It has been 214 days since the confetti, dressed in purple, black and gold, tumbled from the ceiling of the Superdome in New Orleans and upon the newly crowned champions – The Baltimore Ravens.
As fans we’ve basked in the glow that goes with the title.
Civic pride stands tall as does that highly coveted piece of hardware from Tiffany’s – The Lombardi, kissed by our coaches and our players, resting comfortably in a magnificent mahogany trophy case at team headquarters.
It represents history, enriches our legacy, strengthens our heritage and serves as proof that in 2012 our city’s team was the best in the National Football League.
But now, just days after the final ray of sun splashed into the horizon unofficially ending the season of summer a new NFL season is upon us. It’s now time to defend that title.
Defending isn’t easy.
Not since the 2003 New England Patriots has an NFL team retained its crown. Not since the 2004 New England Patriots has an NFL team even won a playoff game the following season while trying to defend.
But the 2013 Baltimore Ravens may be different.
Just a couple months removed from accepting their Super Bowl rings there is a quiet, uncommon fury bubbling beneath the surface for the reigning champs. Instead of a swagger that crosses the line into the dangerous territory of overconfidence, a mistake made by many previous champions, the Ravens swagger is an angry one that suggests that they have something to prove.
Odds makers list 12 teams with better chances to win Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands. The Bears, Bengals, Texans, Giants, Saints, Packers, Steelers, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks and Cowboys are all given better odds to be the next champion.
When is the last time that happened?
When is the last time a champion was picked to finish third in its own division the following season?
When is the last time that a champion was listed as an 8 ½ point underdog to open the following season?
When is the last time a champion was forced on to the road to begin their defense? (Ok let’s not go there).
These things feed the beast! They keep the Ravens focused and free of the distracting bravado typical of champions.
And these Ravens aren’t typical.
They chose not to rest on their laurels.
Pundits have mistaken the club’s proactive roster augmentation as a sign of weakness, as if showing up for work the next season with the same guys improves their chances for a repeat. Haven’t the last 8 defending champions shown us that’s not how it works?
Yet somehow that is held against John Harbaugh & Co.
Ozzie Newsome learned and vowed that they would not make the same mistake made back in 2001 when they last defended a title. They refused to sit back as fat cats, add a few other fat cats and expect to waltz into Met Life Stadium in February. Champion or no champion the plan was to get younger and faster while addressing areas of weakness.
Like any team in the league, particularly the AFC, some areas of weakness remain but the end result is a team that is better than the one that just received their Super Bowl bling.
Despite the bling a few players have a little something to prove in 2013. They plan to be better.
Terrell Suggs wants to be the new General and he’s playing for his contract. The stakes are high for Sizzle and if you want proof of his motivation, check out his physique. He’s in the best shape of his career.
Lardarius Webb, a ring recipient, wants another that he earns on the field, not as an injured teammate along the sidelines.
Ray Rice’s fire burns, fueled by critics who point to his postseason fumbles. His insignificant role in NFL Network’s America’s Game 2012 provides even more fuel.
Joe Flacco, despite his postseason accomplishments, among the game’s greatest of all time, continues to be labeled as a game manager and a quarterback carried by a defense.
Accomplished new starters like Daryl Smith and Elvis Dumervil who have never sipped from the cup of an NFL champ each possess a sense of urgency. They want theirs.
Younger players like Pernell McPhee, Arthur Jones, Jimmy Smith and Torrey Smith all have something to prove to the team and the league to help set their value for their second and most lucrative contracts of their respective careers.
And let’s not forget what’s at stake for some coaches.
Dean Pees for the first time gets to put his stamp on the Ravens defense. No longer is it Ray Lewis’ defense. No longer does he have to compensate for a slow “Mike” that won’t get off the field on third down or stand at the mercy of a freelancing safety who is just “being Ed”. Pees is now free to do what he probably wanted to do all along – use the talent available to him to get the most out of every situational down and distance.
Jim Caldwell has his stamp out too. His understanding of and willingness to work with Joe Flacco is perhaps the most understated element of the Ravens success in 2012. If he is successful in advancing Flacco’s career, taking him to that next level, Caldwell might also find himself at the next level – skippering another team’s sideline in 2014.
The subplots are many just like the changes. And ironically it’s those changes that work in the team’s favor, not to its detriment, as many in the national media would have you believe.
This is a team with something to prove.
This is a team that doesn’t panic.
This is a team that understands how to manage a season as evidenced by 2012.
And let’s not forget, this is a team that has been to the AFC Championship 3 times in the last 5 seasons.
Tonight the new journey begins.
Put me down for 4 of six!
149 days until Super Bowl XLVIII.