Ravens fans never stopped shouting the "O" in the national anthem through the years, both at home and on the road. Even in the most hostile of environments, you could count on hearing a few loyalists proudly belting it out.
But it had been so long since the Orioles were winners that I recently began to wonder if some of the fans even knew why they were shouting out a vowel, a curious behavior that often baffled fans of other teams. My guess was some thought it might have something to do with Francis Scott Key and the Star-Spangled Banner, another Baltimore institution.
Any uncertainty has been cleared up in 2012 with the Orioles making a surprising run to the postseason for the first time since 1997 and then knocking out the Texas Rangers in the wild-card playoff game Friday night. Baltimore's first relevant baseball season in a generation has reminded everyone why they're shouting that vowel.
With the Ravens also winning, off to a 3-1 start in their bid for a fifth straight AFC playoff berth, the city is veering into unchartered water as a sports town. For the first time ever, its purple and orange teams are both good.
When the Orioles last made the playoffs, the Ravens were a losing team, early in their tenure as the Team Formerly Known as the Cleveland Browns. And as the Orioles entered a severe decline after 1997, basically disappearing from the scene until now, the Ravens developed into consistent winners, even taking a Super Bowl along the way.
The Ravens' response to the Orioles' rise from ashes in 2012 has been pitch-perfect. They have embraced it, shown genuine excitement, seemingly gotten as wrapped up in it as everyone else.
The players have been caught wearing Orioles caps in the locker room and on the sidelines during games, and donning "Buckle up" t-shirts when speaking to reporters. If cornerback Lardarius Webb's priceless comment, "The Birds be acting up," isn't already on a t-shirt somewhere, it should be.
The business side of the Ravens' organization has also shown support, putting the scores of New York Yankees defeats on the video board during games. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, a baseball guy in his day, seemingly has relished talking about the other team in town. What's next, a pre-game speech from Ray Lewis in the Orioles' clubhouse? Not the worst idea.
When the fans broke into a loud "Let's go O's" chant during the Ravens-Browns game last week, well, that was something I thought I might never hear.
The Orioles, for their part, have responded in kind, attending two of the Ravens games en masse on nights when they were off in September.
It wasn't always thus. Relations between the organizations have been strained at times in the 16 years they have shared a hometown. That's really not surprising considering the tectonic shift that occurred, the Orioles leaving a void and the Ravens filling it in.
Let's face it, they do compete in a sense for whatever dollars the fans in this city are willing to invest in their sports obsessions, not that an investment in one keeps anyone from investing in the other, as some do.
It was my guess all along that there was room in the city for two winners, should such a delicious moment ever arise.
The local football habit was and is deeply ingrained, going back to the days of the Colts. The Ravens have not only revived it but also fortified it by becoming one of the NFL's sharpest organizations. Their popularity is widespread and prevailing. But while the city's similar Orioles habit waned during 14 straight losing seasons, reducing years of sellout crowds at Camden Yards to a memory, that habit was merely dormant, not obliterated – a gene that could be re-activated in the right conditions.
Those conditions have arrived. The teams are not only winning but also supporting each other, standing and cheering, getting along like best buds. It's a giddy double-bill of triumph for the fans, who have demonstrated that they have room in their hearts for both, as if that's any surprise.