By Joe Platania, PressBox Staff
The first thing noticed is the noise.
Loud rock music and public-address announcements of every are the greetings before entering the party's epicenter. Long-lost friends greet each other with the kind of gusto usually reserved for happy hours at local watering holes.
Hope and David Arminger of Ravens Roost No. 44 in Ocean City have high hopes for the Ravens in '06.
Nothing short of purple passion is the rule here: purple-painted school buses, purple T-shirts, purple hats, purple face paint, purple lipstick, purple bed sheets hanging from balconies...
Wait a minute. This isn't the stadium tailgate lot?
Last weekend, the center of the Ravens' fans' world was the Castle in the Sand Hotel in Ocean City for the annual Convention for the Council of Baltimore Ravens Roosts.
Approximately 4,000 fans from the nearly 60 Roosts spread out all over Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania gathered to play volleyball, sing karaoke, toss horseshoes and stage a seven-block-long, two-hour parade.
Plus, as good as the beer, hot dogs and pit beef barbecue made them feel, they also felt gratified to see several players and members of the Ravens front office make the trip "down the ocean" to thank them for their support.
Left guard Edwin Mulitalo, linebacker Zac Woodfin, lineman Kyle Roper, long snapper Matt Katula and NFL Europe-allocated Rob Droege and Mike Kracalik mingled with fans and sang a passable "Wanted, Dead Or Alive" for the Friday-night crowd.
"This is the best part of the offseason," Edwin Mulitalo said at his seventh Ravens Roost convention in Ocean City.
Many longtime Roosts members that belonged to the Colt Corrals remember days when players interacted more with fans than they do now. At least for one weekend, that spirit was rekindled at the convention.
"Our focus is to give back to the fans," said Ravens community relations director Kenny Abrams. "It's an opportunity for us to tell them how we feel about them.
"(At a league meeting), I showed photos of this event and they thought it was from our Super Bowl year. But I told them that this is something that goes on annually. They could not believe it. I told them, 'These are our fans.'"
The members of an organization nearing the end of its fifth decade of existence also came together to discuss the fortunes of a franchise just beginning its second.
Roost 18 (Glen Burnie) president Earl Barnes, whose chapter had the most fans registered for the weekend with 116, spoke for a majority of the fans on hand.
"Realistically, I'm looking for a .500 season this year," he said. "I'm hoping we can do that, especially if we get a quarterback in here to help Kyle (Boller) a little bit and be a mentor to him."
Barnes didn't mention Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair by name, but other revelers were more than happy to invoke the name of a signal-caller that many see as a savior, even during the same weekend when it was announced that the Titans could restructure his contract and keep him in Tennessee.
"I think they'll be 9-7, a little better than last year," said Dave Armiger of Ocean City's Roost 44. "They'll make a recommitment to winning, and with McNair coming in, it might help the quarterback situation.
"Heck, they gave away four games last year, so if they don't do that this year, they'll be better."
John Koontz and his Morrell Park Roost 25 party squad enjoyed the cold beer, but their expectations weren't much warmer. "I'll be honest," he said. "We're looking at 8-8 whether we get McNair here or not. There are lots of questions on this team."
There was no question in the mind of Linda McMaster (Roost 66, Cape St. Claire) that the camaraderie and the beer keep her coming back to the convention every year. But her outlook isn't much rosier than Koontz's.
"I think they'll go 8-8," McMaster said. "If McNair comes in, maybe 9-7. I know Boller won't get us a winning record."
Ed Dopkowski (Roost 8, Essex) begged to differ. "If McNair comes here, things are going to jell," he said. "I have pretty good hopes for this year. I'm thinking between 9-7 and 10-6.
"You definitely want to have optimism, especially this time of year at an event like this. I know those guys are trying as hard as they can."
It took quite an effort to stage the parade on Saturday as a mid-event thunderstorm sent some of the spectators scattering. But with marching bands and dance groups coming from as far away as Prince George's and Washington Counties, it was more than enough for Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias, a former Baltimorean, to declare the event a success.
"You define loyalty," he told the crowd. "When the Colts weren't here, you were here, and you made it happen. I know the Roosts will continue the tradition."
On the surface, it takes a lot of effort to sustain an event like this, especially when you consider that a portion of the Baltimore Marching Ravens band came down and paid for its own gas and rooms, and that Roost 18 ponied up $2,000 of its own money to prepare a parade float.
There are stories like that all over the convention every year. So, why do they do it?
Why do they paint their faces, bodies and buses? Why do they care so deeply and make so much noise about their love for this team?
"We're going to win a Super Bowl," Mulitalo said. "Every team can say that every year, but we're going for it."
Issue 1.7: June 8, 2006