OWINGS MILLS — Cory Redding never won a championship before, not in high school growing up in Houston, not playing for the Texas Longhorns in college and definitely not in the NFL.
Having experienced the abject gloom of a winless season with the Detroit Lions three years ago, the Baltimore Ravens’ veteran defensive end is cherishing this time as the AFC North champions are hoping to advance to the Super Bowl.
Heading into Sunday’s AFC divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium against the AFC South champion Houston Texans, this marks only the second year Redding has ever been in the playoffs since entering the league nine years ago.
“Having the chance to continue to fight for what you have always been dreaming of when you were a little kid, hoisting up that trophy, it’s a privilege and an honor,” Redding said Monday. “Telling everyone to just take every day, soak everything in and don’t take this thing for granted because we don’t know when the next time we’re going to be here. It’s a tough league, go out there and do what you got to do so we can win. Nobody is talking about retirement.
“Regardless if you have 16 years in the league or you’re in your first year in the league, it’s a sense of urgency because you never know when you’re going to have the opportunity to be in this position again. That’s the biggest thing we emphasize to everybody in the locker room: seize every moment, control the opportunity you are in. Never take this for granted because we have guys like myself who have been in the league nine years and only tasted the playoffs twice.”
Redding isn’t alone as a veteran player intent on making this chance count.
The Ravens have several older players who have more football behind them than ahead of them.
That includes middle linebacker Ray Lewis, 36, free safety Ed Reed, 33, and center Matt Birk, 35.
Birk contemplated retirement prior to this season, but was talked into playing one more year.
Now, Birk’s back in the postseason again.
“As you get a little bit older and you go through a lot more, you certainly don’t take it for granted,” Birk said. “I think one of the great things about football is the delayed gratification. You really work an entire year to reach that goal, to get to the Super Bowl.
“Two out of my first three years in the league I went to the NFC championship game. At that time, I probably didn’t know what it meant or just how precious is was, and I haven’t been back since. So, we have this opportunity in front of us to be in the playoffs and be in the second round now. As you get closer to the end, it just becomes that much more precious.”
The Ravens were dispatched from the postseason each of the past two seasons in the divisional round, falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers last year and the Indianapolis Colts two years ago.
During coach John Harbaugh’s first season in Baltimore, the Ravens made it to the AFC title game only to lose to the Steelers.
So, there’s a determination in this football team.
“After nine years, I still don’t have a ring? What am I doing this for?” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said recently. “I’m tired of falling short. I don’t want to be one of the guys who has an amazing career, but no championships to show for it. A championship solidifies your whole career being an NFL player.
“These times are really kind of priceless. You’re in the playoffs. It’s flattering to have this stage when you’re worked so hard all year and we kind of achieved it. I’m just going to enjoy it, enjoy the ride.”
Redding couldn’t help but get caught up in the exuberance of the moment when Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow delivered the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in overtime to knock the Steelers out of the playoffs in the first round.
"By the time the overtime hit and that big pass came out and he was going down the field, I’m not going to lie, I did jump off my couch," Redding said. "It was kind of exciting, one, just see that team overcome what they had to overcome and, two, those guys did what they had to do to win. Cincinnati is out, Pittsburgh is out, and a few other teams lost, Atlanta lost this weekend.
"So, it’s been a tough deal and letting us know that we just have to go out there and let everything hang out. You can’t go out there and play cautious. Just go get it, man. Go get it."
The Ravens already defeated the Texans once, beating them, 29-14, earlier this season as they contained Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster.
The Texans were playing without star wide receiver Andre Johnson in the game and have lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub for the season due to a foot injury.
They’re now down to rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, who began the season as the third-string passer.
It starts with shutting down Foster.
"That’s the objective: first and foremost is to stop the run," Redding said. "You can’t let him get going. And number two, get guys, get eyes on No. 80 (Johnson), and guys on the back end really control not letting the ball over our heads. And No. 3, get after Yates, period.
"You have to stop the run, control the pass and get after the passer. That’s the formula for winning every single week and that’s been our formula from week one and up to week one, and it hasn’t changed."
Lewis is the lone player remaining from the Ravens’ only Super Bowl championship squad from the 2000 season.
“Don’t waste time,” Lewis said. “We have the team to do it now. We don’t have too many more excuses. Let’s go do it right now.”
The Ravens have grown tired of not accomplishing their goals.
“You don’t want to be the team that just has an 18-game season every year,” outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “You don’t want to be the team that’s just satisfied with making the playoffs and then goes home early.
“We understand that you don’t get this opportunity many times. You look at a guy like Dan Marino, Hall of Famer, he went one time. Every year, you can’t take for granted the fact that you are in the playoffs. You have to take advantage of that because you don’t know if you are ever going to make it again.”
Seeded second overall, the Ravens (12-4) haven’t had a home playoff game since their 15-6 divisional round loss to the Colts five years ago.
A raucous atmosphere figures to greet the Texans on Sunday.
"The ‘Bank’ is going to be rocking," Redding said. "Everybody out there is going to be screaming loud. It’s going to be crazy. [Yates] is going to have a hard time trying to make his checks. He is going to have hard times really trying to let the guys know when a blitz is coming because it is going to be noisy, and we want that.
"The defense really feeds on that energy, but for a young quarterback coming into a hostile environment and really having troubles with communicating, it’s going to play into our hands. We are just going to sit back and let the crowd do their thing and do our job."
Relatively healthy again, undefeated in eight home games and the only NFL team to win at least one playoff game in each of the past three seasons, the Ravens are confident about their outlook.
After recalling lost chances in the past, including a state title that eluded him and backup center Andre Gurode back in high school, Redding concluded: “This is a good shot.”