6:03 PM EST, January 25, 2013
This is what kind of roll the Ravens are on now: they've even inspired a love story. It's not a gauzy, Hallmark Channel tale, but a story of serendipity, fate and perseverance — and a football team at the center of it all.
It stars an Overlea couple named Daisy Sudano and Jim Pellegrini, who will travel to New Orleans next week and tie the knot the day before the Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
But if you're thinking it's the story of two crazy, love-struck kids about to get hitched in the Big Easy on a purple-and-black lark, think again.
Sudano is 44, a laid off executive assistant at a pool club. Pellegrini, 42, just started a company that transports boats, RV's and trailers around the country. They've been through plenty of life's ups and downs, including childhood cancer (Jim), unemployment woes and financial issues. Jim also has had several brushes with the law.
"Those troubles are behind me now," Pellegrini said. "I can promise you right now I'm a different person."
Their story begins on Jan. 28, 2001, when they went on their first date. This was at the big Ravens' Super Bowl party at the old Bohager's nightclub in Fells Point .
As die-hard fans, both were excited. The Ravens had made it to their first Super Bowl and were playing the New York Giants in Tampa, Fla.
But the date did not start auspiciously. Pellegrini rolled up in a Honda Civic that looked like something from the last row of the used car lot.
"Metallic green with black tinted windows," he recalled.
"I thought: 'Uh-oh, what have I gotten myself into?'" Daisy said.
At Bohager's, though, they hit it off. It helped that the joint was electric that night, packed with hundreds of fans screaming themselves hoarse for Baltimore's still new-ish football team. It helped that the Ravens were on their way to thrashing the Giants, 34-7.
It helped that the alcohol was flowing.
"She was absolutely great company," Pellegini said. "I was able to feel like myself right away."
When Jim dropped her off later in that snazzy Civic, Daisy was pleased to see her border collie, Dee Dee, take immediately to her date.
"When an animal likes you, that's a good sign," Daisy said.
By 2003, they were living together. The relationship could be tumultuous. They would separate for months at a time, get back together, fight. Then the cycle would start all over again.
Money was always tight. They went through periods of good jobs, bad jobs and no jobs.
"There were times when his family was like: 'Oh, just get rid of her.'" Daisy said. ""And times when my family was like: 'Just get rid of him.'"
But as the years went by, there was a growing sense that the two were destined for each other. Jim marveled that Daisy loved all the things he did: the Ravens, hiking, camping, fishing. And she wasn't one of those prissy types who hooked a trout, held it at arm's length with two fingers and pleaded: "Ewww! You take if off the hook!"
"I knew I had found my lifelong companion," he said.
But in the ensuing years, whenever folks asked when they were going to get married, Daisy's answer was the same: "When I win the lottery or the Ravens make it to another Super Bowl."
People thought she was kidding. Except she really wasn't.
"I think in her head, she was buying a little time," said Sam Sudano, Daisy's brother. And he was right.
"I was the one with cold feet," Daisy admitted. "I wanted a little more time to go by and make it interesting. Because if (the Ravens) were ever in another Super Bowl, it would make our wedding special."
For the couple's extended family, it came as no surprise that Daisy would tie her wedding day to the incredible odds of a hitting a Lotto jackpot or seeing a football team play on the NFL's biggest stage.
"Daisy and Jim, they're both strange cats," said Shawn Santoro, Jim's sister. "I love 'em to death. But that's the kind of thing they'd do. "
In 2008, with a new coach in John Harbaugh and a new, sleepy-eyed quarterback named Joe Flacco, the Ravens made it to the AFC Championship game.
"This could be the year!" Jim cackled to Daisy. But in a bitter defensive struggle, the Ravens lost 23-14 to the Pittsburgh Steelers at frozen Heinz Field. The wedding plans were still on hold.
In 2010, the couple went on a cruise to the Bahamas. As they stood on the ship's deck with other cruise-goers the night of Dec. 21, watching a rare total eclipse of the sun during a winter solstice, Jim took her aside.
"He gave me a little speech about how I'm the one he wants to spend the rest of his life with," Daisy said. Then he pulled a ring from his pocket and proposed.
Of course, Daisy said yes. And of course, she dusted off the old line about winning the lottery or the Ravens making it to the Super Bowl before they could be married.
On this front, more drama ensued.
In 2011, the Ravens again made it to the AFC Championship. This time the site was Foxborough, Mass., and the opponent was the haughty New England Patriots, coached by the dour Bill Belichick and quarterbacked by the veteran Tom Brady.
Brady scared Jim and Daisy with his smarts, strong arm and assassin's stare at the line of scrimmage. Still, the Ravens were in the game all the way. But when Flacco's pass to wide-out Lee Evans was dropped in the end zone and Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard, game-tying field goal attempt, the Ravens were 23-20 losers.
The season was over. All of Baltimore was in shock. So was a certain couple in Overlea.
"We were devastated," Jim said. "After that, it was silence about the wedding."
Even when the Ravens got off to a sizzling 9-2 start this season, Jim and Daisy refused to get their hopes up about a Super Bowl appearance. What's the old saying: once burned, twice shy? How about if you've been burned twice on a vow some took as a throw-away line, except now it feels as if it could haunt you forever?
'This is the year'
But when the Ravens went to Denver and beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos in a wild, double-overtime divisional-round game two weeks ago, Jim and Daisy took it as the best omen they had seen yet.
Jim had to run a vehicle up to Rochester, N.Y. immediately after the game. Daisy went along for the ride.
"We're not even in Towson," Jim recalled. "And we both looked at each other and said: 'This is the year we're getting married!'"
But there was one more hurdle to overcome, of course. To get to the Super Bowl, the Ravens would have to beat the Patriots, in a re-match of last year's AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium.
Jim and Daisy watched the game at Sam Sudano's house in Severna Park. It was Daisy's 44th birthday. She and Jim arrived in a great mood.
But watching the pre-game chatter on CBS was an instant bummer.
"Every sportscaster was (picking) against the Ravens," Sam Sudano recalled. "Daisy kept shaking her head and saying: 'Boy, it doesn't look too good."
Yet by the middle of the fourth quarter, the Ravens had scored 21 straight points and were in control, shocking the national pundits. As the clock ticked down, everyone in the Sudano house began to celebrate. But not Daisy.
"No, no, anything can happen," she kept saying. "This is Brady. When it's under two minutes, I'll believe."
But with 1:06 remaining, Ravens cornerback intercepted a Brady pass in the end zone to put the dagger to the Patriots and seal the Ravens' 28-13 win.
"I shot her a text with the 'Wedding March,'" said Daisy's older sister, Helen Smith. "And I asked: 'Is Jim sweating yet?'"
The answer was no.
"We looked at each other with tears in our eyes," Daisy said. "And we hugged and kissed and said: 'Finally.'"
Now they're making plans for New Orleans and a wedding that's been on hold for a good part of the past 12 years. It'll be just the two of them, no family, no friends, but they're fine with that.
"We're not big wedding people," Daisy said. They'll be married in a French Quarter restaurant and the ceremony will be carried live on 98-Rock, the FM radio station here in Charm City.
For these two die-hard Ravens fans, maybe the best news is this: a Baltimore car dealership has given them two tickets to the Super Bowl as a wedding gift.
They say they plan to scream themselves hoarse, just like they did on that long-ago night at Bohager's.
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