Both with winning seasons, Ravens and Orioles offer rare celebration for city fans

Baseball fans stung by years of failure were especially tough to win back in 2012, but as manager Buck Showalter's O's piled win upon win en route to a wild-card berth, pennant fever took hold. The Ravens' playoff run three months later only added to the magic.

"The Orioles had been down for so long, and they just seemed to come out of nowhere," Henneman said. "That got the town revved up. We were all sitting pretty for what happened in football."

The two-sport frenzy came to a head in September as the O's stalked a pennant, the Ravens raced to a 3-1 start, and the teams played meaningful games on the same day three times.

"It was almost — confusing. I couldn't believe I'd be watching an Oriole game with playoff implications by day, then a meaningful Ravens game at night," said Pollard, who took to sporting a Ravens shirt under an O's jacket during his many visits to Camden Yards.

A senior accountant with Legg Mason, Pollard went to 20 Oriole games and two Ravens games this year, including Flacco and Co.'s 38-35 playoff win in Denver. (He won the trip in a lottery at work.)

Some say the fan response of the 1970s could be surprisingly muted. The Orioles drew only about 13,000 fans per game even as they won 100 games a year three straight times (1969-1971).

That was about average for the American League — the Yankees drew about 14,000 a game during the span — but paltry by today's standards. Even as AL East doormats between 2008 and 2010, the O's drew about 23,000 per game.

In the Titletown days, Henneman said, fans could take their success for granted. Many saw superstars like Unitas and Brooks Robinson as ordinary guys, and it would have seemed odd to deify them.

Henneman, who grew up a few blocks from Memorial Stadium in Ednor Gardens, remembers the day a young man with a brush cut picked up his little brother and gave him a ride home.

It was Johnny U. himself.

"The fact that it seemed like no big deal should tell you something," Henneman said.

Recently, though, things have been far from run-of-the-mill.

Maybe it was the 42-year lapse. Maybe it was the way Ravens such as Ed Reed and Ray Rice started showing up at Camden Yards sporting O's hats — or Orioles like Adam Jones came to M&T Bank Stadium for Ravens games. Maybe it was the way both teams rode jaw-dropping hot streaks to end their seasons.

But this year, sports has been a very big deal in Baltimore.

"The celebrations downtown, the packed stadiums — things were exciting years ago, but I think this has been an all-time high," said retired sportscaster Vince Bagli, who covered the Colts and Orioles on WBAL-TV for years.

Is it premature to reach for the "Titletown" mantle again? Probably. In an era of free agency and salary caps, it's harder than ever to sustain a winner. And some fans are downright suspicious of their good fortune.

"We're the center of the sports world now," said Betty Loomis, 83, of Ellicott City, who watches every Orioles and Ravens game on TV. "Next year, you watch, it'll probably be New York again."

Even that wouldn't bother Baldwin. Now in her 70s, the ex-cheerleader and current fan says life has taught her that winners come and winners go, but the more important things don't change.

Baldwin, who lives in Federal Hill, saw thousands celebrate outside her window after the Ravens won it all last weekend. She has no clue when it will happen again. And she's not complaining.

"Happiness is a fleeting thing," she said. "It's not really in human nature to be on a high every day of your life. If you can have a few moments of happiness, God bless. Enjoy them while you can."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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