By Samuel Njoku
Later today, the Baltimore Ravens will face off against the New England Patriots in what is sure to be another great match-up between two teams vying for a trip to the Super Bowl. Championship Sunday has always been considered to be better than the Super Bowl in many analysts’ minds. It’s the proverbial hump that all teams must go through in order to reach the big stage. Some people claim it’s the first step in a man’s journey that is always the hardest. But in sports, football especially, it’s often the last step that proves to be the most difficult.
Tonight, Baltimore will stare directly in the face of their biggest hurdle. Knowing that on the other side of that hurdle rests an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl is a bit overwhelming for many to comprehend. But for the 3rd time in 5 years, the Ravens will head into hostile territory with this knowledge on the back of their minds. This time, they’ll return to the scene of the crime. Millions of fans watched as New England stole victory from the Baltimore Ravens.
It’s been 363 days since Lee Evans dropped the game winning touchdown. Nearly a year since Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal with seconds left on the clock. I’ve heard from dozens of people who haven’t forgiven those players to this day. But a lot of that hatred was fueled by the notion that Baltimore wouldn’t get another opportunity. Many believed that game was Baltimore’s last shot at immortality. But they were wrong. Ray Lewis believed that their loss to New England was only the beginning of something special.
“This year, we did what we were supposed to do, we fought as a team,” Lewis told his team last year. “There will be one Super Bowl champ crowned at the end of this year, that’s it. So the way we feel — somebody gonna feel like that tomorrow, and somebody gonna feel like that in a week. That’s a fact. And the fact is, we gotta come back and go to work to make sure we finish it next time. That’s all we gotta do.”
The speech given that day was the spark. It sparked a will to win — a will to be better than just second best. And the flame from that speech would burn throughout the entire 2012 season. Even in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. Prior to the start of the NFL season, Baltimore mourned the loss of former Ravens owner Art Modell. To this day, the Ravens’ players wear a patch with his name on it. They dedicate this season in his honor. A few weeks later, Torrey Smith lost his brother in a motorcycle accident. In spite of that, Torrey played the very next night against the Patriots. The same team they’ll be playing tonight.
This team oozes with confidence because they’ve been through more than just the ups and downs of football. They’ve experience both the blessings and tragedies of life. These men have sweat, bled, and cried together. An unwavering bond the likes of which I’ve never seen in a locker room. Harbaugh has instilled a family like atmosphere in this organization.
Sunday won’t be about Joe Flacco against Tom Brady. It won’t be about Ray Lewis’ last season as a professional athlete. It won’t be about getting revenge on the team that knocked you out of the postseason. It’ll be about them coming together as a team to achieve a dream. The same dream that they came so close to obtaining 363 days ago. Win or lose, Baltimore will give it their all in hopes of reaching the Super Bowl. In Foxborough, Baltimore will look to finish what they started. It’s the Ravens against the Patriots folks. What a difference a year makes.
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Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. He can be reached for comments at SamuelN870@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.