Recap - Ravens 13, Bills 7
A few weeks back as I was nearing the final two games on my baseball journey, These trips were fun and exciting and I actually almost enjoyed planning them as much as going on the trips themselves. It was actually kind of sad that they were coming to an end. I then had an epiphany that I could do the same for football. Yes, I am a much bigger fan of baseball than football, but I've followed the NFL since I was a kid and I watch every week. It would also give me a chance to revisit some of the cities that I really enjoyed seeing on my baseball trip and get to see a few new ones as well.
Due to the limited schedule, the logistics of getting to every stadium would be a lot more challenging - but who the hell cares, there's no rush. I figured I can do this in 5 years or maybe less. Of course, the experience will be really different too. The fans, the venues, the atmosphere and energy at the games and so many other factors differ between the two sports - but that is actually more of a reason to do this than not to.
For my First trip on my football ‘journey’ it was back down to Charm City- Baltimore, MD.
It was very much unlike my trip here in 2015 to see the O’s play the Mets as the vibe is drastically different. The sheer volume of fans roaming the streets and Inner Harbor area getting pumped up for the game was so much higher than my last trip, probably more so than even usual for a Ravens game since it’s opening day.
There was a hell of a lot more electricity in the air too than there was when I was here last.
No doubt this is a common theme on NFL game day. Baseball venues host 81 games a year. Football only hosts 8. So NFL games are an very special event. Football fans are hungry and enthusiastic.
I took a 3 hour Amtrak ride into Baltimore on a balmy Sunday morning and got into the city and checked into my hotel around 9:30 AM. I then made my way to the harbor to kill sometime. It’ s usually quiet on Sunday mornings here, but this morning any place that was open serving food was packed and all of the bars were already setting up for pre-game.
Around 11, I headed off in the direction of the stadium down Light Street. M&T Bank is located about a half mile away from Oriole Park. The path of fans led right through Eutaw Street onto the grounds of the vacant Oriole Park. With some time to kill, I stopped in Dempsey’s for a pre-game lunch. This (and every single bar within miles of the stadium) was brimming with fans already well on their way to pre-game lubrication. I was lucky to squeeze into a seat at the bar.
After lunch I continued to follow the sea of fans. My path took me down a path called Ravenswalk. Located on the walkway leading from Oriole Park to M&T Bank Stadium, in between lots B and C, fans can experience what they bill as one the NFL's 'premier pre-game destinations'. The Walk opens three hours before every Ravens home game, and fans can enjoy a number of different bars and food stations
as well as live music at the Bud Light Tailgate.
The path ends at the main gate in the front of the stadium where I and a small army of fans pushed their way to the security checkpoint. Effective this season, the NFL has a ‘clear bag’ policy where any bags containing personal effects have to be clear plastic.
The gates at the front of the stadium are flanked by statues of 2 Baltimore legends – one Colt – Johnny Unitas and one Raven – Ray Lewis
Baltimore has a long and storied football history – The Colts called this city home as members of the NFL from 1953 through 1983 winning 3 NFL championships and a Super Bowl and featuring many legendary players such as Unitas, Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, John Mackey and Ted Hendricks. Much to the shock and dismay of the fans and the city of Baltimore, owner Robert Irsay packed up the team’s bags and moved them to Indianapolis in 1984.
The Baltimore Ravens gave the fans of Charm City a new beginning in 1996 when they started operation after the Cleveland Browns moved to town and renamed themselves the Ravens. The team was welcomed with open arms and has put together many solid seasons of their own including two Super Bowl titles one of which was a 34-7 drubbing of the New York Giants
One of the MANY difference between baseball and football parks is the sheer size and capacity. M&T seats 71,000 fans.
Getting through the concourse and down aisles was a bit of a challenge as game time neared. I was forced to side step and fight through crowds.
Even before kickoff, there were already plenty of screaming and stumbling fans. The other huge difference is the line for concessions and especially the men’s room. This no doubt is the same at every stadium and every game. I have a friend who swears to me that he refuses to waste good money by standing on a line for the bathroom, so he wears Depends to all the games he goes to.
Walking into the seating area, I was hit by a rush of sensory overload from the sea of purple, the huge video boards and the noise. Lots and lots of noise. Heading into an NFL game fills you with a surge of adrenaline and energy that very rarely happens in baseball. The experience is remarkably different.
The pre-game fanfare is a lot more spectacular than baseball too. The announcing the Ravens players as they burst through the tunnel accompanied by explosions, flames , blaring music and an erupting crowd.
The adrenaline levels flowed through the crowd leading to more than a handful of tense moments. Two guys a few rows in front of me got into it and one had the other by the throat. After they settled down, one of the guys went after someone in the row behind him for taking a video of the whole incident to put it on YouTube.
Food options weren’t anywhere near as varied and creative as at Oriole Park.
The same is likely the case at other NFL venues – Different crowd – different mentality – Different priorities. A lot of the fans enter the stadium already fed from either pre-game stops or from tailgating. Some decent Food options at M&T are local favorite Attman’s Deli and their corned beef or hot pastrami sandwiches as well as the Talon Pub.
M&T Bank Stadium is right off I-95, with only a couple of turns putting you on the highway home. Parking garages can be found in all directions from the stadium. The other primary mode of access is the MTA Light Rail.
The Baltimore Ravens used a touchdown pass by Joe Flacco, two field goals and a throwback defensive performance to beat the Buffalo Bills 13-7. Wideout Mike Wallace making his Ravens debut grabbed 3 balls including a 66 yd TD pass from Flacco.
After the game I took the harbor ferry over to Fell’s Point and walked to the Italian section for some excellent Veal Parm at La Scala
Ok – 1 stadium down – 30 more to go!
Tomorrow morning, I'm taking train down to DC for the Monday night season opener at FedEx field
Fans - C - Maybe I'm spoiled by baseball fans. This being my first football game in a while I wasn't used to the cursing and aggression. Most folks I spoke to were fine though
Features - B - Ravenswalk. The statues at the main gate. Great layout of the concourses and food courts
Location - A - Short walk from Inner Harbor and Camden Yards. great downtown setting
Food – C - Nothing terribly special. Way better options outside the stadium
Game - B - Close match-up with Ravens winning.
Overall Experience - B - Sitting in the direct sun on a blazing hot day didn't help - But great fan enthusiasm and energy that you'd expect on opening day