BALTIMORE — Of the 53 players on the Baltimore Ravens’ active roster, only four have been to a Super Bowl. One was there last year. James Ihedigbo was a starting safety for New England, and as the Ravens spent last week gearing up to meet the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, the memory of a 21-17 loss to the New York Giants was still fresh in his mind.
“You don’t ever want to be on the other end of it, the loser’s end,” he said. “Coming into this whole week, it’s preparation, it’s understanding the type of offense the 49ers run, the things they do on special teams, how they want to attack us, and how do we want to attack them. Once you get into all that, you really simplify the game plan down and the game down. Then you can start saying, ‘Okay, I’m ready to play.’ ”
While the number of Ravens with Super Bowl experience might seem small, San Francisco has just three players on the active roster who have been to the NFL’s grandest stage: wide receiver Randy Moss (the 2007 Patriots), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (2005 Pittsburgh Steelers) and place kicker David Akers (2004 Philadelphia Eagles).
The Ravens who have been to the Super Bowl haven’t been shy about sharing their memories. Cornerback Cary Williams said inside linebackers Ray Lewis and Brendon Ayanbadejo, wide receiver Anquan Boldin, quarterback Dennis Dixon (who is on the practice squad) and Ihedigbo have begun counseling the players on what to expect when they arrive in New Orleans.
“They’re always offering some type of information about it, and this is a great process,” Williams said. “They tell us to enjoy it, but you’ve got to keep it like it’s a normal week once you get down to New Orleans. We understand that. So you try to keep your routine as best as possible, as much as possible as it would be for a regular season game.”
A common theme has been the need to avoid the pitfalls that Super Bowl week has to offer. The lights and revelry of attractions such as the French Quarter and Bourbon Street can be a strong draw.
Stories of Atlanta Falcons free safety Eugene Robinson’s arrest for soliciting an undercover female police officer on the eve of Super Bowl XXXIII and Oakland Raiders center Barrett Robbins’s failure to show up for Super Bowl XXXVII are alarming reminders of the distractions associated with Super Bowl week.
Ayanbadejo said the veterans have reinforced that the trip to New Orleans is not simply an excuse to enjoy the nightlife.
“You can go to a Super Bowl any time you want, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in a Super Bowl,” said Ayanbadejo, who played with the 2006 Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. “We just told the guys that if you want to go to a Super Bowl, go in a year when the Ravens aren’t in it and you can enjoy all the festivities. But right now, we’ve got some work to do, and it’s all for naught unless we win on Feb. 3.”
Dixon, who was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers when they went to Super Bowl XLIII and XLV, said he’s not worried about teammates crossing the line.
“Coach [John Harbaugh] touched on it a little bit,” Dixon said. “Veterans like [Ayanbadejo] and Ray and Ed Reed, I’m sure they’ll keep us in line with the task at hand whenever we get down to New Orleans.”
Former Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware said the presence of players who have been to the Super Bowl can be beneficial, but he also speculated that today’s players understand the significance of the lead-up to the game.
“You know what you’re there for,” Boulware said. “You’ll have a good time and you’ll enjoy it, but you’re there for one reason and one reason alone. You’re there to win a world championship, and if you’re not focused at that time, if you’re not self-motivated by that time, no one is going to be able to get you there.
“And that’s the reason why these two teams are even in the Super Bowl. They have players on their teams that are self-motivated, and they know what it takes to get ready for a game. I look at this Ravens team, and they are a veteran team, and they’re going to be ready to play.”
Prior to the Ravens winning Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Jamal Lewis told himself that he hadn’t absorbed the punishment of being a running back just to lose his focus for the most important game of the season.
“So therefore, I have to do everything in my power to make sure that at the end of the day, I knew I was doing everything I could do,” Lewis said. “Just stay focused, stay focused. This is the dance, this is the stage that you want to play on.”
But Super Bowl week is not all about self-denial and discipline. Players will use video and take pictures to record memories for a lifetime, and media day on Tuesday is another opportunity for them to bask in the attention.
Ihedigbo said he hasn’t tried to tell teammates what they can or can’t do. Instead, he has encouraged them to simply enjoy the moment.
“I want the guys to be able to experience it on their own levels and have their own memories,” Ihedigbo said.
— Baltimore Sun