The year was 1992. The NFL had announced that two new franchises would be added to the league as expansion clubs. Numerous cities put their name in the hat, but the list was whittled down to five possibilities: Charlotte, St. Louis, Baltimore, Jacksonville and Memphis. St. Louis once had the Rams and Baltimore the Colts, while Jacksonville and Memphis each had several franchises in other pro football leagues.
The front runners initially were Baltimore, St. Louis and Charlotte. Richardson Sports headed the Charlotte group which was eventually awarded the first team in October of 1993. Baltimore had a trio of ownership groups and was the most likely to get the second franchise. A $200 million rent-free stadium was already approved along with the team name called the “Baltimore Bombers.” In an upset, the owners voted 26-2 to award the second expansion team to Jacksonville.
That left the City of Baltimore still without an NFL club. In 1995, Art Modell, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, was romanced by numerous leaders of Baltimore and with the allure of huge profits, he agreed to move the beloved Browns to Maryland.
Fired was head coach Bill Belichick and his coaching staff. The Browns were getting ready to move to Baltimore but only had a partial workforce in place in their new city as the team relocated into the Colts’ old offices in Owings Mills, Maryland. The movers were local, and several were full-time firemen who worked a side job to make extra funds for their families. Initially, these men were hired as part-time employees until a full-time staff could be compiled.
The Browns were soon renamed the “Ravens” after Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven. Today, the Ravens employ 16 firefighters – some of which are retired in that profession.
These men do a long list of duties for the franchise. For one, they handle all of the team and fan mail. It is estimated that hundreds of pieces of mail arrive at every NFL team every day. A large percentage of that is to individual players with letters and memorabilia sent to those athletes. When Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers was the backup to Brett Favre, he once got a letter along with a football card of Favre. The letter asked Rodgers to get Favre to sign the card and return it since the fan could not get a response from Favre himself.
Most teams provide shelves or cubbyholes in which fan mail is placed. It is up to each player to collect his mail. While most players take the mail home, some designate a third party to pick the mail up while others get their mail shipped to a location - usually their off-season home. Some players are good with their mail while others simply ignore it and place the boxes into a corner and never bother. Others wait until their bye-week to go through their mail while a good percentage simply postpone this duty until the season is concluded.
Letters are only a percentage of the mail these firemen deal with. It is not uncommon for a player to get boxes which usually contain mini-helmets, footballs and magazines asking players to autograph and return.
Helping to keep supplies in their place is another duty. Anything from toilet paper to cups to bottled water to copy paper has to be placed in their respective spot. While at the facility, they also run the occasional errand if needed.
Another duty of the firemen is the player’s laundry. Every game-used jersey, socks and pants along with towels are taken care of every week. Also on this list are the practice uniforms and workout clothes the players and coaches use every day. Each player and coach has their own laundry bag with their name on a tag. When something needs to be washed, they simply throw their bag into a daily laundry bin which is returned clean the following day in their locker. Any repairs to garments are also handled by the firemen who sew and stitch whatever needs to be done.
While those duties appear to be work, one aspect of the firemen’s day with the Ravens certainly has to be fun. Whenever needed, these men help out in practice sessions. They assist with down markers, retrieve footballs and catch field goal attempts. They bring out practice pads and whatever other equipment is needed for that day’s practice. At least half a dozen firemen assist with each practice.
Still another function that these firemen perform is with the team’s equipment. Before every game - home or away - they pack up the uniforms, shoes, shoulder pads, socks, uniform playing pads, helmets, chin straps, mouth guards, footballs and player equipment bags. All of this is packed into huge stack-able metal containers and then loaded onto trucks for either the stadium or the airport. At home game days, these same men help players get ready for the game with assistance with their pads and jerseys.
Of course with a road game, these firemen help unload all of the equipment and begin a new set of laundry.
Currently, the franchise has 16 firefighters on staff, five are retired while the other 11 are still full-time firemen. They usually work 24-hour shifts with 48-hours off until their next shift at the firehouse. This allows them some free time to help with the Ravens while making some extra money. And although they enjoy their time with their hometown NFL team, their focus is still fighting fires in the Baltimore metro area.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association.