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Eisenberg: Reaching Super Bowl Is A 'Happy' Pill


For an NFL franchise and its players, getting to the Super Bowl is like ingesting a powerful and transformative "happy" pill.

If you're the franchise, your decision-making suddenly is above reproach because everything worked out, a conference title was earned and you made the ultimate game.

Just like that, you're smarter.

You've slam-dunked the doubters, quieted the second guessers, answered the burdensome questions that had swirled around you for months, threatening to bring your season down.

You've earned the right to say your methodology was right all along, even if you quietly had your own doubts at certain points, as all organizations inevitably do.

The Ravens look positively brilliant now that they've raced through the AFC playoffs, knocked off the top two seeds and reached the Super Bowl. But their profound sagacity wasn't so clear-cut even recently, as the postseason began.

They were still dogged by issues that had simmered all season and dominated the local football conversation, casting doubts about the team's prospects for making this season memorable in any way.

But now that the Ravens are in the NFL's Promised Land, those issues have been settled. Game over. All hail the happy pill.

It turns out the Ravens were right to make a change at offensive coordinator so late in the season, that it wasn't a panic move after all, that they weren't "in disarray," as more than a few observers suggested when they fired Cam Cameron and lost four of their final five regular-season games.

It turns out Joe Flacco was, in fact, good enough under center to take the team where it wanted to go and earn the big-bucks, long-range investment he desires. (Coming this offseason.)

It turns out he didn't need to be fiery and "show more passion" to get the job done.

It turns out, strangely enough, that the coaches were right to keep one of the team's best offensive tackles on the bench all season, even as the line struggled without him, and then abruptly realign virtually the whole offensive interior at the last possible moment, as the playoffs began.

It turns out the defense wasn't too old, as some thought; that the unit could survive without veteran mainstays Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding, salary cap casualties the front office wished it could have avoided. (Personally, I hate that Johnson, a Ravens ironman, isn't here for this.)

It turns out that it's OK to swing and miss on a high draft pick (Sergio Kindle) as long as you connect with some other targets (Josh Bynes, Albert McClellan) who can fill in. It turns out that replacing the fiery Chuck Pagano with the scholarly Dean Pees was the right move, and that Ray Lewis was still a three-down player at age 37, and that there was enough of a pass rush even without Terrell Suggs at his best, and that the pass defense was secure enough even without Lardarius Webb.

It turns out a draft pick (Kelechi Osemele) could replace Ben Grubbs, and that going with a rookie place-kicker who was an undrafted free agent (Justin Tucker) wasn't such a risk.

It turns out the Ravens, coached by an Andy Reid protégé, weren't destined to replicate Reid's Eagles and chronically fall short.

In every way imaginable, getting to the Super Bowl validates your decisions, gilds your path in hindsight. It has the same effect on the players, too, automatically elevating them to a level of prestige and accomplishment that only a small percentage of pro football players attain.

"It's something I'll always be able to tell my kids and grandkids: I was in that game," Ravens cornerback Cary Williams said with a smile Friday.

No matter what else they do in their careers, whether it's a lot or a little, players can say they were part of a Super Bowl run, that they experienced the best the game can offer. It stamps a scarlet letter on their foreheads – S for making it totheSuper Bowl – and testifies that they were accomplished enough to be part of a formidable whole, that they didn't just pass quietly and unobtrusively through the league without leaving a mark.

They were Super, a part of history, a powerful rising tide that lifts all boats.

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