- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Hundreds of Baltimore Ravens fans rallied outside the football team's training camp yesterday, welcoming home the world champions from their Super Bowl victory Sunday in Tampa, Fla.

Fans cheered as three chartered buses approached the facility, all but erasing memories of moving vans leaving the same complex 17 years ago with their beloved Colts.

That moment was eclipsed minutes later when head coach Brian Billick and team President David Modell walked along Owings Mills Boulevard holding high the Vince Lombardi trophy and allowing the crowd to touch it.

"A lot of owners would say they're bringing the trophy home for the fans, but you can tell [Ravens owner] Art Modell really means it," said fan Louie Verrecchio of Hampstead, who touched the trophy yesterday. "It felt like a long time coming."

Fans poured out of purple cars, wore purple jerseys and carried purple signs as they waited some for several hours to show devotion to the returning champions.

Perhaps none made as grand a statement as Ronee Moss, 18.

She went out at 3 a.m. to welcome the team home from Oakland, Calif., after their victory in the AFC Championship game two weeks ago. Yesterday, she held a sign declaring, "I'm seven months pregnant and I'm naming my daughter Raven after our Ravens."

Even a brown Labrador retriever named Ajax showed his spirit, sporting a jersey emblazoned with the number 58, for linebacker Peter Boulware. His owner, Julius Hyatt, was once a member of the former Baltimore Colts Marching Band, now the Baltimore Marching Ravens.

Mr. Hyatt said the best thing about the win is that it solidifies the identity of the team, which since moving from Cleveland in 1996 has shared the heritage of the Cleveland Browns and the former Baltimore Colts.

"Everybody feels awkward about that," Mr. Hyatt said. "Nobody likes the way we got the team, but that's over with."

The buses pulled in at about 3 p.m., as the sports rock anthem "We Are the Champions" blared over outdoor loudspeakers. Players could be seen through the windows with their own video cameras recording the scene.

Mr. Billick mingled with the crowd for about 20 minutes, "striding like a gladiator who's just returned from battle," as one fan described it.

Though one police officer later termed it "a class act," the gesture had the potential to create a security nightmare for the more than 100 Baltimore County police officers on the scene.

Police closed Owings Mills Boulevard about 15 minutes before the team buses arrived at 3 p.m. and provided an escort befitting a visiting head of state. One officer described the crowd as "well-behaved," and said there had been no incidents of disorderly conduct on the part of the fans.

The players departing the facility incited the crowd as they hung out of the windows of their vehicles or stood up through sunroofs to acknowledge the fans.

Many of those on hand said they had taken the day off well in advance to celebrate the city's first NFL title since the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys 16-13 in Super Bowl V in 1971.

Others skipped work and even held their children out of school so they would remember what it was like to win.

"You never know," said Steve Goldstein of Reisterstown. "It could happen again next year or it couldn't happen for the next 30 years."

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