- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

OCEAN CITY Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Lionel Dalton posed for photos with fans and signed autographs before taking some time to talk about this fan phenomenon called the Ravens Roosts.
"I like the interaction with the fans," Dalton said, attending his third consecutive Ravens Roost convention. "I like getting back here and seeing these people."
Did Dalton know that this group of Baltimore football fans kept meeting in Ocean City for its annual convention when it didn't even have a football team?
"They did?" he asked incredulously. "You mean they were doing this when they didn't have a team? That's amazing."
Yes, it is. For 37 years, Baltimore fans have come here to celebrate their passion for football, first as the Colts Corrals and now as the Ravens Roost even during the 12 years when there was no NFL franchise in the city.
They met monthly at local chapters, talking about the football they missed. They supported the U.S. Football League's Baltimore Stars and the Canadian Football League's Baltimore Stallions but always held out hope they could recapture the glory days of the NFL, when the Colts gave them a reason for being.
"It was hard," said Aubrey Meyer, 73, of Rosedale, Md. Meyer is a former president of the Council of Ravens Roosts who in 1976 joined the Baltimore Highlands Colts Corral, now known as Ravens Roost 24.
"We were not going to give up what we had," Meyer said. "We kept it going when we had no team."
That's why the Ravens Roost convention this weekend in Ocean City, drawing about 2,000 members, family and friends, was so special. They are not just celebrating a football team but a championship football team, the Super Bowl winners.
It is the final chapter in the return of NFL football for these fans. "That's what makes this time so sweet," said Robert Skok, 54, of Hanover, Md., and president of Ravens Roost 24.
"It's the icing on the cake," said Mike Clabaugh, 58, of Gettysburg, Pa., a member of Ravens Roost 32 of Hanover, Pa., just over the Maryland state line.
More like the ketchup on the hamburger or the foam on the beer. The Ravens Roost gathering this weekend featured a Friday night cookout and a Saturday parade down Baltimore Avenue. That was followed by afternoon volleyball and horseshoe tournaments, a Saturday night dance, a business meeting and a miniature golf tournament Sunday morning.
And beer. Lots of beer. By the truckload.
"We like to have a good time," Skok said.
These are the good times for fans in a city that once supported the Colts so passionately that one sportswriter labeled Memorial Stadium the "World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum."
They celebrated the good times with a 90-minute parade that featured marching bands, pompom girls and floats by Ravens Roosts with a Super Bowl theme. One truck pulled a giant replica of the Super Bowl trophy. Another had a giant papier-mache Raven. Another had a large revolving box of Wheaties with Ray Lewis on the cover (ironic because he was passed over by the cereal after the game). Three players Dalton, offensive lineman Edwin Mulitalo and linebacker Brad Jackson were in the parade as well, stopping to get photos with fans, including a renegade group of Pittsburgh Steelers faithful who gave a thumbs down as they posed for a picture with Mulitalo.
The night before, Jackson came to the cookout and flipped hamburgers and hot dogs.
"I like doing it," he said. "The fans are so much a part of our success. This gives us a chance to give something back to them."
The connection between the old Colts and their fans was reminiscent of that of baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers and the citizens of that borough. They ate and drank with the players after games during a time when professional athletes were closer to the fans that rooted for them.
During those glory years, fan clubs known as the Colts Corrals were formed in 1957, and they grew to be an integral part of football in the Baltimore region. They were the foundation of that "insane asylum."
When Colts owner Robert Irsay moved the team to Indianapolis in the dark of night with Mayflower moving vans in 1984, it nearly ripped that foundation down.
"I worked for the phone company and was the first one in the building as the moving vans left the complex to fill an order to take the phones out," said Mike Lurz, 53, of Taneytown, Md., currently the president of the Council of Ravens Roosts, the organization that oversees the various fans clubs, and president of the Westminster chapter of the Ravens Roost. "It was so disheartening. We lived and died with that team."
But the foundation didn't collapse. It weakened the Corrals dwindled down to about 10 percent of their membership after the Colts left. But the members found they had forged something more than a fan club. They had made friendships for life and built a tradition that few communities could match.
"It was down when we didn't have a team," Meyer said. "But we had made a lot of friendships that we wanted to keep going. We had built up this tradition of coming to Ocean City, and we were not going to give it up."
They supported the Stars and the Stallions, but it was not NFL football. And even when Art Modell moved the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore, where they became the Ravens in 1996, building back to the level of club support the Colts Corrals had was slow. But that changed with the move to the new stadium in 1998 and the success of the recent franchise, capped off by its Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants.
"In the last couple of years, it has really taken off," Meyer said. "We have 31 Ravens Roosts [with a total of about 4,500 members], and at our next meeting we will be inducting seven new chapters."
The Ravens, of course, are more than willing to support the effort. Kenny Abrams of the Ravens' front office brought the Super Bowl trophy to Ocean City. He rode in a convertible in the Saturday parade and allowed fans to come up to the car and touch and pose for photos with the trophy. He also brought it to the Saturday night dance.
"To see this kind of enthusiasm is remarkable," Abrams said. "It's like we won the Super Bowl just yesterday."
Lurz said their work benefits the Ravens much more than that of a fan club.
"Each one of these groups works within its neighborhoods to support charities," he said. "We work with youth groups, raise money, donate time, give out scholarships. This is something we do consistently. We hope to keep growing."
The Roosts are not the only Ravens fan clubs. A group from the Colts Corrals split from the Roosts and calls itself the Ravens Nest, with about 500 members. And there's another group called Poe's Crows, with about 150 members.
"But we're all Ravens fans," said Steve Deaver of Baltimore, a member of Poe's Crows who came to watch the parade with his two dogs dressed in Ravens jerseys and bandanas.
It is not the same as it used to be, though. Nothing ever is. The Baltimore Colts were from another era, and professional sports have undergone such significant changes that the Ravens Roost will never recapture what the Colts Corrals had. Still, what they do have and celebrated here in Ocean City this past weekend is unique, a community connection in a time when people have become more isolated.
"We were always a close knit group," said Mark Lombardi, 45, of Severna Park, Md., president of Ravens Roost 27. "We still are."

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