Wardell Roberts felt calm — maybe even reflective — when the cameras caught him with 14:23 left in Saturday’s 34-10 Ravens win over the Texans.
Lamar Jackson had just lofted a pass toward the end zone, where tight end Isaiah Likely was waiting, his seemingly effortless jump allowing him to pluck the ball away from a defender for a touchdown that put the Ravens ahead by 14. The game finally seemed under control.
Roberts felt his phone buzzing and checked his texts. Friends and families were letting him know he’d been shown on television. He wasn’t that surprised. A shirtless fan behind him in row 2 of section 101 had been rambunctious all game.
“I figured the camera would find him,” Roberts, who lives in Frederick, said. “Thought I might go home, run it back on the DVR, see us on the screen and that’s it.”
Instead, Roberts would find unexpected fame in that moment — his face launching social media posts that went viral on X, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook, ultimately reaching millions. All because fans noticed an uncanny resemblance to Martin Luther King Jr.
Roberts isn’t on X (formerly known as Twitter) and didn’t see the first tweets (multiple people made the same observation). He enjoyed the rest of the game with his 8-year-old son, Karson, and wife, Karla, and didn’t pay much mind to his phone until they all joined the throng of fans exiting the stadium after a win.
“It didn’t stop,” he said. “Everybody started sending it. They’re all saying, ‘You’re trending right now.’ It was everywhere. Even Dr. King’s daughter [Bernice King] saw it and got a chuckle out of it.”
Roberts, a Salisbury grad who works in security and coaches flag football, said a few friends in college had mentioned to him that he resembled King, but he’d never thought much of it. His son was most thrilled about the comparison, having just studied King’s legacy in school leading up to the observance of the federal holiday in his honor.
“He’s a little mad that nobody is recognizing him, but he was just learning about MLK this week so he thinks it’s the greatest thing ever,” Roberts said.
A Ravens fan since childhood, Roberts began attending games after he graduated college in 2010. He spent much of Saturday’s game, he said, looking back on Lamar Jackson’s career. He was at M&T Bank Stadium for the wild-card round following the 2018 season, when Jackson was sacked six times and fumbled on the final drive in a 23-17 loss to the Chargers.
“I remember people were chanting for Joe Flacco,” he said. “I was thinking about that Saturday. I always believed in Lamar. From day one I knew he could do it all. Obviously, he can run, but even some of my friends didn’t think he could throw the ball. I thought he just needed to be given the right system. Now he has it.”
Roberts tries to go to a few games a year, and he took Karson to his first game on New Year’s Eve, when the Ravens clinched the No. 1 spot by beating the Dolphins.
“He thinks the atmosphere is just always like this,” Roberts said. “And it will be next week, so maybe he’s right.”
Roberts doesn’t yet have tickets for the AFC championship, but he’s hoping to buy a few this week. He remembers attending a practice at M&T Bank Stadium on a sweltering day over the summer, feeling hopeful but not knowing how the year would go.
“I think we’re headed to the Super Bowl,” he said. “It felt like we could be here, but the way they are locked in — the way Lamar is — it’s special.”