-- Baltimore Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary said today that he will search for "one more miracle" to rejuvenate his knee, but admitted his NFL career may be over after 10 years.
"The door's not shut yet," he said with a small smile, "but it's closing."
McCrary, who starred at Marshall High School in Falls Church, has showed almost legendary passion for football -- and was among the most durable players until his knee problems eventually became unbearable. He underwent season-ending surgery in mid-November last year, stopping a streak of 73 straight games. He was able to play in just five games this season, starting two, and the Ravens waited until this week to put him on injured reserve in deference to his stature on the team.
Coach Brian Billick called McCrary, 32, a "warrior" and added that memories of his play, most especially during the run of 11 straight victories two years ago that ended with victory in Super Bowl XXXV, will long remain vivid.
Particularly on tape. For quite some time around the league, Ravens linebackers coach Mike Smith said, coaches have grabbed a tape of McCrary whenever they need to remind young players "this is how you play hard."
"Every single play, he was going 100 miles to get the football," Smith said. "He'd dig a hole and crawl out the other end to get a sack."
That was McCrary's specialty, chasing quarterbacks. It's why the Ravens made him one of their first expensive free agent acquisitions in April 1997, after he tied Buffalo's Bruce Smith for the AFC sack lead with 131/2 with the Seattle Seahawks.
As a Raven, McCrary was voted to two Pro Bowls and was first alternate on two others while earning 51 sacks. That was a Ravens record until outside linebacker Peter Boulware slipped past him this season.
McCrary has avoided reporters for several weeks because the first question would be about retirement. He was among the first players in the clubhouse during media availability today and sat near his locker and patiently faced in public what he has in private.
"When you can't go out there and perform to the level you know you can, that's really frustrating," he said. "But there comes a time for everyone. I won't make a decision [about retirement] until after the season. I'll get a couple more opinions, look for that one miracle.
"Long term is what hit me the hardest. I'll probably have to deal with problems in the future. That kind of hits home."
McCrary will remain with the team and be prominent on the sideline during games, as he has been during his inactivity this season. Billick called him "the highest-paid defensive line coach in the league."
Even knowing the potential seriousness of his injury, the Ravens re-signed McCrary rather than include him in the purge of more than a dozen prominent players during the offseason. They wanted leadership in each phase of the defense, McCrary on the line, Ray Lewis and Boulware at linebacker and Chris McAlister in the secondary.
On the sideline, McCrary often can be seen in animated discussion with younger linemen such as Adalius Thomas, yelling, "Show your potential!"
"They know what I'm talking about, that I've done it," McCrary said. "It brings me a lot of joy to watch 'em perform well, especially things I've taught 'em, see them realize, 'Hey, that really does work.' "
McCrary long has been active in the Baltimore community, and will remain so. He created "Mac's Miracle Fund," a charitable foundation committed to reach urban and at-risk youths, and its initial contribution was a $100,000 grant to Special Olympics of Maryland.
"My passion for the game still burns inside," he said. "That's the hard thing to give up, the hardest thing of all. . . . I left everything on the field. I don't know how many players can say that. I can put my hand on the Bible and say that on every snap I gave 100 percent. I feel good about that. What more could I have done?"
Ravens Note: Rookie wide receiver Javin Hunter has been suspended for the final four games of the season, starting with Sunday's home game against the New Orleans Saints, for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, a team source said. Hunter, a sixth-round draft choice from Notre Dame who started the last two games, was tested for the banned dietary supplement ephedrine at the start of training camp and the Ravens were upset that the decision did not come until today.