A week removed from the Super Bowl thriller in which the Baltimore Ravens stunned the world and outlasted the San Francisco 49ers, it’s still hard for me to let it all sink it.
It’s amazing how only a couple days after the February 3 win, the Ravens went right into preparations for the upcoming 2013 season. Credit to an organization who believes in hard work. As for me, I basked in the glory of the world champion Ravens. Led by the general, Ray Lewis, the Ravens put up one of the greatest playoff performances in NFL history. It’s hard to measure how much Ray Lewis’s retirement played a role in the success of the Ravens, but it’s even harder to dismiss his influence and leadership amongst the players and coaches.
The 2012-13 season for the Baltimore Ravens was truly something remarkable and centered around faith. There are stories to be told, and then there are stories to be never forgotten. This is one of those that many Ravens fans will remember for the rest of their lives.
A Look Back to Where It All Began
This past year has been a journey of many great struggles and triumphs for the Ravens. It all started with the season opener, a night to remember. An emotional game, as previous owner Art Modell passed away just before the start of the opener— the team announced they dedicated this entire season to Modell. Everyone in Baltimore thought the Ravens were going to be Super Bowl favorites with their high-flying offense scoring 44 points and demolishing the Bengals. However, in the following week they lost a game in which they were leading and should have won against the Eagles. Fortunately, the Ravens did what they do best: get back up and keep fighting. Their spark ignited against the Patriots in Week 3, when the tragic news broke of Torrey Smith’s brother dying in a fatal accident the night before the game. Smith decided to play and dedicate the game to his brother, and he went on to have a monster game that inspired his team and fans-alike. After beating the Patriots in a nail-biter, the Ravens moved on to win the next 7 of 8 games, improving their record to 9-2. Then, when everything seemed to be going great, all hell started to break loose.
In the worst way possible, the Ravens lost their momentum by falling to the the rival Steelers. The Ravens broke down in the 4th quarter of that game, and ultimately snapped a 4-gaming winning streak and 15-game home-field winning streak. Unfortunately, the Ravens failed to bounce back and went on to lose the “Battle of the Beltway” against the Redskins, and the loss led to the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
After a long season riddled with injuries— namely, Terrell Suggs missing the first 6 games, Lardarius Webb suffering a season-ending injury and Ray Lewis going down for the rest of the season in Week 6— the Ravens ended the regular season with a 10-6 record. That means the team lost 4 of its final 5 games. Granted, the team won the AFC North Division title and entered the playoffs for the 5th straight season as the no. 4 seed, but there was not much momentum riding into the postseason. Even with the hardships and inspiration throughout the year, the team needed another spark.
Enter Ray Lewis
A day after New Year’s Day, Ray Lewis shocked Baltimore and the rest of the world with his announcement to retire at the end of the season. With one last playoff run, the future Hall of Fame linebacker decided to finish his career with the team that drafted him 17 years ago. It was a saddening day for fans and teammates. Even now, it’s hard to imagine the Ravens’ future without Ray Lewis. But being the leader he was, Lewis knew the team needed a boost and put it all on the line for their success. His teammates knew the only proper way to send off their leader would be to go out on top. And boy, did it work.
After weeks of rehabbing a triceps tear, Lewis’ first game back was also his last game ever at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens also had all of their defensive starters (Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Suggs) back and playing together on the field for the first time this season. With his final home game performance, Lewis electrified the crowd and led his team to a beat down on the Colts in the Wildcard round. Oh, and who can forget his final dance (little did everyone know, however, that this would not be his final dance at the stadium)?
Moving on to the Divisional round felt great, but the Colts were a young and inexperienced team. A much greater challenge awaited them at Mile High Stadium. At this point, getting to the Super Bowl was still a long road ahead.
Mile High Miracle
Winning 11 straight games before heading into the playoffs, Peyton Manning (who himself had a 9-game winning streak against the Ravens at that time) and his Denver Broncos were on a hot streak. Think of NFL Blitz and the team that lights on fire when they get on a roll. The Broncos, with a balance of good defense and offense, was arguably the most complete team in the NFL. The Ravens entered the game as 8.5 point underdogs and billboard signs of Ray Lewis’ early retirement party started to pop up on the streets of Denver.
But we all know how naysayers and critics only fuel the Ravens’ players. As much as they say they don’t look into what outside people say about them, the Ravens play with a chip on their shoulder, and they play great with it. When the season and Ray Lewis’ career seemed like it was coming to a close in the 4th quarter of this game, Hail Mary prayers were answered as Joe Flacco threw a TD-bomb to Jacoby Jones and eventually led the team to an upset victory in 2nd overtime. The team’s determination to win was nothing short of a miracle.
Baltimore Ravens versus New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium for the AFC Championship showdown. Two years in a row. There’s no better way to write this story. Every Ravens fan knows how heart-breaking last year’s loss was. To come so close and then lose made it that much harder to cope with. So when I heard about the chance to get revenge, I knew right away the Ravens had it in the books. This was about faith. This was about wanting it more than your opponent. This was about the Ravens and their story.
The Ravens may have started out slow, but they shut out Tom Brady and his offense in the 2nd half of play. After making it to 3 AFC Championship games in the last 5 years, the Baltimore Ravens finally made it. They beat the Patriots, got their revenge and advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years. Third time’s a Charm City.
Admit it— you cried.
Even with an outstanding playoff performance by Joe Flacco and great team momentum, the Ravens were still considered underdogs in this epic clash between the Harbaugh brothers.
That didn’t deter Ray Lewis and his men. Bottom line: the San Francisco 49ers were in the way of the Ravens and their destiny. Thinking about all the tragic deaths, injuries, coaching changes, near-mutiny, Ray Lewis’ retirement, and all the critics who said it couldn’t be done, there was no other way for a team of destiny to end their story. It was only fitting for Ray Lewis to leave with a final championship to solidify his greatness. But he didn’t do this alone. No, the players arose to the challenge and gave it everything they had. This was their way of saying “thanks” to Ray. This was an ultimate sign of love. A sentiment not often shared in football locker rooms, but this year, in this season, the Ravens were family.
As controversial as it may have been, the Ravens faced the Niners in a final 4th down goal-line stand and came out on top. No flag was thrown and the Ravens were crowned Super Bowl XVLII champions 1:46 seconds later. Purple and gold confetti fell from the sky and Ray Lewis cried. Everyone was so caught in the moment of victory that the traditional Gatorade-dump on the Head Coach was completely forgotten about.
It was an appropriate end to a roller-coaster season. Just like in 2001, the Ravens did the impossible and showed the world what teamwork, determination and faith was all about. Players like Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs deserved their long-awaited first championship title, but there was no greater joy than watching father Ray feeling that confetti drop one last time in his last game ever. That night, there was no weapon formed against them that could prevail.
This was the story of the 2012-13 World Champion Ravens.