In the darkness and freezing cold temperatures of the early morning hours, they came. Lining the streets of Baltimore on foot, by car, bus and light rail, they arrived to be a part of the great Ravens Nation’s tribute to their heroes’ Super bowl XLVII victory. Massive lines of purple people could be seen for miles walking into downtown for the parade from Canton, West Side and Federal Hill hours before the event was set to begin. Crowd estimates from the Baltimore City Office of Emergency Management put the numbers at over 200,000 strong. Fans who managed to get into downtown waited several hours in 3O degree temperatures just to catch a moment’s glance of the players riding by on floats and flatbed trucks.
Other fans strategically planned to arrive at M&T Bank stadium to get their seat for the biggest fan rally Baltimore had ever seen. Hours before the parade kicked off fans were already jammed into the stadium awaiting the teams arrival after the parade. Ecstatic members of the Nation could be heard bragging that they had called out sick to work that day or simply told the boss “Hey man there’s no way I’m missing this,” as one young anonymous fan put it.
The electricity combined with that sense of pride could be felt throughout the stadium as giddy fans filed in from all over Maryland. Joyce Welcher and her husband drove up from the Eastern Shore to be a part of the victory celebration even though they were schedule to work. “He went in for his morning shift, but then when he got there he thought about it and called me and said he would like to go. So, I told him come on home and well go then.”
Lisa Martin, a school teacher from Sparrows Point was able to take off to see “A sea of purple and black. I wanted to be a part of it.” Martin was actually able to spot a few of her students in the crowd on the field. She says,” It’s a great feeling to see the kids experiencing this for their city.”
Officials decided to allow fans to come down on to the field when it became clear their estimate of 40,000 was grossly underestimated. Team owner Steve Bisciotti told fans he allowed additional decks to open for overflow because the crowd was so large. It was still too small for the Ravens Nation, there was standing room only on the field and in the stands.
Concessions was a bit behind the curve too. Some fans like George Hall weren’t able to get their beloved game food, “ They ran out of chicken fingers !”
Most fans didn’t seem to mind the crowds, they actually relished in the support of the purple Nation with spontaneous “OH OH OH OH OH OH OHS “ breaking out every so often. On the field fans were performing acrobatics, making imaginary snow angels and getting those once in a lifetime pictures while they waited for the parade to arrive. They took full advantage of the long delay to the start of the parade and the arrival at the stadium.
Coach Harbaugh spoke to the crowd just before leaving for City Hall announcing that the players were having a hard time getting there due to the fan traffic coming into the city. He jokingly asked if “fans would move out of the way if they knew it was Joe Flacco trying to get through ?” This met with a roar from the crowd. Later, it was reported that a special police escort had to go out and find the QB in traffic then bring him to the stadium.
Once the players arrived at City Hall, spectators were treated to their favorite version of Ed Reed’s “Two Tickets to Paradise” and a few victory speeches by the other players. But the real story erupted as the parade traveled towards the stadium. Ray Rice began waving a Ravens flag when the crowds exploded in a frenzy. Fueled by pride and a long overdue Super Bowl victory, the Ravens Nation tore through barricades to run alongside their beloved players in the street. By this time traffic was in total gridlock with some fans like Arnilynne Leopoldo Tupas- Setser and her family unable to park or drive. Setser says it was a stroke of luck in their favor. The very spot where they were trapped by M&T Bank stadium was where the Ravens were turning into the Stadium at the end of the parade route.
“ It was the best spot where they all had to stop and wait for their turn to get in ! Front Row Prime Spot ! YAY !!” Setser exclaimed .
From inside, the crowd watched each player arrive on the jumbo screens by float or Humvees. Outside while the players made their arrivals, fans following the parade rushed to get inside, but the stadium had reached maximum capacity with over 75,000 people already waiting. The Fire Marshall was forced to close the gates. But still the Ravens Nation pushed on, with several fans making it up and over the gates. Several others were able to scale the wall to the second level deck where they entered the stadium!
They couldn’t stand to miss Ray’s last dance ! Lewis performed his now famous “Squirrel “ dance as he exited the tunnel complete with flashing eyes and a smoky send off. Fans went wild, performing the dance on the field with him. Lewis was then was joined by Ed Reed and Jocoby Jones for a special encore “Squirrel”.
Afterward, Lewis reminded the crowd “There’s no place on Earth better than Baltimore !”
Holding his baby Flacco thanked the fans for their loyalty “ You guys stood there through it all. Just like you always do. You’re a special group and we love you.”