And when we found out that the Ravens were playing that game it was just like a perfect reason to go at that time."
Planning a trip to London is slightly different than, say, New Orleans, so Weber and others have enlisted the help of BMORE Around Town and Sports Tickets Unlimited, who have teamed up to help fans make the trip.
"There's no other way," said Tish Hild of Parkton, Md., who will be traveling with her husband. "... We do all of our Ravens trips with them. It's not even a consideration. ... The package includes a bunch of touristy things. It's really easy to just write a check, if you will, and they plan everything else. The most you have to remember is what time to be in the lobby for different excursions."
The package through BMORE Around Town and Sports Tickets Unlimited offers fans a four- or six-night stay. The trips run from $2,700 to $3,400, depending on the number of nights, and include everything from non-stop airfare, five-star lodging, tickets to the game, several tours of local attractions, a Sunday tailgate and more.
But while some may take comfort in the convenience of a group trip, others are more than happy to take it on themselves.
Jason Armiger grew up in Towson, Md., and has been a Ravens fan since 1996. He now lives in Parkland, Fla., but travels back to Baltimore once or twice each year to attend a game with his father. He also recently started attending a few road games each year, also with his dad.
"It's very much deep-rooted in my family, being Ravens fans," Armiger, 45, said.
This year, Armiger will take his wife and two kids, ages 3 and 5, to London. Armiger, who has family in the UK, booked the trip himself, and said airfare from Orlando to London for his family of four ran about $3,000. He paid $95 a ticket for the four tickets he purchased through the Ravens' website. Once there, the Armigers will be staying with family.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Ravens play on that stage," Armiger said. "... I think it's an honor for the Ravens to play on that stage. To see the Ravens ... expand in other markets, to see our NFL game get played for a more broad audience, I think is fantastic."
-- Kaitlyn Wilson
Local Businesses Bring London Experience To Charm City
Those traveling to London to attend the game aren't the only Ravens fans who are in store for a unique game-day experience. On the domestic front, the impact of the game will be felt in living rooms and establishments all across Baltimore and elsewhere where there are Ravens fans.
With kickoff taking place at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time, game-day rituals for Ravens fans on this side of the pond will be a departure from the typical football Sunday. However, a number of popular Ravens game-day destinations are embracing the opportunity to enhance the experience.
For example, Jimmy's Famous Seafood in Dundalk, Md., will open its doors at 6 a.m. -- five hours earlier than usual -- and do its best imitation of an English pub.
"We are going to bring England to Baltimore for those who couldn't travel from Baltimore to England," Jimmy's Famous Seafood owner John Minadakis said. "We're going to do the English breakfast thing and have the soccer games on the screen, and we're going to have the staff dressed like they're [working] in an English bar. We'll have the Spice Girls on the screen, a [former British WWE wrestler] William Regal look-alike contest -- anything it takes to recreate the English experience. Of course when it's time for the game, we'll turn off the soccer matches and get into football mode, with the wings and the traditional American football things."
Even though the sun may just be rising when Jimmy's opens, Minadakis said he anticipates a good crowd because of how rabid Ravens fans are about the team.
"In , when the U.S. was in the World Cup and they were playing in Japan, we had people in at 6 in the morning and it was awesome," he said. "It was very patriotic. I would equate people's love for the Ravens to their love of their country. I anticipate it'll be our best away game party of the year."
For Ravens fans who want to stick to their routine of having a few cold ones before or during the game, Jimmy's will accommodate them, although Minadakis said breakfast beverages, such as a Bloody Mary and Bellini, will likely be popular that day.
So, in keeping with the English theme, will patrons also be able to enjoy a spot of tea at Jimmy's?
"Gosh, I'd have to revoke somebody's man card as I served them that tea," Minadakis said with a laugh. "But, yeah, if they want tea, we'll give them tea."
Other Ravens haunts planning to commemorate the team's international road trip include Mother's Federal Hill Grille, Della Rose's Local Tavern in Bel Air, Md., and various Greene Turtle and Looney's Pub locations.
"A lot of the people who come out here are diehard fans, and they wouldn't miss this for the world because this game is so special and something different," said Mother's owner Kelly Rather, who added that Mother's will be doing drink specials and some English dishes for breakfast.
Tony Della Rose, the owner of Della Rose's Local Tavern, has become something of a local cult figure for delivering passionate pregame pep talks while standing on the bar at Della Rose's Avenue Tavern in White Marsh prior to Ravens games. (Those over-the-top speeches and his Ravens-themed comedy videos led to him co-hosting a weekly, late-night TV show on Channel 54 in Baltimore years ago). Della Rose said patrons at his new establishment in Bel Air can expect the same type of spirited atmosphere for the London game, despite the early start time.
"I'm approaching that game the way [Looney's Pub owner] Bill Larney approaches St. Patrick's Day," said Della Rose, who said he'll likely open for business at 8 a.m. and have a "tailgate breakfast" on the patio. Della Rose won't be there in person to deliver his traditional pregame speech -- he'll be at Wembley Stadium for the game -- but he said one of his bartenders will be a capable surrogate.
Many of the most passionate Ravens fans are members of Ravens Roosts -- a booster organization -- and as one would expect, they're not going to let a 9:30 a.m. kickoff deter them from enjoying the game to its fullest. At least two of the clubs -- in Hagerstown, Md., and Pasadena, Md., -- are encouraging members to roll out of bed and head right to the festivities still wearing their pajamas.
"It's come as you are," said Mike Guessford, president of Hub City Ravens Roost 124, which meets at Beaver Creek Country Club in Hagerstown. "We're going to be doing a big breakfast and trying to find some British-type meal. Our roost is really excited about it. We have about 45 members, and I know we're going to have a full house."
Darryl Despeaux, president of Ravens Roost 65, which gathers at Beefalo Bob's in Pasadena, said his club members are used to putting their game faces on early in the morning, as they typically meet at 8 a.m. for 1 p.m. home games during the season, hop on a bus and head to M&T Bank Stadium to tailgate. He said some of his members see advantages in the 9:30 a.m. start.
"Some people were like, ‘This is great. We can watch the Ravens game at 9:30, it'll be over with early in the afternoon, and then we can go home and do some other stuff,'" said Despeaux, whose Roost will have a breakfast buffet and Blood Mary bar for the London game.
Not all Ravens fans are thrilled about the early start time, however.
"Since my life revolves around game days, 9:30 a.m. [kickoff] sucks," Dundalk, Md., native Janeen McCoy said. "I'm big on comfort food for game days. I get up, put in a big roast, make chicken pot pie, roast chicken, and it's ready by game time. I'm not down with drinking my morning coffee while screaming at the TV. I'm guaranteed to dump hot coffee on myself."
As for transplanted Ravens fans residing on the West Coast, they will have to drink their morning coffee especially early that day, as kickoff commences at 6:30 a.m. Pacific Time.
"To be totally honest, we haven't given it much thought to this point," said Peter Allen, president of Ravens In The Fog, a club for Ravens fans in San Francisco. "We meet as a group early enough as it is most weeks, and finding a bar willing to open at 9:30 a.m. [Pacific Time] is tricky enough. But 6:30 a.m.? Forget about it!
"But, trying to look at things optimistically, it's a special occasion and it's a ways off. Plenty of time to plan something for the occasion."