For Calais Campbell, the long chase for a Super Bowl ring continues.
It almost happened for Campbell in 2008 as rookie with the Cardinals, but they lost a 27-23 heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
Campbell walked off that field 14 years ago certain he'd get another shot to play in football's penultimate game. But he's never been back to the Super Bowl, leaving Campbell with one chapter he wants to write before he closes the book on his potential Hall of Fame career.
Campbell announced his decision that he was going to keep playing while serving as a broadcaster during Super Bowl LVI. A couple days before that, he had texted Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta telling him he wanted to come back.
"I want to be a champion," Campbell said. "And I think that's a big reason why I feel like Baltimore brought me back. I think we have unfinished business. This team and where we're at, I think we were so close, even though we didn't make the playoffs last year. But if you really watch this team and see how we fought and how we competed, this team is on the cusp of something great, and I just can't wait to go back to battle with my guys."
One of the NFL's most revered players, Campbell is back at mandatory minicamp after re-signing with the Ravens on a two-year deal this offseason. Though the veteran defensive lineman contemplated retirement, it sounds like Campbell was always leaning toward coming back, and Baltimore was where he wanted to be.
"I think it's just smart to always weigh your options and take your time, but I knew when I was making a decision that Baltimore was a great place for me," Campbell said. "This organization and what it represents, who they are, it fits right in line with who I am."
Campbell remains an important part of Baltimore's defensive line that is still taking shape. Veteran defensive end Derek Wolfe was waived Tuesday after reaching an injury settlement and defensive tackle Michael Pierce was not at camp due to a “personal matter.” The Ravens feel good about their young defensive line group that includes Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington and third-round pick Travis Jones, but Campbell's presence remains a key ingredient.
Campbell played more defensive snaps (617) than any Ravens lineman last season and was Baltimore's highest-graded defensive player by Pro Football Focus. He will turn 36 years old in September, but Campbell isn't playing like it, a proud warrior chasing greatness to the end.
The former NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year has a presence that resonates in the locker room, adding to his value. When players like Madubuike, Washington and Jones want to know how to train, practice or study, they can look no further than Campbell's locker.
"It's massively valuable, because those guys look up to him," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "These young guys grew up watching Calais Campbell and all these other veteran guys. These are the guys that they watched when they were in high school or even junior high, in some cases – dare we say elementary school, in Calais' case."
The offseason and mandatory minicamps can become a grind for players who reach Campbell's age, but he clearly hasn't lost his passion for the game. As usual, he was one of the loudest players on the practice field Tuesday and the smile on his face reflected how happy he was to be back with his teammates after he did not participate in voluntary OTAs.
Almost every player that Campbell lines up against is younger than him now, but the joy he gets from each practice or game never wanes. That joyful approach is one of Campbell's keys to success, and it's something he's always had.
"God just gave me a pure love for the game," Campbell said. "Ever since I was a kid, I loved football. People always ask me all the time, 'Why not play basketball?' I was like, 'Basketball wasn't even a thought.' I was really good at it, but it was always football since I could remember. I started playing football at 6 [years old], and I had to beg my dad to play. It wasn't like he signed me up; I begged him to play. So, it's always been football."
Even at this stage of his career, Campbell constantly strives to get better. He attended the recent pass rush summit in Las Vegas hosted by Von Miller of the Buffalo Bills, where some of the game's top defensive players shared their techniques.
"I've been going to that for a few years, and it seems like each year it gets a little bit better," Campbell said. "I think it's always cool to get the best in the game together to be able to pick each other's brains. It's weird that I learned new things, just because I've been doing it for so long – stuff that I've never heard, at least."
The hard work that Campbell puts in during the offseason has always paid off. But this season, he wants to achieve his ultimate team goal, winning a Super Bowl with a team that he believes has championship pedigree.
"I feel like it's going to be a challenge, it's going to be hard, but I feel like we have great potential for it," Campbell said. "Hopefully it comes to fruition. We'll see."