As Director of College Scouting for the Baltimore Ravens, Eric DeCosta is used to fielding tough questions about the team and the NFL Draft:
"What weight do you place on strength of character versus raw physical talent?"
*"Have you ever had a draft pick that you weren't so happy with?" *"How do you view Troy Smith – [as a] back up or potential starter?"
However, the inquisitions usually come from Ozzie Newsome, Ravens coaches and the local media. But this past March, in an auditorium at the National Aquarium of Baltimore, DeCosta found himself in unfamiliar territory discussing some very familiar subjects. That's because his audience for the evening was 150 female Ravens fans on-hand for the latest ladies-only Purple fan club event held inside the aquatic confines at the Inner Harbor.
The evening began with a Q&A session and the women, just like all Ravens fans, wanted some answers. After a 5-11 season, a coaching change and the No. 8 pick in the upcoming draft looming, there was much to discuss and DeCosta came through with astute answers and even a few insights into life behind the curtain of the NFL.
"When I came to Baltimore I didn't have an office," DeCosta told the crowd in response to a question about how he got his start in football. "My office was the hallway. I had a card table in the corner and no computer. I had to use Ozzie [Newsome's] assistant's computer after she left for the day, which meant I couldn't start my work until after five."
Of course things have changed for DeCosta as he's risen up the ranks at the Ravens and remarked that he now has three guys doing the job he was once responsible for. The anecdote elicited a few laughs and plenty of smiles from the crowd. However, before the women were given the chance to enjoy the wine and cheese spread waiting for them outside, their fanciful facial expressions would fade to a look of apprehension and amusement as they were taken on a 4-D adventure under the sea.
There was no sign of Ariel or Flounder along the journey, but the 4-D experience did include features you could feel and touch, or at least features that could touch and feel you. Water would spray when a dolphin would dive into a crashing wave; seats would vibrate as the movie made its way along a coral reef; and plastic straps would swipe at your feet as water snakes and eels appeared on screen. The effects evoked some ooh's and ahh's, but these women were clearly more interested in X's and O's. Fortunately, their cheese and wine came with a side of Dwan as Ravens defensive end, Dwan Edwards, joined the party to talk football, take photographs and sign autographs for the Ravens faithful.
"It's always fun to mingle with the fans, to see what's on their minds," said Edwards, who has been a part of numerous community events in the Baltimore area. "Its important to put your name out there. How you portray yourself is a huge part of being a good teammate and a good overall citizen."
His attendance proved to be a primary attraction as a line formed around the 6'3" star to take pictures with digital cameras and cell phones, allowing the women to instantly brag to friends and family (read: husbands and boyfriends) who were not invited to take part in the festivities.
Among those to meet Edwards was Wendy Atkinson of Halethorpe, MD who was not only awe struck at the chance to greet one of her gridiron heroes, but was equally impressed with the other women at the event. "It's amazing the knowledge these women have of the Ravens and football," said Atkinson. "It was a great experience, to learn everything about the draft and to hear all the questions asked. I love our fans; love the Ravens; and just so glad to have a team."
One such Ravens savant was Geri Vacousky of Baltimore, MD who was among those to pose a question to DeCosta during his Q&A. Geri asked if he thought winning the final game of the 2007 season versus the Steelers would have a negative affect on the Ravens in the draft. (DeCosta answered honestly as he said, "In my mind, we won and lost.") Vacousky, who is also a member of the Lavender Ladies and is a die-hard devotee of the purple and black, clearly keeps a place in her heart and mind for her beloved team year-round, "I think about football all the time," she said. "I plan my whole life around football. I can't wait until the schedule comes out so I can plan my vacations."
Vacousky wasn't kidding. She followed the Ravens to San Francisco, Cleveland, Buffalo, Miami and Cincinnati last year, piling up plenty of frequent flier miles. But no matter where she elects to fly this fall, Geri and all the women on-hand for the event have already taken a rare trip for most football fans, from the Outback to the oceans and back to the Charm City for an evening that pleased both their palettes and their inner purple.