I don’t run as often as I used to when I lived on the temperate shores of Santa Monica, California, but on Friday afternoon as Baltimore thawed from its snowy onslaught last week, I couldn’t help but slip on my running shoes.

Within a few strides of Patterson Park, I could tell the rest of the city was embracing our brief moment of warmth. The walking paths were crowded with folks taking out their dogs, their babies, their roommates. The line for B’more Licks spilled onto the sidewalk.

And so many people, maybe one in every three or four, were wearing purple.

Ravens flags are hanging out of every self-respecting bar and restaurant door, and Patterson Park’s Observatory towers over the treeline with “GO RAVENS.” I’m not usually the sentimental sort, but as the spectacular citrus-colored sunset cascaded over the rowhomes of Canton, I couldn’t help but feel that somehow the purple and orange flecks were an appropriate color palette for a city celebrating one of its sporting zeniths this weekend.

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Am I being ridiculous? Is my sports-addled brain weaving scenes of the city together to fit in the neat narratives that help me make sense of the world? Quite possibly.

But there’s no question that Baltimore is being showcased as the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs visit for the first AFC championship in the city in 53 years. It stirs up feelings of communal pride, and the crowd we’re expecting at M&T Bank Stadium is only a small piece of it.

Sunday should be a fearsome home environment, and it’s refreshing to see pundits credit Baltimore as among the best home crowds. ESPN host Pat McAfee said recently: “Baltimore is the most underrated environment in the NFL.” No one knows this better than Houston, which had a whopping five false start penalties last weekend as rookie C.J. Stroud and his offensive line struggled to stay on the same page.

ESPN clocked the M&T Bank Stadium roar at 120 decibels, which is as loud as a jet engine during takeoff. Over the course of 3 1/2 hours, Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes — who acknowledged he’s gone to silent counts in Baltimore before — will find his ears ringing.

When considering some of the most intimidating home crowds in the NFL — Kansas City, Buffalo and Philadelphia among them — is it possible that Baltimore has been overlooked simply because we haven’t hosted many playoff games in the last decade? If the Ravens can host more postseason contests in the coming years, perhaps the reputation will grow.

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Ravens QB Lamar Jackson said he can’t help but see the passion of the fan base every time he opens his phone.

“I’m getting tagged every day, all day, so I’m definitely seeing it,” he said. “I know what’s going on. I understand what’s at stake for the city and how everyone feels about the team.”

But that’s just a fraction of the camaraderie and solidarity I’ve seen in the city this week, a charming reminder of just how much our sports teams’ success can bring us together.

Homer Simpson, dressed in a Santa costume, sports a Ravens flag in the window of Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point on Purple Friday. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Personally, I cannot get enough: the purple doughnuts, the aquarium dives, the rallies and parties. The jerseys of past greats, the ballcaps and beanies and fleeces. Baltimoreans are donning purple as a second skin to remember one of the key things they have in common.

Even folks who don’t usually cheer for the Ravens are leaping on the sizable bandwagon. In a visit to an actual bank this week, a security guard struck up a conversation with me about the game this weekend before disclosing he was a Steelers fan.

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“I’m rooting for the Ravens, though,” he told me. “The Chiefs have been on top for too long.”

The most empowering thing about the week is something we think a lot about at The Banner: Baltimore seen not just as some kind of poor sister to its Northeastern neighbors, or as a punching bag of crooked media pundits, but a proud, blue-collar town that puts its weight behind the hometown sources of pride. Crab cakes and football, right?

That is not to brush aside the problems of Baltimore, which of course are considerable. But many towns have problems of poverty and crime; our city seems to be one of the few that gets talked about for those things. With the constant negative discourse, it’s natural for residents to have a chip on our shoulder. Not just in football, either.

In that spirit, it’s been refreshing to see the fabric of the community stitched together in purple, the way that orange and black were the dominant colors of September and October when the Orioles were at their hottest. I admit to cackling at the amateurish photoshops of Taylor Swift at Mondawmin Mall and Jimmy’s Famous Seafood — Easter eggs that won’t register to anyone outside of the region but were only ever jokes for us, anyway.

The mayor and the governor have made the standard wagers with their Kansas City counterparts. But I love that Catonsville’s Christian Temple, the church where I grew up, has its own competition with a Kansas City church to see which fan base can generate the most donations of canned food.

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An entire town with flags flying, jerseys on. These are scenes I imagined I might see when I moved here last year, returning to my home state after 13 years away.

It’s going to be harder and more expensive than ever to get a ticket Sunday, to be a part of the crowd that could be as loud and vibrant as any that’s attended a Baltimore sporting event.

But you don’t need to be in the stadium to feel what the week has meant to the city. You just need to step outside.

Kyle joined The Baltimore Banner in 2023 as a sports columnist. He previously covered the L.A. Lakers for The Orange County Register and myriad sports at The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s a Mt. Hebron High and University of Maryland alum. 

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