Ray Lewis has the story book ending to his career, with a Super Bowl victory in one wild “ride;” but to get things straight, this run has not been about Ray. Though he is the greatest player in team history, the victory was more about the other players, the other story lines, the other coaches out there for the Ravens. Lewis obviously gained the national attention because of his demeanor, as we have seen with most of his career, whether it be good or bad. But now he is stepping away and the other impact personnel should be recognized.
Two players that really come to mind; Ed Reed and Torrey Smith. Both suffered the tragic deaths of their brothers in the past 18 months but powered through the emotional back lash. Reed went out and played every game since the incident, and played at a pretty high level as well. Now this may have been his last game as a Raven, adding into the praise the future Hall of Famer earned along the way.
The utmost respect goes out to Torrey Smith though, as he essentially had the game of his career, against the Patriots in Week 3, just hours after receiving news of his brothers motorcycle accident. Smith has grown into not just an outstanding player, but human being as well. His mental toughness played a big role in getting the Ravens to New Orleans.
Many other veterans along the roster deserve credit for their performances and drive to lead to the ultimate victory. Lewis already has his ring and fate was sealed as an all-time great a long time ago, but Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk are players still writing their legacy. Boldin has been the most important player on the roster not named Flacco the past couple months.
As the big name free agent three years ago, he was supposed to be the center of the passing game, after his illustrious career in Arizona. Cam Cameron never used him as such, but never did we hear complaints from a player whose Hall of Fame career was derailed by the past versions of the Ravens offense. Boldin has always put this team first, and when given the opportunity to take on a leadership role on and off the field, he took full advantage of it the year. As being on the losing end of a previous Super Bowl, Boldin was crucial to this team keeping calm during such a difficult season long run.
Matt Birk is a former All-Pro, which has never smelled the Super Bowl throughout most of his career before coming to Baltimore. After being one of the most underrated players in the league, Birk, like Lewis, will end his career as a champion. He may never make his way to Canton, but for a stand up individual, who led as a professional, nothing could be a better send off.
Now to the two people that made the biggest impact on the Ravens Super Bowl march all season long; the Quarterback and the Head Coach. To start Flacco had to establish himself for this team to make the next step and did he ever. Having one of, if not the best, postseasons by a QB in NFL history puts Flacco into a different stratosphere. Sure he has some inconsistency but his career path follows the mold of Eli Manning, which has proven to be pretty damn good. The Ravens will not let him go, and with Lewis moving on, it was at the utmost importance for Joe to make it his team.
As far as the Head Coach, John Harbaugh proved to best the laundry list of excellent competitors in his way. Starting with the emotional game against the Chuck Pagano led Colts, out dueling Peyton Manning and John Fox, then taking it to Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady, Harbaugh proved to make a big name for himself in a “Super” way (I know that’s cliché). No other individual deserves more credit than Harbaugh, who stared down every challenge this season (and there were a lot) and came out the victor. Whether it was personnel changes, staff changes, holding an injury riddled roster together, or making crucial in game decisions, the Ravens Head Coach was simply phenomenal.
So congratulations to the Ravens, who defied all the expectations (including my own) and became World Champions as a team. It is nice that a G.O.A.T. like Ray Lewis could walk off into the sunset with a ring, but this game was so much more than that. The sexy headlines only tell a small portion of the 2012-2013 Baltimore Ravens.