Ravens bask in celebratory glory before tough offseason begins
New Orleans - He had already clutched the Lombardi Trophy about 10 hours after he held it for the first time. He had watched his quarterback Joe Flacco receive a new car as the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player and he had done one more interview as a newly minted world champion.
But before Ravens coach John Harbaugh left New Orleans on Monday afternoon, he stopped in front of a group of reporters, grabbed his arm and then aggressively pulled at his cheeks.
"Is this real?" Harbaugh asked. "Is it a dream?"
Oh, it was real. Neither Harbaugh nor his players had slept enough to dream. Fresh off a thrilling 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Ravens basked in the glory of the franchise's second Super Bowl title.
"It was quite a night last night, and I'm just proud of our team, proud of our coaches and our players, happy for our families, and most of all, happy for the people in Baltimore," Harbaugh said. "We saw some amazing pictures in Baltimore of everybody partying. That's what makes it all great."
The Ravens returned home to Baltimore on Monday afternoon, and their stirring playoff run, culminating with a late fourth-quarter goal-line stand to hold off the 49ers, will be celebrated by their fans at a parade Tuesday that starts at City Hall. But the party will have started long before that.
Team owner Steve Bisciotti hosted a star-studded fete Sunday night in New Orleans that included a performance by singer Mary J. Blige and appearances by hip-hop icon Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce, the star of the halftime show. Several Ravens tweeted out pictures of them standing with the power couple and linebacker Ray Lewis, who played the last game of a 17-year career Sunday, and even got up on stage with Blige to teach her his patented dance moves.
"I think everybody was just having an awesome time," said Flacco, who completed one of the best postseasons ever for a quarterback by throwing three first-half touchdowns. "I went and spent some time with the family and then we went to our post-game party. I got to meet Jay-Z, I got to meet Beyoncé, and that was pretty cool. I don't think that would happen if we would've lost the game. Just laying in bed, I was exhausted and couldn't wait to put my head down on that pillow, and for some reason, when I was laying there I couldn't quite fall asleep and just kind of had my eyes open in disbelief a little bit."
That feeling extended well into Monday. As the Ravens boarded a flight and returned home for the two-plus hour trip, they passed the Lombardi Trophy around the flight. Harbaugh said that there was a point late Sunday night/early Monday morning where the Ravens thought they had lost the trophy, but if the way the players clutched it and posed for pictures with it was any indication, that won't be happening again.
"It means a lot. It means a lot to my family. It means a lot to this organization," said Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught six passes for 104 yards and a touchdown to complete a stellar postseason. "We've been through a lot as a team this year. From losing a ton of guys to injuries, having one of our brothers lose a family member, losing an offensive coordinator, yet through it all, we persevered. We kept believing and we always felt like this was our biggest destiny."
The final game could very well serve as a microcosm to the Ravens' season. They played a near flawless first half in building a 15-point lead, which eventually grew to 28-6 when Jacoby Jones returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a 108-yard touchdown. But the rest of the way, they hung on for dear life, enduring a 30-plus minute stadium power outage, a couple of key injuries (running back Bernard Pierce and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata) and a frantic 49ers comeback.
"I was running around spinning like a little kid playing in the rain. It was amazing. I've never been a part of anything like this," said Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, whose younger brother, Tevin, died in a motorcycle accident earlier in the season. "A lot of ups and downs, but that's life. We finished on the best note. We set up to do something great. We wanted to make it to the Super Bowl and become world champions and we did it. No one can take that away from us. This is history. That's special."
Harbaugh's celebration was muted somewhat out of respect for his brother Jim, the coach of the 49ers. With their parents watching the game from commissioner Roger Goodell's box, the two brothers, separated by 15 months, met in the middle of the field following the game and John told Jim that he loved him.
"The toughest moment of all was walking across the field," John Harbaugh said. "If you can imagine, you feel an incredible amount of elation with an incredible amount of devastation. Those two feelings went hand-in-hand in that moment. I'm still feeling it. That's just reality."
The reality also is that late Sunday night, the Ravens entered what promises to be a difficult offseason for the front office. Priority No. 1 will be trying to strike a contract extension with Flacco, who did wonders for his bargaining position following an 11-touchdown pass, no-interception postseason. Then the Ravens must address the status of veteran safety Ed Reed, who will be eligible for free agency, though both sides have expressed interest in his return.
With little salary cap flexibility and key contributors Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams all headed for free agency, the Ravens may have to rebuild their defense, which will no longer have Lewis to lean on.
All those things will undoubtedly dominate the organization's attention in the days ahead. But for now, the Ravens will take a little time to celebrate. They've earned it.
"One thing about winning the Super Bowl is that you do everything you want and you finally realize that everything was worth it," said running back Ray Rice.
"No team is going to be the same. After the season is over and after we do all our stuff, next year the locker room is going to be different. This is the only thing that's not going to separate us for life. We'll forever be champions because we won the Super Bowl."
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