There was a time when the Ravens were more familiar with the police blotter than they wanted. It was a dark passage, and I'm sure the Ravens would love to expunge it from their history.
At some point, though, the narrative flipped. The Ravens' locker room became a place that squelched act-out behavior rather than witnessed it. The organization made the change a priority, and a cast of knowing veterans set a mature tone. Not coincidentally, the team embarked on a streak of five straight playoff appearances culminating with this year's Super Bowl run.
Quite simply, young guys didn't dare cause problems that could set back the prospects of a title contender led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. That would be disrespectful. You don't make Mufasa mad.
Now the two future Hall of Famers are gone, Reed to the Houston Texans, Lewis to ESPN, but they were here for 28 seasons between them, more than a quarter century, and I guess you can't stay that long in one place and just vanish without a trace.
Although Lewis and Reed aren't suiting up in purple anymore, their impact endures in the culture they helped set.
If the Ravens had signed talented and troubled former Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain a year ago, you know how the news would have been viewed and reported: The Raiders dumped him because they're in a major salary cap squeeze and need to suit up cheaper players, but also because they're tired of dealing with McClain's off-field issues, which are far less likely to surface in Baltimore with Lewis and Reed around to police locker room principles.
As it turned out, the news was still viewed and reported that way this week, only without referencing Lewis or Reed.
Phil Savage, the former Ravens executive who now runs the Senior Bowl, told the Baltimore Sun the Ravens "have done a terrific job over the years of managing players." That's code for keeping them in line. Numerous other media outlets called the marriage "a perfect fit," largely because McClain was seen as less likely to cause problems as a member of the Ravens.
In other words, the Ravens' mature, no-nonsense culture is still in place even though its renowned tone-setters are gone --- an indication of how things have changed in Owings Mills, subtly but indisputably.
Now it's the entire organization setting the tone, led by GM Ozzie Newsome; Head Coach John Harbaugh, who runs a tight ship; and Harry Swayne, the team's Director of Player Development, an under-the-radar asset who mentors younger players. The locker room is still populated with veteran leaders, big-name stars with All-Pro credentials whom young guys wouldn't dare cross or disappoint.
Perhaps most importantly, anyone who was here in 2012 now owns a Super Bowl ring, the ultimate testament to the locker room having the right priorities.
The Ravens are an elite franchise now, one of only four to win multiple Super Bowl titles in this century. The other three are the New England Patriots, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers -- heady company.
That record makes a more powerful statement than Lewis or Reed ever could.
In the NFL, there are a lot of teams that don't know how to win, and some that do but can't fit the pieces of their puzzle together. Only a few have the wiles and skills to make it happen. The players in the latter programs are fortunate. They start each season with a realistic chance to make history. If they get in trouble and set the program back, they're just an annoyance, disappointing a lot of people and possibly undermining a greater good.
They're also pretty much assuring themselves of a ticket out of town, back to a lesser team still trying to get its act together. Have fun!
Winning establishes those stakes for the players. There's something going on that's bigger than you, a higher purpose.
Lewis and Reed were certainly among the primary architects of that culture in Baltimore, and no doubt, they will be missed in that regard. But honestly, their work was done. The house stands without them. The Ravens are about winning. Get in line or else.