Fans celebrate Super Bowl champion Ravens in Baltimore

Ravens running back Bernard Pierce, a former star at Temple, takes in the revelry. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Ravens running back Bernard Pierce, a former star at Temple, takes in the revelry. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: February 07, 2013

BALTIMORE - A Ravens broadcaster with the unfortunate name of Gerry Sandusky handed Joe Flacco a microphone during the team's Super Bowl celebration at M&T Bank Stadium early Tuesday afternoon.

The 75,000 fans who had waited patiently and noisily for hours to greet him and the new NFL champions screamed madly at the sight of the lanky quarterback, much as a few hundred thousand others had done during the brief but humanity-clogged parade that led him there.

Flacco, smiling and waving but looking slightly uncomfortable, peered quickly out at a crowd that in anticipation of his response swayed like a purple sea all around the on-field stage.

"Hey," the Audubon native yelled toward the retreating Sandusky, "do I got to say something?"

It was one more example of the laid-back demeanor - his father called him "dull" last week - that apparently has endured, even with the supercharged attention that winning Super Bowl XLVII has suddenly focused on Flacco.

Being named the MVP in Baltimore's victory over San Francisco on Sunday night apparently didn't change him. Neither did a Monday night appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman nor the news that his wife was pregnant with their second child.

And neither, apparently, did the raucous downtown party Baltimore staged Tuesday for the Ravens' second Super Bowl title, an event that gridlocked city traffic for hours and attracted a crowd that initial estimates placed at more than 250,000.

"BAL-TI-MORE!" Flacco finally began after Sandusky convinced him, that, yes, these people probably were expecting him to speak. "We did it! Super Bowl champs, baby!"

Those less-than Churchillian remarks were typical on what was a day better suited to emotion than intellect.

Fans stood four and five deep all along the parade route that took the Ravens from City Hall to their stadium on the edge of the city's compact downtown. As Ray Lewis, the team's leader who is retiring in only one sense of that word, passed by in the final vehicle of the long caravan of military Humvees and floats, spectators broke through the sidewalk barricades and began following the linebacker.

Lewis sometimes resembled a tank commander as, with only the upper half of his body poking through the camouflage-patterned Humvee's roof, he gestured and barked at the adoring masses. He, like all the other players in the vehicles, rode alongside a military veteran.

"Baltimore and the Ravens," Lewis later said when he delivered what would be the stadium ceremony's final remarks, "we've believed in each other from 1996 [when then-owner Art Modell moved the Browns here] to now."

Even clogged streets, sidewalks, and stadium exits couldn't take the charm out of the Charm City's heartfelt party.

So many fans descended on the downtown that the planned 10:45 a.m. ceremony in a plaza outside City Hall had to be delayed nearly an hour. As the parade proceeded down Pratt Street, they stood on rooftops and looked down from multitiered parking lots and office windows.

Some drivers abandoned their cars along traffic-stalled streets and at one point, all access routes to the city, including the roads and ramps that lead here from I-95, were filled with idling vehicles. Many of them belonged to the Ravens themselves.

"We were supposed to meet at the stadium and take three buses to City Hall," said coach John Harbaugh. "But we couldn't get to the stadium because of all the traffic."

At the stadium, where every parking spot was quickly filled, authorities finally had to close the gates when its 71,000 seats and its entire Field Turf surface were packed. That logjam further delayed the Ravens' arrival, though neither that nor any other logistical problem seemed to detract from the players' and fans enjoyment.

"Yesterday [Ravens official] Kevin Burns told me we'd have about 30,000 here at the stadium," said Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, who apologized for the delays. "I asked him, 'What if there are more?' And he said we'd just open the upper deck."

The event's highlight came when Lewis, the last Raven introduced, entered the stadium. Emerging from a cloud of purple smoke, with fireworks exploding all around and hip-hop music booming over the crowd's roar, he performed the same hypercharged pregame dance he'd done throughout his glory-filled career.

"The city of Baltimore," Lewis said at City Hall, "I love you forever and ever and ever and ever."

His stadium entrance was preceded by Flacco's. He and Lewis were the only two players who warranted separate introductions. The others arrived with their units.

"We've been through a lot of highs this year and some lows, too," Flacco said. "But you guys stuck with us. Thank you." A night before, Flacco, who can be a free agent, told Letterman that after he'd turned down a contract extension from the team, Bisciotti told him that when the right time came he should go to his office "and beat on my desk."

"I think," Flacco deadpanned, "the time has come."

The parade and the 30-minute stadium celebration were final confirmation that Baltimore had taken the Ravens to heart. They had been considered interlopers by many when, after a 12-year period that followed the departure of the beloved Colts, they arrived from Cleveland.

"My father used to say he'd never have another football team after the Colts left," said Richard Donahue of Towson, as he waited in Section 125 for the Ravens to arrive. "But he's here today wearing his Ravens colors. This city loves this team now."


Contact Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @philafitz. Read his blog, "Giving 'Em Fitz," at www.philly.com/fitz

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