Can you name the eight players on both sides of this game that have played in a Super Bowl?
Okay, so we all guessed Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis because that’s an easy one. 49ers kicker David Akers made it to Jacksonville during the 2004 season for a dance with the Patriots in Jacksonville as a member of the Eagles. Just ask Donovan McNabb how he felt about that game after he famously threw up on the ball. Ravens linebacker and special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo played for an NFC Champion Bears team in 2006 that was led by Rex Grossman… I’ll leave it at that. We all remember San Francisco wide receiver Randy Moss and his one “Giant” loss during the 2007 season. The following year, the a former grocery bag boy turned quarterback led the Arizona Cardinals and Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin to a Super Bowl. 49ers wide receiver Mario Manningham won the Super Bowl with the New York Giants last season and played a huge role in the victory with that miraculous catch down the sidelines during the fourth quarter. However, will be missing in action due to a torn ACL and PCL. Clark Haggans is a reserve linebacker for the 49ers and has won a Super Bowl of his own in Pittsburgh, in the thriller that was Super Bowl XL versus the Seattle Seahawks. Finally, Ravens safety James Ihedigbo earned a spot in the Super Bowl as a member of the New England Patriots last season and ultimately ended up on the wrong end of that outcome.
Out of this group, Lewis, Manningham and Haggans are the only ones to taste victory and it should be stated that even though these two teams are viewed as “experienced” teams in the postseason, almost all of the players do not have a taste of what is to come.
It’s not very often that any player can make a return trip to the Super Bowl. Just ask Dan Marino about how hard it is to not only win one, which he never did, but to make it to the big game.
A player like James Ihedigbo has been fortunate enough to play in what will be his second Super Bowl and second consecutive appearance in the big game as well. Ihedigbo has been one of those key role players that have come in and done their job and then some. When Bernard Pollard was banged up, Ihedigbo stepped in and filled his role to the best of his ability. Ihedgibo had a hell of a game in Pittsburgh, contributing a sack on defense and constantly putting pressure on Byron Leftwich. Needless to say, the special teams ace and defensive back fill-in has been appreciative of this opportunity with yet another great organization in the National Football League. As the band Shinedown once said, “Sometimes goodbye is a second chance.”
David Akers has been a measure of consistency throughout his career in the NFL, until pretty much this season. He missed 13 field goals during the regular season and doinked a ball in the playoffs against the Atlanta Falcons that luckily didn’t cost them the game. Even though the Superdome is obviously an indoor stadium, Akers missed a 38-yarder indoors last week at the Georgia Dome. He will be looking to find any way to get the monkeys off his back and he can do that by making huge kicks on the biggest stage of them all.
Randy Moss was a member of one of the greatest football teams ever… that never finished the job. A 16-0 regular season ultimately generated nothing but buzz for the Patriots as they were plagued by Eli Manning and David Tyree’s helmet catch, which led to Plaxico Burress’ touchdown to seal the Super Bowl victory for the New York Giants during the 2007 season. Moss’ career appeared to be over after a brief second stint with the Vikings, then subsequently being traded to Tennessee and he was completely out of football in 2011. This season, he has revived his career and looks to add a Super Bowl ring to his already Hall of Fame career.
As someone who took pride in special teams, I love watching guys like Brendon Ayanbadejo. It’s guys like him that play the game right. 100% effort all the time, each play he s on the field. Despite my disdain for the comments he made regarding the Patriots offense last week, he is one of the more fun guys to watch and his celebration is phenomenal. He has found a way to play a solid inside linebacker when called upon this season and is yet another reason as to why the Ravens are where they are. Yes, he and Ihedigbo were out of their lanes in Denver when Trindon Holliday scored on his two returns, but the past is the past and the special teams had a pretty solid game last week. Ayanbadejo and the rest of the special teams players will have to have a huge game come Super Sunday when they face the likes of Ted Ginn Jr.
It can’t be stated enough that Anquan Boldin has been extremely vital to the success of the Ravens offense this postseason. He is one of the more humble players on the team that doesn’t speak very much to the media, so it was quite surprising when he guaranteed victory last week over the Patriots. Boldin more than stepped up catching five balls for 60 yards and scoring two huge touchdowns to bury the Patriots. His two touchdowns seemed to be mirror images of one another as he found a hole in the defense both times in the seams and once quarterback Joe Flacco spotted Boldin, the ball was in his hands in the end zone. After watching what the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons were able to do to the highly regarded 49ers defense in the seams, Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has to feel somewhat confident in his team’s ability to create big plays with Boldin in the pass game. A well-rounded veteran that clearly deserves a second chance.
Ray Lewis has received a second chance in not only football but in life. We all know what happened in Atlanta. We know how he responded — leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory and being named the game’s MVP. We know he became a God-fearing man and despite what some people across the globe say negatively about him, none of that matters on the football field. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Ray’s single greatest motivational tactic was announcing his retirement when he did. He already knew this was his last ride, he just had to make it official when the time was right. When the team needed an emotional lift the most, they looked to Ray Lewis for inspiration and Ray has more than responded both on and off the field. On the field, the 37-year-old linebacker leads all defensive players in the postseason with 44 tackles, despite his RoboCop arm-brace. He has taken his own statement, “Pain is a gift from God,” to a whole other level, coming back from a torn right triceps muscle months ahead of schedule to contribute to his team’s cause. Ever since Ray entered the Ravens facility in 1996, he’s stuck to his goal of being the greatest ever. Some say it, others do it. Ray has done it time and time again. Whatever view you may have of Ray Lewis know that Ray probably realizes that deep down, he did something wrong and he will have to live with it for the rest of his life. Regardless of what his criminal record indicates or what his family situation is, I have never been told that Ray isn’t a great father. I have never been told that Ray doesn’t give back to the community. What I have seen from Ray Lewis is simply that he is the greatest entertainer the Baltimore sports scene has ever scene and that nothing will stop him in his quest to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy and rejoice with his teammates in New Orleans when the confetti falls.