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So while the methodology and final results are ripe for debate, which is kind of the point, the fact that a team finished either high, low or somewhere in the middle tells a significant tale.
In the Ravens' case, you need to go back to their humble beginnings to understand how significant it is that they finished so high, ahead of all but five other NFL teams. They have come a long way.
When they landed in Baltimore in 1996, they were in rough shape. Sports fans across the country were mad at owner Art Modell for having pulled out of Cleveland. The move cost so much that corners had to be cut. The on-field product wasn't very good. Memorial Stadium was old.
It was almost laughable to think the Ravens, with no history or traditions, could finish ahead of famous teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers or Washington Redskins in a ranking of sports franchises.
Saying they have pulled themselves up in the past 15 years would be putting it mildly.
How did they rise from ignominy and obscurity to the upper reaches of American sports? Here are four key elements:
- Winning the Super Bowl. The thrill of going all the way in 2001 was great for all involved, but more important, in a way, was the lasting impact of having all that you do validated. The triumph gave them a history, no small thing for fans, as well as enduring respect in their industry.
- Drafting Ray Lewis in 1996. Beyond his obvious on-field accomplishments, the middle linebacker has given the Ravens a public face and an easily recognizable image. There wouldn't be a hard-hitting, hardhat team without him.
- Quality of ownership. Modell had the guts to take the financial deal that produced M&T Bank Stadium, and after all his years in football, he knew what it took to construct a winner. It's no coincidence things turned around after he identified a successor, Steve Bisciotti, with cash and the right temperament and approach. The team has had eight winning seasons in 11 years since they shook hands in 1999.
- Making Ozzie Newsome the GM. Stability is the mark of any winning franchise, and the Ravens have been stable at the most important position of all -- the guy who picks the players. Having one of the best in the business at that spot has given the Ravens a high football IQ.
Not so long ago, many Ravens fans believed their team was a black sheep among NFL franchises because the league didn't originally like Modell's move from Cleveland. But the statute of limitations has worn off on that issue.
The Ravens have risen through the ranks and become an upper-crust franchise, surpassing many with more history and tradition, such as the Redskins, who, ahem, landed at a cool No. 121 out of 122 in ESPN The Magazine's "Ultimate Standings."
John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*