I recently had the opportunity to interview Ravens linebacker Dannell (“Nell”) Ellerbe about his upcoming trip to the Super Bowl.
In the 2012 regular season Ellerbe finished second on the team in total tackles (89) third in sacks (4.5) and had a key interception against Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game.
I asked Nell what was going through his mind as Brady dropped back to pass and defensive end Pernell McPhee tipped the pass up in the air.
“Aww man, I was thinking this ball was taking forever to get to me and thinking someone was going to knock me over and take it away from me,” said Ellerbe. “It just felt like I was in a movie. It went up in the air like it was a punt or a field goal try and the game was kinda close and I just felt like it was my play to be made. I said all week when it is time to make plays we got to make them and it was my first pick all season. Some people were saying I couldn’t catch with the club on my hand and I wanted to prove them wrong.”
Dannell grew up in North Carolina and like every kid who played football had a dream of one day playing in the Super Bowl.
“Just being in the backyard playing pick up football. I was the youngest out there with the other kids. It built up the toughness in me. It is just crazy because now I am out here playing with the big dogs and to get to the Super Bowl is just a pleasure. I know there are guys that have been in the league and never even made it to a playoff game and I am in my fourth year and I am going to a Super Bowl. I am thrilled.”
Ellerbe played his college ball at the University of Georgia and was signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2009. Faced with the undrafted status Dannell continued to prove he belonged in the league and remains focused.
So what keeps Ellerbe coming back for more?
“This is what I want out of life. I want to be able to help people,” Ellerbe stated. “Right now I am in the part of my life and this is what I want to do and nothing is going to keep me from doing it. I am going to train as hard as I can and I am going to do whatever I can to make plays.”
With all the media and the hype that goes into playing in a Super Bowl and being on a national stage, one would think it could become a huge distraction for the players. But not for Nell, as he explained.
“We know we are there to play a game and the media is just one day,” he said. “We still have to go back to the hotel and get to work. I know whatever it is I will be doing it and nothing will keep me from watching my film. I am going to get with Ray (Lewis) in our free time and watch film and do whatever it takes to get this ring.”
One of the hardest logistical problems for the players is making sure their family and friends are able to be there for the big game.
“I used up all my tickets. It might be the worst part trying to find your family rooms and ways down there. It can be a real headache. A headache none the less but well worth it for sure.”
Many times players don’t really have time to focus on the winning or losing of games before it is on to the next one. With a trip looming to New Orleans to face the San Francisco 49ers I was curious if Dannell took a moment to reflect once he got home from New England, far away from the fans, media and teammates.
“I didn’t,” Ellerbe stated firmly. “I am not satisfied with getting to the Super Bowl. I will be satisfied when I win the Super Bowl.”
I have watched Nell grow from college to pro and become such a huge part of the Ravens defense. It will truly be an honor to witness him take the field on Super Bowl Sunday.