NFL Stadium #25: M&T Bank Stadium

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See all my pictures from this visit at my Flickr account.

For some crazy reason, I decided driving to Baltimore was a great idea. I’m not sure how much money it truly saved and the hassle was extensive. I wish I could say I’m a decent driver, but I’m not, I’m terrible and Google Maps was failing me. How can an app freeze so many times en route, crash and close, or tell you to blindly turn in 250 feet? What is the street name, I have no idea how far 250 feet is!! If I had a dash cam, it would show me screaming all sorts of horrible things at my phone… and other cars (jerks that know where they’re going). The saving grace was listening to the audio book, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which I’m reading for a book club meeting when I visit Jacksonville and Tessa (girl I met in Green Bay if you recall).  It’s a fantastic book- thought provoking and very, very timely. Thank goodness I had this book taking me to Arlington where I stayed the night with my next door neighbor growing up, Danny and his boyfriend Max. They wined and dined me and we gossiped about our hometown into the late hours Saturday evening. Poor Max, he probably hated hearing all of Brecksville’s dirty laundry!

Danny and Max had just moved from Baltimore last year and gave me the skinny on areas to park and places to avoid. To be safe, I ended up parking on E Pratt St in Little Italy (free on weekends) and walked over a mile to M&T Bank Stadium. It was a beautiful fall morning and the harbor area of the city is lovely to stroll through during the day. Once I was near Oriole Park at Camden Yards, crowds started to pick up and I was delighted to see Eutaw St. was open for us to cut through. It seemed as good as any time to get a baseball fix in and I killed some time (I was early for once!) looking at the home run plaques and peering into the stadium. Too bad baseball season is over, would’ve loved to go to another game at Camden Yards. Fully satisfied with my mini ballpark diversion, I continued on to the football stadium and passed through tailgate lots in the Ravens Walk. Lots of fans were out and about early and the walk was crowded. There were many booths set up with fan activities and I did partake. I stood in line to take a picture with the ravens from the Maryland Zoo and regretfully rolled into the team history tent for a hot second. Ugh, Art Modell.

The 20 year anniversary of Modell moving the team to Baltimore was only a week ago (11/6) and that wound still feels fresh. I vividly remember sitting in our living room watching the fans protest on the news. My dad banned us from watching the NFL while the team was gone. We went from a family that’s Sundays revolved around the Browns schedule to watching reruns of old shows before spaghetti dinners. Try going cold turkey for one week now and then imagine three long years.  At least we had the Buckeyes on Saturdays and I attribute the team leaving during my childhood to why I’m not and will never be an NFL person first. Of course, when the Browns came back we were ecstatic! There the Barnhart family was at the first exhibition game back in Cleveland (vs Minnesota) in my parent’s season ticket seats, but it wasn’t the same. It will never be the same. Baltimore stole a championship from Cleveland! People tell us to get over it, it’s been 20 years. This city is never going to get over that jilt and be real if it happened to your team, you’d still be mad too!

My emotions were flaring up and I needed to take it from a ten to a two. Chill out and get through the visit, hell enjoy the visit, you have a great outfit for this game. Important side note- I totally loved my purple sweater and black fur vest that I wore as a pseudo-Baltimore fan. I can even admit I dig the Ravens colors and am on board with their branding and team name. The whole dark side, scary raven thing they have going on is pretty fun and the mascot’s name is Poe, which gets bonus points for being a literary reference. Ok, listing what I liked about the team in my head was making me feel better. Then I saw the Ray Lewis statue and lost my mind. This is going to shock you, but I actually like Ray Lewis. Let me rephrase that, I like him as a player and trash talker- he cracked me up and backed it up. Though I am not good at trash talking, I appreciate someone who does it well and lives up to their hype. As for the alleged murder, well I’m not going to touch that.

On my way to media will call I passed the light rail station and saw that the tailgate lot adjacent was in full party mode. It looked like a good time… for those not in the porta potty lines. Those lines were ridiculous. As I continued on, I noticed a ton of state troopers walking around with dogs wearing cruel “don’t pet me” vests (dogs are so cute, it was hard to resist). I stopped and asked if there was heightened security because of the attacks in Paris. The officer said no, that this was their standard game day procedures. It seemed more excessive to me than what I’ve seen at other stadiums, so it made me wonder about Baltimore a little bit, though maybe he was trying to keep me from being alarmed. I chose to believe the latter. In the back of my head, I always wonder if something will happen at a sporting event I’m at, but I push that fear aside. Fear will never keep me from living my life.

I made it to will call and picked up my stadium pass and met with my team contacts Tom and Emily. They were great and the other Ravens staff members I had talked to before they came down were very kind as well. All in all, I didn’t have any negative people (staff, fans, ushers, etc) interactions during this trip which is fairly standard for me, but always nice to report! Faith in humanity momentarily restored. I crossed through the concourse and immediately thought this looks exactly like Camden Yards. After some internet sleuthing on Wikipedia, I discovered they’re both owned by the same group and they used the same architect firm. I did a little victory dance for noticing and then being correct in my assumptions. The concourse was pretty. Some guy later told me that I couldn’t call a football stadium pretty, but it was with the brick work and fancy concession signs. There were also pillars throughout that were lit up with lights that flashed purple to red. Food offerings were heavy on the Baltimore flavor just like the ballpark and prices were standard for the east coast. There were a few bars and tables set up around the concourse, but for the most part it was open and empty of gimmicks and things for fans to do. That’s fine, I was here for the football game anyways.

I trudged up the ramps to the upper level and found that this stadium was completely enclosed and devoid of real standing room. Boo. On each of the end zone corners were areas for standing but they were sponsored and you need a wrist ban or special ticket to enter their areas. For team introductions, I stood behind the handicap seating along the 50-yard line. The Ravens tunnel had red eyes that started pulsing and smoke began to emit. It was cool build up for what ended up being a very lackluster entrance. They ran out and did shoot off a fair amount of fireworks, but something felt like it was missing. I think it’s weird when they don’t announce individual starters and let them run out. The Eagles had also bucked that tradition. While I waited for the game to begin, I scanned the stands and saw a row of empty seats. Following a beautiful rendition of the anthem, I headed over and took a seat. The Jaguars were in town and with both teams under 500, this wasn’t exactly a hot ticket game. I figured I’d sit here until someone came to claim the seat.

No one came to take my seat (or those around me) and I sat there for the entire first half. This game was not very exciting and the television timeouts were dragging. It was crickets in the upper bowl, though the fans behind me were passionately cheering. They were hardcore, but for the most part, the crowd was subdued. I was not impressed with the Ravens in game production or announcer. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. This was also the first fight song I heard that wasn’t immediately stuck in my head. Following the fight song this one super fan does a fun little dance where he spells out Ravens with his body and the stadium chants along. I liked him and following the final touchdown in the fourth quarter he took off his shirt- the stadium loved that!

For halftime, I walked down to the main concourse and grabbed a soft pretzel and charged up my phone at the Verizon stand. I was in no rush to get back to the stands and ended up talking to some Ravens fans and watching highlights from other NFL games. That was disappointing- the Browns were getting crushed by the Steelers. Dejected I walked out to the stands to watch the remainder of the game from the section alcoves around the lower bowl. The atmosphere down there was much better and the game was actually getting interesting. The final Ravens touchdown had the crowd going and because it was close, people stayed to the very end. I thought for sure the Ravens would get the win but during the final seconds of the fourth quarter the defense got a facemask penalty on Blake Bortles which pushed the Jaguars into field goal range and they kicked a game-winner with no time left on the clock. If there was ever a lesson for don’t get sloppy (even when you’re at the very end), this was it. I’m big on taking lessons from sports and thinking how they can apply to my life. Later I saw that the NFL said the call was blown and the Ravens were actually screwed over. That’s too bad, I did sympathize. That’s an ending worthy of the Cleveland Browns, maybe they knew I was there and were paying homage.

After the game, I met back up with Emily, got my log book signed, and walked back to my car. I was not looking forward to my drive home one bit. M&T Stadium is a nice venue, but I have no desire to go back. I felt like a traitor- here I’m friends with the wife, but I was hanging out with the mistress. That’s not for me. Seeing Art Modell in the Ring of Honor and knowing he’s thought of as a hero in this city hurt more than it should. Sports loyalties create very interesting subplots in our lives…

Remember I am raising money for the Ronald McDonald House in Central Ohio. Please donate by clicking here.

Special thank you to Tom and Emily for their time and assistance during my visit! 

Here’s the Ravens fight song. Let me know if you like it or not.

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