Feb 05, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Look here, as the clock hit zero in New Orleans, and you see John Harbaugh, subdued when greeting his younger brother at midfield, but happier when greeted by his boss and family.
Scan elsewhere, and you’ll find Joe Flacco, relaxed and calm as usual even in his greatest moment of triumph, but casual enough to drop an F-bomb in front of the largest TV audience of the year.
And a few yards away, with the confetti falling all around him, you hear Ray Lewis let out one more yell as he buries Terrell Suggs in a long embrace, two banged-up warriors, one leaving on top, the other, like with fellow stalwarts Ed Reed and Matt Birk, finally getting to see what it feels like.
The Baltimore Ravens’ journey to an NFL championship more resembled the crazy plot twists of a wildly imagined novel or movie than most others. Tragedy, inspiration, upheaval, controversy, an epic playoff game and a strange, exhilarating Super Bowl – this had it all.
Start with the passing of Art Modell Sept. 6, days before the season kicked off. True, he had sold his share of the Ravens franchise and Steve Bisciotti was in charge, but it was Modell that brought the NFL back to the passionate fans of Baltimore, in turn utterly ruining his legacy as a league leader because of the scars he gave to Cleveland. He was angel and devil, equally loved and loathed.
But the Ravens, of course, loved Art. They also loved O.J. Brigance, the one-time linebacker and current director of player development who, at age 38, was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and they wanted to give him something special as he battled this incurable malady.
This already was a team spilling over with hunger after the way the previous season’s AFC Championship had ended in New England. Lee Evans couldn’t hold on to the winning touchdown. Billy Cundiff’s short, game-tying field goal hooked wide. Such things can ruin lesser teams, but it only drove the Ravens to get things right.
Then the first rematch with the Patriots in September was bathed in sadness. Receiver Torrey Smith’s brother was killed in a car accident a day before that game. Finding strength in his locker-room family, Smith went out and caught six passes for 127 yards and scored twice. Baltimore won.
All of this was part of a new philosophy. Gone were the days where the Ravens’ defense could dominate. Now Flacco, criticized for not being “elite” enough, had more a chance to wing it and find the likes of Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, plus Jacoby Jones, whom we’ll meet again.
Injuries nearly ruined the whole story. First, Suggs, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, tore his Achilles in the off-season and was not expected to return, but did so in October, even though he was nowhere near the dominant player he was before the injury.
But just as Suggs returned, Lewis, who had mostly avoided serious injury in his epochal 17-year career, tore a bicep. Most thought his season, even his career, was over.
Oh yes, there was also the late-season swoon, including a loss to Pittsburgh and a beatdown by Denver, that led to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron getting fired. In stepped Jim Caldwell, the one-time Colts head coach who shuffled the line around, which ended up giving Flacco more time to throw. He would take full advantage, never throwing an interception in four playoff games.
Baltimore limped to the AFC North title at 10-6. A lot of people thought that Indianapolis, inspired all season by Chuck Pagano’s leukemia fight, would show up in their old Maryland home in the first round and quickly put the reeling Ravens away.
Except that Lewis, defying all the normal healing procedures, came back and, Jan. 2, announced that he would retire. The Ravens, who swore by his leadership despite all the flack he took, past and present, now had even more emotion to draw on, and knocked out the Colts, but that was just the warm-up act.
That second-round all-time classic in Denver showed that this was destiny at work, right at the moment that improbable, 70-yard rainbow from Flacco to Jones in the last minute of regulation led to victory in double overtime. It was a post-season variation of the win at San Diego where Ray Rice converted a fourth-and-29 to keep his team alive.
That led to the ultimate revenge – winning the AFC title game at New England in the same place, and the same round, where the Ravens met heartache a year earlier. Now Baltimore had upended one-feel good tale (the Colts) and knocked out two league favorite sons in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Somewhere, Papa John and the Giselle followers recoiled.
And you just knew the Super Bowl against another league darling, San Francisco, would be cast in the same light, especially when the Lewis-deer antler spray story conveniently dropped five days before the game. Again, they were attacking Lewis. Again, the ticked-off Ravens responded.
From the 21-6 start to Jones’ 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half, it was all Baltimore until the power outage in the Superdome, and just about all 49ers after it. When it mattered most, though, the beat-up, aging Ravens defense made the goal-line stand it needed in the end.
None of it was easy, and plenty of it was easy to despise for those not of the purple-and-black persuasion. But through it all, the Baltimore Ravens withstood the arrows thrown at them, and if ever an NFL team earned the hardware with Vince Lombardi’s name on it, this one did.