There are so many story lines other than the game itself as the Ravens prepare to host the Colts during Sunday’s Wild Card playoff opener, it’s easy to forget that there actually is a game to play.
It’s been highly publicized that players such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and coach John Harbaugh maintained communication with Chuck Pagano during his battle with Leukemia, but one Raven in particular took an extra step to show his support.
While walking into the Ravens locker room a little more than a month ago, I noticed that defensive end Arthur Jones looked different. Jones is 6-3, 315 pounds so he stands out even in an NFL locker room, but something was different.
He shaved his head.
A new fashion sense? Possibly. Around the same time, nose tackle Haloti Ngata looked different as he had shaved his goatee which fans are accustomed to seeing him wear, but Jones’ change was different.
He had done it out of support for a friend, mentor, and come Sunday, his opponent.
“I talked to him about it, I sent him a picture before and after I did it,” Jones said when I asked if Pagano had commented on his showing of support. “He told me he loved me and to keep playing hard. He was a guy I grew to love and I loved playing for him.”
Jones knows things will be a different on Sunday when he has to look across the sidelines and see the coach who has shaped his professional career.
“It’s weird that we have to play against each other now,” Jones said. “Everything happens for a reason.”
However, Jones realizes that this is business and for him to win his first championship in the NFL, his team will have to go through Pagano’s Colts.
“There’s only one true champion, and they’re in our way to get this trophy,” Jones said.
Even though Pagano’s goal Sunday will be to end his former team’s season, he still has plenty of bonds with the franchise that helped lay the groundwork for his first NFL head coaching opportunity.
“It’s going to be special, I love all of those guys, we’ve got great relationships with so many people in [the Ravens organization],” Pagano said. “They were so good to my family, and me and I wouldn’t be sitting where I’m at today if John Harbaugh hadn’t given me the opportunity to join him when he first was hired as the head football coach there. To he and his family and the rest of those people there, they know exactly how my family and me feel about them.”
“Again, At the end of the day, we’ve got to prepare for a ballgame we’ve got to play so we’ll go about that and we’ll deal with whatever we’ve got to deal with leading up to kickoff, but then like [the Ravens] are doing, we’re doing the same thing.
“We’re getting ready to try to win a football game.”
Safe to say, it’ll be an emotional day for anyone inside of M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. It doesn’t matter if you’re a player or fan, or what team’s jersey you’re wearing.
This is the human element of football, and that makes an already exciting and important game that much more special.