If any Ravens haven't already come to grips with the fact that they really did win the Super Bowl, those disbeliefs should be quelled by the end of this week. The players and coaches are taking the traditional victory lap, visiting the White House on Wednesday and receiving their Super Bowl rings Friday evening in a private ceremony.
A nod from the president and the sight of big rings on their fingers surely will drive home the reality that they really did go all the way, while giving the players and coaches a final chance to huddle up, lock arms and share the glory with the only other people who really understand how daunting the mission was – each other.
Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When the ring ceremony concludes Friday, these players will never be together again.
The pace of change in the NFL is so dizzyingly fast now, and has been for two decades, since the league instituted a salary cap in 1994, that nothing stays the same for long – not even a championship team.
It's only been four months since the Ravens overcame a power outage and the San Francisco 49ers to triumph in New Orleans, but the team that hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy already feels like an ancient history artifact.
Six key players from the winning squad (Anquan Boldin, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams) will suit up for other teams in 2013 after being traded, cut or departing via free agency. Two players (Ray Lewis and Matt Birk) have retired, and five others (Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Bobbie Williams, Billy Bajema and Sean Considine) are no longer under contract.
That's 13 players who are no longer with the Ravens after suiting up in the Super Bowl – 13 of the 46 who wore the uniform that day, more than a quarter of the roster, already gone.
Over this past weekend, while watching a playback of the Denver playoff win that helped the team get to New Orleans, I couldn't help noticing how many Ravens were no longer on the team. You can be sure even more changes are possible as another season looms with its frantic battles for jobs.
It seems like more than usual, and I've called it a "major" roster overhaul, but in fact, most NFL teams customarily turn over one-fifth or a quarter of their roster every year. Between juggling a salary cap and fitting in new pieces from the draft, it's just what happens, the typical grind of evolution.
"I probably don't know 80 percent of the guys' names on our team at this point," quarterback Joe Flacco said at the start of Organized Team Activities (OTAs). "People make a big deal out of it, but that happens every year."
In a couple of years, a popular barstool game for Baltimore fans will be to guess whether certain players were or weren't on the Super Bowl team.
But while Ed Reed now belongs to the Houston Texans, he gets to enjoy one last fling as a member of the Ravens this week. The same goes for Kruger, now paid by the Cleveland Browns, and all the guys who are now former Ravens. While they have gone their separate ways, the fact is they made history when teamed with Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs and the other Ravens still on the roster.
They stayed together long enough to accomplish something no one will ever forget.
It turns out several players aren't able to make it this week, Boldin and Williams because their new teams are holding voluntary and mandatory minicamps, respectively. Pollard will miss because he is still upset the team cut him. It's not the end of the world, and guys can do whatever they want.
But my advice to those who will be on hand is to make the absolute most of these valedictory experiences. Relish the moment. Brandish your ring. Take pictures. You're going to want them.
The vast majority of players have entered and left pro football without feeling this. They didn't win a Super Bowl. They didn't come close.
But the 2012 Ravens did. Really.