Chapter 11: Fall forward and the story of Torrey Smith

January 21, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

with the league. Coaches, players, fans, and announcers were all grumbling at the poor calls and the inconsistency, but mostly the confusion about the basics, like the rules and down and distance markers.

The 2012 schedule rotation featured perhaps the grittiest of the four-year cycle for Ravens fans as the NFC East diet meant games in neighboring Philadelphia, and later in the year, down I-95 against the Redskins in Landover. It’s 99 miles from M&T Bank Stadium to Lincoln Financial Field, and it’s a shame these teams only meet every 48 months because the proximity lends itself to some serious territorial bragging rights if not a conference victory.

The Eagles had been perennial winners during the first decade of the century, but time was growing short for Harbaugh’s mentor and friend Andy Reid, who was entering his 14th season in Philadelphia, a lifetime for any coach in a tough sports town. Harbaugh had defeated Reid in 2008, his rookie season in Baltimore, and it was during that game that longtime Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was pulled for Kevin Kolb, leading to a fractured situation as a decade of success began to crumble for the tenured coach.

For Harbaugh, returning to Philadelphia was a homecoming of sorts. His success as a special teams coach was still fresh in his mind, and he reunited with many old friends on the field before the game.

For several members of the Ravens, it was an emotional week of hometown returns. Obviously, Flacco’s friends and family made the 90-minute drive down to Baltimore many times over the years to see him play, but for many of his neighbors and virtually everyone in his community, the six miles across the Walt Whitman Bridge from Audubon brought a local rooting interest because everyone he knew at home was a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan.

Starting linebacker Jameel McClain had his own story. He played at George Washington High School in Northeast Philly, where he was a senior captain and earned a scholarship to play at Syracuse. He came to the Ravens in 2008 as an undrafted free agent who played special teams and tried to learn the NFL game from Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. But Philly was where everything began for McClain, who signed a three-year, $10.5 million deal in March 2012 to remain in Baltimore.

McClain was a fighter – literally – all of his life. He began boxing in the fourth grade, receiving his first pair of sparing shorts from legendary pugilist Joe Frazier, and competed in Golden Gloves competitions in Philly as a child. McClain’s father had been in jail much of his childhood, and his family always struggled to make ends meet, living for stretches of homelessness with his mom and three siblings in a Salvation Army shelter. McClain knew adversity, and he was excited about coming back to hardscrabble Philadelphia as an established NFL player and starter.

“It’s a great opportunity, and it’s somewhat of a dream to be able to play amongst my friends, my family, my peers, and all of the people that watched me grow up and become the man and player that I now am,” McClain said about his homecoming.

Rookie running back Bernard Pierce also was returning to Philly, but he’d barely left. A third-round pick by the Ravens in April 2012 from Temple, Pierce spent his entire life in Philadelphia before reporting to Baltimore during the summer for training camp. His image was posted on Philly billboards in 2010 as a Heisman Trophy candidate with the Owls, but he also endured a choppy childhood. After being involved in an ugly brawl at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, he was placed in a school for juvenile delinquents at Glen Mills near West Chester as a 16-year old. There, he embraced football