Ravens fans savoring AFC championship experience

BALTIMORE — Scott McClure has been a Ravens season ticket-holder since the team moved to Baltimore in 1996.

He also has hosted a tailgate party in the H1 parking lot of M&T Bank Stadium since it opened two years later.

After all those years, McClure was grateful to be finally attending an AFC Championship Game in Baltimore on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

“It’s amazing,” said McClure, a Monkton resident. “We waited 27 years. We’ve been out here in the cold, rain, snow, wind, everything. This is our chance. This is our opportunity.”

The parking lot at M&T Bank Stadium began filling up just over four hours before the 3 o’clock kickoff. A light rain did not deter anyone from igniting their grills or imbibing a cold beverage.

The elements were secondary compared to the magnitude of the game.

Ravens season ticket holders Mark Maloney (left) and Sean Martin (right) tailgate before the AFC championship game.

“This is everything,” said Mark Maloney, a Cockeysville resident who has been a season ticket-holder since 2002. “We’ve been tailgating at H1 for the past 20 years. We earned this. Everybody here knows it. It’s frickin’ nirvana.”

Baltimore has not hosted an AFC Championship Game since January 3rd, 1971. It marked the longest gap for a city to host a conference championship game. The Colts, who were led by Johnny Unitas, defeated the Raiders, 27-17, to advance to Super Bowl V, where they defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13.

The Ravens players and coaches were asked about the significance of Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. For coach John Harbaugh, he understands the historic significance, but he was too focused on game-planning for Kansas City to experience the vibe.

“I have to be honest with you, I’m in a cocoon,” Harbaugh said. “I think people are probably excited, is my guess, but we’ve been focusing on the game. I’m excited for the town. I think of someone like [the late Baltimore Colts running back] Tom Matte and his wife. They went to high school with my mom, [Jackie].

“When we came to town here, they were the first ones to reach out – Tom and Judy Matte. We went to dinner with them. I think what this would’ve meant to him to have this game back here in Baltimore. Things like that – they’re meaningful.”

The players are appreciative of the way the fans show up each week. The Ravens have sold out every home game since moving to Baltimore except for 2020 when Covid-19 restrictions were in place at all NFL stadiums

“When I first came here, just the way that Baltimore embraced me, as a city, culture – all of that – [there’s] a lot of pride in that,” wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr said. “I take pride in myself – for one – but when you’re a part of something, and you can feel it, and you can feel that love, like, it makes me want to put on, and it makes you want to make them proud. So, to be able to have the opportunity where an AFC championship comes through ‘The Bank’ [M&T Bank Stadium], I don’t think any of us in here hold it lightly.

“I’ll always say … like, we always know the task at hand, and it’s just what we want to do for the city. You want to be able to put on; I know I do, for sure. I love the culture, [and] I’ve enjoyed every single moment of this year. And it’s just about, now, finishing the opportunity that we started and what we have in front of us.” 

For the fans, it’s a special moment.

“This is for the fans,” McClure said. “We earned this. Every home fan earned this. Every PSL holder earned this every single week.”

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