Rare Experience for Ravens

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Obviously, the Ravens' march to the AFC Championship is a career first for all of Baltimore's rookies.

Right tackle Willie Anderson, a 13-year veteran, is doing his part to make sure they know it may never happen again.

In 12 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Anderson sniffed the playoffs once.

That was a first-round postseason loss in 2005. The explosive Bengals offense was shut down by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win Super Bowl XL.

After 195 career games, 184 of them starts, Anderson knows he is lucky – blessed, even – to have the opportunity to take on the Steelers this Sunday at Heinz Field.

"You have to take advantage of every chance you get at this point," Anderson said. "Sitting at home watching every year was no fun. You always think of the little things that you could have done to get to the playoffs, reasons why your team could have beaten the teams that are playing.

"To have a chance like this just feels so good."

Defensive tackle Trevor Pryce agrees. As a longtime member of the Denver Broncos, he saw considerably more success than Anderson's Bengals squads. Spanning a 12-year career, Pryce has played in 14 postseason contests, 11 of them with the Broncos.

Pryce also had two Super Bowl rings that came in Denver orange and blue.

To help his chances of earning a third, Pryce has been encouraging the youngsters in the locker room to maintain an even keel.

"What you have to do, especially the more you [advance] in the playoffs, you don't change anything," Pryce stated. "You don't want to get extra hyper or do anything different that got you here.

"The stage is bigger, so I think naturally you have a tendency to broaden yourself a little more. That's the one thing I think you can't do. What got you here is what got you here, so keep with it."

The veterans that were on Baltimore's Super Bowl XXXV team have spoken reverently about standing with the Vince Lombardi trophy on the championship field with a shower of confetti raining down.

The memories of that night have lasted with Ravens such as Ray LewisChris McAlister and Matt Stover.

"You can tell that it's a special feeling around here," explained defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. "The veterans that have been in the Super Bowl – Trevor Pryce, Ray and all those guys that have been there – they kind of tell us what it's like and that there's no other feeling of winning a Super Bowl and how great it is.

"It's just something that we're all – us younger guys that have never been there – we're just trying to look up to and hope we can do it."

But Ngata has an advantage over even the rookies. After he was drafted in 2006, Ngata was a critical piece of the NFL's top-ranked defense, which drove the 13-3 Ravens to a playoff matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.

After receiving a bye in the first round, Baltimore's postseason ended early when the Colts left M&T Bank Stadium with a 15-6 victory.

Even though that early success could have spoiled a player, the Ravens' 5-11 campaign in 2007 is enough to bring anyone back down to earth.

"I'm going to do everything to make sure we win, but unless you've been through what they've been through, you can't cherish it the same way," rookie safety Tom Zbikowski said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying this, but this is our first year. We don't know about struggling through a season and not making the playoffs. This is all we know."

Zbikowski's fellow rookie, linebacker Jameel McClain, draws from his collegiate days to understand where veterans like Anderson and Pryce are coming from.

As a redshirt freshman for Syracuse, McClain was a defensive end on a team that went to the Champs Sports Bowl.

He never returned.

"Obviously, college and the NFL are different animals, but I've felt that," McClain admitted. "I thought, 'Oh man, we're going to a bowl every year.' That didn't happen. It just makes you cherish it more.

"It's rare."

Poised within one win of a Super Bowl trip to Tampa, Fla., all Ravens – young and old – are relishing the scent of that rarified air.

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