The Ravens faithful burst into applause — not for a stunning play or a moment of heroism. It was for a man walking across a parking lot.
Sporting a floppy white hat, safety Ed Reed swaggered into M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday as some of the 20,324 fans on hand for the team's first open practice of the summer clamored for autographs.
To Reed's left, snapping photos, was Kim Faith, 44, who had driven to Baltimore from her home in West Virginia.
"They're going to take it this year," said Faith, who watched from the stands last year as the AFC championship slipped through wide receiver Lee Evans' fingers. "They're going to the championship."
If fans thought the practice a poor substitute for weeks of open practices at summer workouts at McDaniel College, they didn't show it.
"This is better," said Melette Craig, 35, of Brooklyn Park, who used to attend training camp at the Westminster college. "It's a better atmosphere, and you can come inside out of the heat."
Indeed, the atmosphere was almost celebratory — despite no actual game being played — as fans talked of an inevitable championship. Las Vegas oddsmakers may list the Ravens as only the ninth-most-likely team to win the 2013 Super Bowl — with the Green Bay Packers as clear favorites — but don't say that too loud to Quinyon Davenport, 30, of the Navy, one of many military members honored by coach John Harbaugh before the practice.
"In my book, we were already champions last year," said Davenport, of Norfolk, Va. "One drop, one catch, one kick — that's all it was."
Two other open practices are planned for fans: Aug. 12 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, and Aug. 19 at Stevenson University's Mustang Stadium. All sessions will be free and feature autograph-signings for kids. Ravens officials say the practices are a way to continue to give fans access to players after moving training camp from McDaniel last year. The college had been the home of Ravens training camp for the franchise's first 15 years.
The number of fans at the stadium Saturday was larger than the number who attend some Orioles games.
Krysten Williams and Melissa Cox — two 19-year-olds from Bel Air — posed for photos behind an oversize statute of a Super Bowl championship ring, an obvious sign, they said, of how this season will culminate.
"I love it," Williams said of the open practice. "It's free and it's something everybody can experience. The whole crowd is like a family."
But does last year's heartbreaking loss to the New England Patriots — and several injuries to key Ravens — cause any doubt in their championship predictions?
Of course not, Williams said: "We're going to go all the way."
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