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[an error occurred while processing this directive] By BILL MAXWELL
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2001
NEW YORK -- Actually, this saga begins at Tampa International Airport the day before the Super Bowl. I was at US Airways gate F-80 waiting to take a flight to New York to attend a writing workshop unrelated to my job here at the Times.
Out of gate F-80 streamed New York Giants fans. They came first. Then, Baltimore Ravens fans poured out of F-79. The two groups were as different as night and day.
The Giants fans, all wearing something with "New York" on it, emerged with Big Apple arrogance, shucking and jiving, talking loudly and giving us, Florida hayseeds, that famous New York snub. I loved it and regretted that I was not going to the game.
The Ravens, some wearing team colors, seemed to take tentative steps into the terminal. They were mostly silent as they sauntered toward the monorail. Somehow, they seemed smaller than their New York counterparts. I could tell that they were proud to be in the Super Bowl, but they did not think their team would beat the fabled Giants.
Am I imagining all this stuff? I thought. But, then, I noticed yet another distinguishing factor: All but a handful of the Giants fans were white men. I am talking about more than a few Soprano-types. I did not see more than six women. The Ravens crowd was different, with many more women and a few families, in fact. I also had heard reports that Giants fans would outnumber Ravens fans in Raymond James Stadium.
Why the differences? For one thing, New York is bigger than Baltimore, and the "Jints," as the New York press calls them, have a loyal fan tradition that goes back at least 75 years. The Ravens, the old Cleveland Browns, have been in Baltimore only since 1996. Their fan base is still developing and lacks that nasty arrogance that surely will come if the Birds continue to kick butt.
Now to New York. My writing gig was at West 93rd Street and Broadway, and my room was at Union Theological Seminary's Landmark Guest Rooms at 120th and Broadway. The temperature was in the mid-30s, so I decided to hop on the No. 104 bus. After a few blocks, I realized that the Super Bowl was on TV, got off the bus and found the nearest sports bar.
When I entered the din, a huge TV screen showed a score of 7-0 in favor of the Ravens. The fans, some already drunk, were loud until Baltimore kicked a field goal. The mood went from hope to gloom. That infamous NYC cockiness disappeared and was replaced by a lot of cursing and more than a few names, such as "murderer," and some choice racial epithets for Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis.
Suddenly, a "murderer," not the Giants' sissified performance, was the problem. I pointed out this fact at halftime and, based on the response of a few dudes near me, I knew that I had better find another watering hole. I finished off my Rolling Rock and walked north on Broadway to a bar near Columbia University. I figured that a university and seminary crowd would comport itself better.
Nope. These young dudes and their girlfriends were mad as hell, too. Their beloved Big Blue was being emasculated at Raymond James. I am not a Ravens' fan (I like the Giants), but I caught myself relishing the sight of the Jints getting body slammed down in Florida.
I recalled the bragging radio announcer and his guests I had to endure during my taxi ride from LaGuardia the day before. These clowns were describing how the Jints were going to stuff a piece of the Triborough Bridge down Ray Lewis' throat. One guest made fun of Trent Dilfer's name (It is a funny name).
The college crowd whooped it up just as much as the more working-class crowd had in the first bar. But these guys were friendlier. I even bet four of them a beer apiece that the Ravens would win by at least three touchdowns. I wished I had kept my mouth shut when, on the first play of the second half, Dilfer went down hard and had to be taken to the dressing room for X-rays.
Then Dilfer returned, and we know the rest of the story: Baltimore Ravens 34, New York Football Jints 7. Needless to say, winning the bet was bittersweet: I faced the prospect of having to drink eight beers. I finished off two and told my new friends to drink the others. They did to wash down their sorrow.
At LaGuardia on Monday morning, I watched some rather pitiful Jints fans deplane several flights from Tampa. Their cockiness was gone. I did not see anger, just defeat and bewilderment. Big Blue was now black and blue. I have seen some ugly sights in my life, but nothing compares with a group of New York Giants fans eating Baltimore crow.