The eve before the first Baltimore Ravens game of the season, Paul Agustin went to bed shortly after midnight — early on a Saturday for the 26-year-old Canton resident, whose friends stayed out late partying. He needed to be well rested. Game day was coming.
Sunday’s celebrations began at 10 a.m. for Agustin with pregame libations. He and a friend, 28-year-old Pierre Mensah, made their way to Wayward Bar and Kitchen in Federal Hill, where the bass boomed and large flat-screen televisions broadcast the Ravens game against the New York Jets. Agustin and Mensah mingled with the crowd, composed primarily of young people in purple jerseys who drank, danced and cheered their way through the day.
For Agustin, the first NFL game day of the season is “the first holy day of the year,” he said.
“We’re ready for Sundays. I may not be at church,” he said. “But guess what? Sunday, I’m preaching out here.”
Agustin said his NFL team is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who inched by with a 23-20 win against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. But in Baltimore, where the Ravens reign, Agustin is just happy to celebrate the return of Sunday football and all the infectious, exultant energy that comes with it.
Mensah, who described himself as an “avid” sports gambler and Detroit Lions fan, said he’s been itching for the start of the new season. “I’m just here for the fun. It’s a great time — I like that we live in a football city,” he said.
All across this football city, fans gathered at bars to watch the Ravens crush their opponents in the 24-9 match. For many, the day was about more than just the game. Football season is a time to gather with friends and create community. That was the experience of Katy Jordan, a 42-year-old Catonsville resident who traveled to Baltimore with her husband and two children to watch the Ravens at Mick O’Shea’s in Mount Vernon.
“I’m excited for the season. My friend here [with me], we do a lot of texting and just joke about it [being] the most wonderful time of the year, Ravens season,” said Jordan, who sported quarterback Lamar Jackson’s No. 8 jersey.
Jordan lived in Mount Vernon for 15 years before moving out of Baltimore City. She still returns to a favorite neighborhood haunt to watch many Ravens games each season. On Sunday, a dedicated group of fans — neighbors, former high school classmates and co-workers — gathered at the Irish pub. They downed IPAs and snacked on “Irish wontons” filled with potato, cheese and bacon.
Last year’s season was a disappointing one for many Ravens fans. Jordan said injuries brought the team down and she was discouraged to see Baltimore part ways with veteran player Brandon Williams. This year is a new beginning.
“We’re primed for a strong season, so we’ll see. [I’m] excited. Always optimistic at the beginning, as long as everyone stays healthy,” she said.
A table over at Mick O’Shea’s, Eric Bannet broke into a wide smile, boomed, “Hey, hey, hey!” and gave a double-high five to a friend as the Ravens scored a touchdown during the second quarter. The 46-year-old said he woke up Sunday filled with optimism.
“I think this is kind of a fun game as [Joe] Flacco is starting for the Jets. He was the guy who won our last Super Bowl,” Bannet said.
Bannet said it makes him nervous that Jackson has not signed a contract. ESPN reported Sunday that the quarterback turned down a five-year extension worth more than $250 million.
“I just love Lamar. ...” Bannet said. “I would love to have him as a career Raven.”
A few miles to the southeast, Looney’s Pub in Canton was bathed in the glow of purple lights in honor of the Ravens game. Patron Michael Guterl had walked there from his home, two blocks away, to watch the team he’s supported since 1996.
“It’s an incredible season” for Baltimore area sports, the 50-year-old said, pointing out that the Orioles are trying to make the MLB playoffs and the University of Maryland’s football team is off to a 2-0 start.
Downing an orange crush, a Maryland favorite made from vodka, orange juice and orange-flavored liqueur, Guterl offered his game day analysis.
“Early on, [Jackson] looked a little rusty, and it’s probably because they didn’t play him a lot in the preseason. They seem a little inconsistent, but they seem to be playing a little bit better in the second half so I’m excited. We’ll see what it brings us, but I say we’ll take it one game at a time,” he said.