Tom Kelly only goes to Ravens games occasionally. But when he does, the Long Green resident and Cockeysville business owner likes to make a statement.
It's hard to miss his 1967 Volkswagen bus, decked in purple paint and covered in Baltimore football memorabilia. Tuesday, a day after the Ravens officially began their 2012 campaign, the bus was parked outside on York Road.
"The first time I took this to the stadium [in 1998], I couldn't believe it. I thought It'd be no big deal with everybody else riding in. I pull this into the stadium and everybody who saw it just went crazy," Kelly said.
The van's beginnings are simple enough—he picked it up in 1996 as a $600 fixer-upper and got to work replacing the seats, replacing the motor and sandblasting every inch inside and out. A peace sign on the front reflects Kelly's original intention.
"I bought this in '96 to make it a hippie bus, the then with the Ravens coming into town I thought I'd make it a Ravens bus," he said.
Kelly has stories for many of the pictures and decals on his bus. A decal of Joe Flacco's autograph sits where he hopes to one day have the star quarterback sign. Asked about his Super Bowl XXXV decals, Kelly talks about driving the van to Tampa for the Ravens' big game and getting featured on national television.
His bus has been autographed by the likes of former Baltimore Colts players Lenny Moore and Bruce Laird, but the autograph Kelly is most proud of is that of the Golden Arm: the late Johnny Unitas, whose slightly faded signature adorns the front of the bus.
Unitas and Kelly were neighbors in Long Green. Kelly asked a friend who works at the deli Palmisano's in Baldwin to ask if Kelly could come over and have him sign his van.
"He invited us in his house, showed us his trophy case with his helmet and his shoes and all his awards and so on," Kelly said. "Really nice guy. Signed the bus, signed some hats and some pictures."
Kelly recalls Unitas asking, "Why would you want me to sign a Ravens bus?"
"And I'm thinking John, you're only the greatest quarterback who ever lived, right?" Kelly said.
Tuesday marks 10 years since Unitas' death. Kelly was at Monday's game and suspects Unitas would have approved of Flacco's 299-yard passing performance in Monday's opener, a 44-13 romp over the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I'm sure he'd have been jumping up and down like the rest of us were," Kelly said. "All the commentators were talking about how great this other team was. And what did we do? We took care of business."
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