Back in September of the 2000 season I decided along with a buddy of mine to go to Super Bowl XXXV. I had some frequent flyer miles racked up so I cashed in a chunk of them for two first class direct non-stop flights to Tampa for the big long weekend.
My friend made reservations at a hotel and given his experience at another Super Bowl, he said that it was best to buy game tickets down in Tampa. So that was our plan.
As the season progressed it became obvious that the Ravens were going to be a “P Word” team. And when that became a reality, the NFL’s best defense steamrolled Denver, made the big plays to beat the Titans and then they flew to California to take on the Raiders.
Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think the Ravens could be one of the two teams to compete for The Lombardi that season. But after punching the team that calls The Black Hole home square in their collective jaw, the Ravens were off to Tampa.
And so were we!
When we arrived in Tampa we soon realized that logistical problems would eat up a lot of our time. Things are rather spread out down there and taxis were not only few and far between but like everyone else living in the hosting city for the Super Bowl, those cabbies were opportunistic.
One night while out we were trying to make our way from the team’s hotel in Clearwater to Ybor City which in many ways is the Tampa Bay area’s answer to Bourbon Street.
We couldn’t flag a cab to save our souls but we noticed a limo sitting idle outside of this posh looking home. We learned that the limo was rented by Jerome Bettis. I suggested to the driver that instead of sitting there waiting he could make some extra cash by taking us to Ybor City. He agreed and off we went.
But not so fast. The Bus apparently was ready to leave the posh estate and the limo driver dropped us off. Damn! Where was my purple Sharpie when I needed it.
Eventually we made our way to Ybor City and it was crazy fun but the opportunists were there as well. Some very attractive girl started randomly dancing with my friend and soon had him pinned against the wall of a bar that Bob Marley would have appreciated. The air was filled with the aroma of Mother Earth.
Anyway my friend who is always one step ahead realized that the girl was really interested in picking his wallet. He caught her in time. Exit stage left.
We would later run into “Hold Me Closer” Tony Danza (count the headlights on the highway) as well as Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell, friends since their days at Penn State. I had a great conversation with Lydell about the 70’s Colts and mostly about Bert Jones, my favorite player as a youngster.
As game day drew closer, we had to turn our attention towards getting tickets. We budgeted $1,500 each and did our best to find value. My buddy and I went separate ways for a bit. He visited with some friends and I did the same down at Whiskey Joe’s.
While there my buddy called my cell to say that he had a hook up for tickets and wanted to see if I could get a cab to the team hotel. There I would meet a ticket broker who had club level seating between the 20’s for $1,500 each. BOOM!
When I met up with the broker, somehow those club seats became nosebleed seats in the corner of the end zone. I bought them anyway because the broker convinced me we would never find anything better at that price and we didn’t want to be without tickets.
After making the exchange in a men’s room stall like I was involved in some dope deal peeling off 30 one hundred dollar bills, I called my friend to let him know his contact screwed us over. When I ended the call, another ticket broker within earshot who overheard my conversation walked over and offered me $4,000 for the pair. I asked him for a minute to call my friend back.
Upon doing so, another ticket broker listened in and while on the phone with my friend said to me, I’ll give you $5,000 for the pair.
Off to that bathroom stall I went again and 50 Benjamins later I left the hotel in a taxi $2,000 richer but without tickets.
Back at Whiskey Joe’s while watching the Terps lose in heartbreaking fashion to Duke, friends busted my cojones for selling the tickets and they said that I’d never get in the game now. I wondered.
Fast forward to game day just hours before kickoff. My friend and I split up in search of someone selling. Nothing but buyers.
Some guy came up to me and said he could get me into the stadium for $850 but that I’d have to take off my jersey, walk around the stadium and pretend to be a custodian. I kid you not.
Kickoff time was approaching and nothing was happening until a couple passed us by and said they had a pair of tickets. Sweet seats, lower level, 25-yard line, 20 rows off the field. They wanted $5,000!
Trying to remain emotionless we offered $4,000. They refused and walked away.
My friend and I looked at each other for a couple moments. I can still see that look on his face which I’m sure was much like the one on mine. The couple was then about 50 yards away. Without saying a word we ran towards them, caught up and said, “Deal!”
I asked the guy how he managed to get the tickets and he said his brother worked for ESPN and he gave them to him and that he was planning on taking the money and betting on the Giants. I looked him square in the eye and said, “If you can’t bet the Ravens, save your money.”
Impressed by my confidence he said, “I think I’ll do exactly that!”
And off we went.
When the game was over and the purple, black and gold confetti tumbled from the sky, all Ravens fans gathered as close to the field as possible. Strangers embraced, bonded by their mutual affection for a team.
The Baltimore Ravens were World Champions and the surreal atmosphere is one I will never forget.
We all headed back to Whiskey Joe’s to soak in the victory, not to mention many celebratory adult beverages. And while the feeling was great, I couldn’t help to think just how much I wanted to be home in my city celebrating with ALL of my people. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so homesick.
Winning that championship was liberating on many levels.
Go ahead and call our team thugs, murderers and arrogant. We knew the truth and like that team that season, as a city we persevered through 12 years without the NFL, having our football heritage torn to shreds, and finally emerging as champions.
The journey was long but while drinking from the cup of a champion, it seemed so worthwhile.
Civic pride was restored and we were on top of the world.
And now it’s time to do it again!