Winning a championship in any sport on any level isn’t easy. It’s the byproduct of hard work, preparation, determination, perseverance and talent.
And in the NFL it’s also about being at the right place at the right time.
In 2012 it could be argued that the Baltimore Ravens weren’t the league’s most talented team. Many have said that the 2011 squad was better than the most recent Super Bowl Champions.
But last year’s team, like many champions before them, caught fire at just the right time and rode the wave all the way to the title.
The celebrations have come and gone and now with training camp just days away it’s time to defend that title. And this time they’ll do it with many new faces.
The Ravens front office decided not to rest on the laurels of champions. Instead they dismantled a Super Bowl winning defense hell bent on fielding a younger and faster team in 2013.
It was a bold move and they wasted little time executing their plan. Fans didn’t even have time to bask in the glow of glory before Ozzie Newsome & Co. began to cut the flesh of a roster of champions with surgical precision.
Perhaps they were alarmed by how slow the defense had become.
Perhaps they wanted to get back to being a dominant defense.
Perhaps the number of complacent champions before them who failed to defend their titles alarmed them.
Maybe it was all of the above.
Not since the 2004 New England Patriots who followed up their title in the 2005 season with a 10-6 record, advancing through the Wild Card Game and falling to the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round, has a Super Bowl Champion won a playoff game the following season.
Three times, the defending champ never even made it to the playoffs (Pittsburgh 2006, 2009 and NY Giants 2012) the following season.
That could be the Ravens this season – time will tell.
But if that happens, no one can say the Ravens have rested on their laurels.
Besides the many new faces, youthfulness and newly found speed the Ravens may STILL be playing with a chip on their collective shoulder. Some may want to establish themselves in the post-Ray Lewis, post-Ed Reed era. Others may feel like they have something to prove.
Recently acquired free agents Daryl Smith, Marcus Spears and Elvis Dumervil have a combined 24 seasons of experience, yet only 3 playoff victories in total among them. Ray Rice despite his excellence during the season has struggled in the post season with fumbling. They all may take on the season with vigor and determination and feeling like they have something to prove.
Lardarius Webb, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata all had down years in 2012, saddled with various injuries. Each of these outstanding players wants to contribute more to a championship, likely feeling in some small quiet way that the team won despite their 2012 shortcomings.
Early reports suggest each is more physically prepared for the season ahead and in the cases of Suggs and Ngata, both will clearly enter the season in vastly better shape than they did in 2012.
Will any of this make a difference and allow the Ravens to do something that no defending champion has done in the last 7 seasons – win a playoff game?
On Thursday the story of the 2013 season begins.
Embrace the grind.