Seasonal tolerance is a funny thing. After a week of near 90 degree late-season heat, temps in the 50s and low 60s certainly made a football trip more bearable, but man, did I need to layer up as we began on Saturday. My brother and I arrived in Baltimore late in the morning and Parking Panda was clutch in scoring a good garage at a decent price. Those that haven’t been, make it a future destination as I just love the Inner Harbor. Even if it’s not to see an attraction, grab a seat and watch a street performer on the weekend. We did do some paid stuff in the form of the Historic Ships and the Observation Deck. Both awesome. For the ships, if you are short on time, go with the Constellation and the Torsk (the submarine). For lunch, we took a walk to Little Italy and had a filling meal at Cafe Gia with a pastry at Vaccaro’s.
The first stadium visit was about 20 minutes north in Towson, where the FCS Tigers took on Villanova. We arrived to a pretty crappy parking situation as the stadium lots were full 45 minutes before game time, that led us to a garage a good distance from Johnny Unitas Stadium. And this was just with the place at a quarter of the capacity! Inside, the stadium is built in a hill, offering a neat perspective. They made a lot of renovations not too long ago and that has made the concourse, food options and displays pretty decent. For detail, check out the review coming later in the week. Seating is just ehh as it is mostly sideline bleachers that are distanced because of a track. The Tigers struggled in what was a real sloppy game that featured 7 total turnovers. Villanova capitalized on a couple in their end during the second half and those scores led to a 24-9 victory. One of the highlights at Unitas Stadium is the Towson Marching Band, who put on a great show and entertained with plenty of numbers during the game.
Sunday we woke up to brilliant sunshine, which remained with us all day. M&T Bank Stadium is near downtown and since we weren’t tailgating, it was super clutch to get a $10 lot in the city and walk a mile to the game. It also allowed for a cost effective, easy exit. We got there quite early to do the Ravens Walk, which is a great pathway to the stadium along Eutaw Street that features entertainment, freebies and food. While Eric immersed himself in the swag, I walked the stadium with an exterior look including the two statues (Johnny Unitas and Ray Lewis). Inside, nothing really set the stadium apart, except for the purple seats. The design is fine, but I don’t like the upper-deck because of the non-continuous flow thanks to the awkward corners, plus they are high and far due to the double-decked suites below. What I did really love was Baltimore’s Marching Ravens. One of only two NFL teams with a band, I did my homework a few nights earlier and watched the wonderful 30 for 30 on their history dating back to the Colts era. Terrific story and the band did not disappoint in their performances. Those that did disappoint were the Ravens, who were abysmal in this one as they went down to the Steelers, 26-9. It wasn’t a good day for the fans either and while I still genuinely think that Baltimore has a great fan base, they did not look good. There were a surprising number of empty seats for a rivalry game on a perfect day and my eyeball count put the stands at 85% capacity. Then, we had the pregame debacle. To set the stage, the PA said something to the effect of the team would like a moment for prayer to reflect on equality. The fans cheered. Then the Ravens took a knee. The crowd booed. Loudly. The Ravens then stood back up and all stood before the anthem played. I am not here to get all political and I understand the sensitivity of the issue, but I sincerely hope that those booing fans just weren’t paying attention to the announcement and THOUGHT they were kneeling through the anthem. If that was not their thought, then yikes. Listening to conversations within my section, I heard no remorse for the booing, misdirected or not.
So for the second year in a row, social issues overshadowed a football game I attended. These intersections between Sports and Real World are certainly understandable and as I completely understand why it happens and hope that whatever issues occur lead to awareness and progress towards change to the good, I continue to follow sports and make sports trips as a distraction to real life. Life is hard and especially after not getting the horrors of what happened in Las Vegas last night out of my head, we all need an outlet to block out the stresses of life. Sports and travel do that for me and after 16 years of hitting the road to see a game, it will continue to be an outlet as long as I can do so.