If you have ever celebrated a wedding or graduation, or even just a big birthday, you're probably familiar with what I'll call the Four Steps of Delirium.
You experience the moment. You celebrate the high. You come back to earth. You write the thank-you notes.
Ravenstown is moving rapidly through the cycle, still celebrating the Ravens' exhilarating thumping of the New England Patriots in Sunday's AFC championship game, but at the same time, about ready to start offering profuse thanks to any/all deserving parties for making the Super Bowl dream come true.
Who deserves thank-you notes for being responsible in some way for Baltimore's long-desired return trip to the big game? There's a long list of deserving recipients, some obvious, others less so.
The players are at the top of the list, as they're the ones who actually ran through the AFC playoffs, knocking out Peyton Manning and Tom Brady while busting enough Baltimore ghosts (Colts, Elway, Belichick) for an entire generation. Joe Flacco played like an All-Pro, throwing eight touchdowns without an interception. Ray Lewis inspired the troops and made tackles. Anquan Boldin defined toughness. I could go on.
They and the rest of their teammates all get thank-you notes.
So do the coaches, starting with Head Coach John Harbaugh, who calibrated a locker room of delicate psyches and then ordered a halftime adjustment Sunday (attack, please) that slam-dunked his counterpart, the hooded one, Bill Belichick. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees juggled more pieces than a guy in the circus. Jim Caldwell helped make the offense go … at long last.
The front office, which put the team together, obviously gets notes, too. Ozzie Newsome had to confront the departures of mainstays Ben Grubbs and Jarret Johnson and others coming into the season, but he filled in nimbly with draft picks (Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele, Bernard Pierce), veteran free agents (Jacoby Jones, Corey Graham) and even an undrafted free agent (Justin Tucker).
But besides the obvious thank-you note recipients, others are also deserving, having played a role in helping create a team that reached the Super Bowl.
You're going to scream, but Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers deserve a thank-you note, having frustrated the Ravens many times over the years and twice knocked them out of the playoffs. The Terrible Towels set the bar, showed the Ravens the standard they had to meet to get where they wanted go. It was pretty crucial, actually.
Billy Cundiff and Lee Evans also deserve notes, even though they're the banes of Baltimore football, fairly or not. If not for their late-game miscues a year ago, the Ravens might have gone to the Super Bowl then, but instead, they were left insatiably hungry, simmering over what might have been.
The Patriots were looking to achieve their sixth Super Bowl appearance since 2002 on Sunday night, while the Ravens had experienced numerous close calls and frustrations since their last trip a dozen years ago. One team was accustomed to success, expected it, while the other was desperate, yes, desperate, to finally overcome. It was quite a disparity, and no doubt, a factor in what happened.
Who else deserves thank-you notes?
Cam Cameron does, even though his former unit's numbers are up since he was tossed out as offensive coordinator. Caldwell is getting more out of what's there, but it's still the offense Cameron designed.
Whoever rented the Ray Lewis retirement countdown billboard last week in New England gets a note. They went to a lot of trouble and didn't get their money's worth, to say the least. The Ravens heard about it, laughed about it, and used it as motivation in the run-up to the game. Oops.
But for what genuinely motivates the Ravens, nothing tops O.J. Brigance, the team's popular front office executive who is battling ALS. In uniform when the Ravens last went to the Super Bowl, now confined to a wheelchair, he truly inspires the players to dig deeper.
He gets a thank-you note, a big one, along with the others.
It took a village, as the saying goes, to get the Ravens to this point. Time to start writing.