When I heard the Ravens were putting Todd Heap in their Ring of Honor, I thought, "Yup, no-brainer." Heap was a rugged pass-catching stalwart for a decade in Baltimore. He is the franchise's all-time leader in touchdown catches, ranks second in receptions. Few Ravens have sacrificed their body more.
From what I could tell, the reaction to Heap's induction was almost entirely favorable. That's no surprise; he is among the most popular Ravens ever.
But some eyebrows did go up. I saw and heard some fans and online commenters doubting what I thought was a no-brainer.
The doubts weren't really aimed at Heap. They were more philosophical, questioning whether the entrance standards for the Ring of Honor should be higher. The fraternity on the wall at M&T Bank Stadium includes present and future Hall of Famers such as Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, who obviously belong, but also Peter Boulware, Jamal Lewis, Michael McCrary and now Heap – quintessential Ravens who won't get to Canton.
Is it right to admit someone every year (this is four in a row now) and include guys whose names might not resonate as vividly a half-century from now?
In my opinion, it's absolutely fine.
I think the Ring of Honor exists for the Ravens to salute their best players, and in the process, tell the story of the franchise's history. It's a pretty darn compelling history, not so long yet, but full of successes, including a pair of Super Bowl triumphs. And you can't tell that story without many key players destined never to get the nod from Canton.
These aren't average players. They were Pro Bowlers, All-Pros, Super Bowl winners. The Ravens should honor the best of them for helping the franchise become what it is.
In fact, that's really what the Ring of Honor is for, in my opinion: making sure the local treasures who had important roles are saluted as well as the Hall of Famers, whose cup of salutations already runneth over, anyway.
Don't agree? Hey, everyone is entitled to an opinion. There is no criterion for admission into a Ring of Honor, just as there is no criterion for getting into baseball's Hall of Fame, a similarly subjective honor. I've voted in that Hall's balloting for years, learning along the way that I had higher standards than some voters and lower standards than others. So it goes. (On this site, the Ravens do list the qualities they're looking for in a candidate: character, gratitude, vision, passion, faith and courage, competitive spirit and humility.)
In this case, if the Ravens only allowed the best of their best into the Ring of Honor, many truly outstanding players would become lost in the mists of time. That would be unfortunate. Jamal Lewis piled up more than 9,000 rushing and receiving yards on almost 2,000 touches for the Ravens. Boulware piled up 70 sacks. Heap practically carried the passing game though years when the Ravens didn't have a star quarterback. When Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta came along, they called him "Superman."
Those players are crucial to the telling of the franchise's story (as is Earnest Byner, by the way, the "controversial" first inductee whose statistics don't merit but whose hard running provided a glimpse of quality in the otherwise desultory Memorial Stadium years.)
The Washington Redskins have 45 players, coaches and team officials in their Ring of Fame, the majority of whom are NOT in the Hall of Fame. The Dallas Cowboys have 20 in their Ring of Honor. The Ravens haven't been around as long, but they aren't lacking for worthy candidates.
Ed Reed is a lock, as are Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. Someone like Derrick Mason is a tougher call; he caught more passes than Heap, but he also played more seasons for other teams than for the Ravens. Chris McAlister? He had some off-field issues that put some distance between him and the team, but he was a shutdown corner for a long time and probably deserves it.
I don't have time to go over every star player who ever suited up, but I would limit admission to the Ring to the very top guys who played a long time here, for the majority of their careers, and are distinctly identified as Ravens. There isn't a written test to distinguish the "ins" from the "outs," but there's a sniff test. Heap and the others certainly pass.