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Ravens Inspired By O.J. Brigance

Posted Jan 25, 2013

The former Super Bowl champion’s battle with ALS has brought the Ravens closer.

The Ravens had just won their first AFC championship in more than a decade.

The euphoria in the locker room was overwhelming, as players, coaches and staff members hugged anyone in sight. There was laughing, dancing and celebrating. Players shouted at one another and at the television crews as they huddled around an assembled stage for the trophy presentation.

Amidst the chaos, one man finally brought a hush to the locker room: O.J. Brigance.

CBS Broadcaster Jim Nantz said that Brigance, who is battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosi (ALS), had a message for the team. Almost immediately, the chatter silenced.

When O.J. talks, everyone listens.

“Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens,” Brigance said through computer that transmits his voice. “Your resiliency has outlasted your adversity. You are the AFC champions. You are my Mighty Men. With God, all things are possible.”

When Brigance finished, the entire locker room called out his nickname, “Juuiiiicceeee.”

Ed Reed then walked over and placed a game ball in Brigance’s lap. Brigance looked at Reed and smiled as he sat in his wheelchair, unable to move or even speak without the computer.

As Ray Lewis was handed the Lamar Hunt Trophy, he looked at Brigance and told him, “You’re my greatest motivation.”

Brigance’s battle with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, has been an inspiration to the entire Ravens locker room. The former player and current Ravens senior advisor to player development is in his fifth year with the disease, and his perseverance was pointed to by a number of players as a source of strength.

“When you see somebody like that and fight every day, and come into work every day, it gives you motivation,” defensive lineman Pernell McPhee said. “What if that was you? He once was a football player, so what if that was you? You have to look at things like that and take full advantage of the opportunities you got right now.”

“What can’t you say about O.J.?” Reed added. “O.J’s been our strength.”

The Ravens’ run to the Super Bowl has been distinguished by the team’s ability to overcome hardship. They dealt with significant injuries to players like Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis, lost four out of five games heading into the playoffs, changed offensive coordinators late in the season, and had players deal with the deaths of close family members.

During those struggles, players turned to Brigance for guidance and support, and he cherishes the ride the team took to get to this point. 

“Super Bowl XLVII means so much to me, not because of the game,” Brigance said. “It’s the journey it took to get here. The journey is where personal growth and maturation comes. I know the stories of the men on this team. They have all overcome challenges and adversities to be on this national stage. It makes me extremely proud for them.”

If not for Brigance’s presence and ability to encourage and motivate, the Ravens might not have gone on their late-season run. In addition to team leaders like Lewis and Reed, Head Coach John Harbaugh credited Brigance with bringing an energy out of the team.

“Our strength is made perfect in our greatest weakness,” Harbaugh said. “And here O. J. is, visibly in a weakened physical state, yet in an incredibly strong spiritual and intellectual place, and he shows that every day. He’s just a shining light in the building, and we all definitely are energized by that.”

Brigance believes the benefit works both ways.

“The truth of the matter is those men inspire me,” he said. “They have helped give me a reason to get up out of the bed every morning. There is a biblical proverb that says, as iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another. We are making each other better men.”

Brigance, 43, was an honorary captain for the AFC championship game and went to midfield during the pregame coin toss. In addition to speaking in the locker room after the game, he also had the honor of presenting the team the Lamar Hunt Trophy.

“I was so elated to be asked to be the Honorary Captain for the AFC Championship game,” Brigance said. “The opportunity to speak to the Mighty Men in that locker room was priceless. They have allowed me to go on this journey with them and I am so honored.”

The trip to New Orleans will be the third Super Bowl run for Brigance, who won a Lombardi Trophy with the Ravens in their only other trip to the Super Bowl in 2001. Brigance was a key special teams player on that championship team, and made the very first tackle of the game.

Brigance hoisted the Lombardi Trophy along with Lewis, and is one of the few people in the organization with a Super Bowl ring. His presence has been critical in the Ravens getting to this point, and he couldn’t be happier to take the field at the Super Bowl once again.

“It is thrilling to be going back,” Brigance said. “Of course it is more fun when the confetti falls for you. To be  one of the  two teams still in the tournament is a blessing."

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