BALTIMORE — Running back Ray Rice was cheered by fans at M&T Bank Stadium at the Baltimore Ravens’ opening preseason game here Thursday night, a victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
The Ravens and their fans have been highly supportive of Rice throughout the controversy resulting from the two-game suspension imposed on him by the NFL for a domestic incident earlier this year involving the woman who is now his wife. Many observers have criticized the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling the punishment too lenient and saying it sends the wrong message about the sport’s attitude toward domestic violence.
Rice, who received an ovation when he and other members of the starting offense were introduced to the crowd before the game, said he appreciated the reception that he received.
“It means the world to me,” Rice said in the Ravens’ locker room after the game. “You know what, everything that I’ve been through, I don’t take anything for granted any more, especially going out there and playing in front of our fans.”
Rice and the other members of the Ravens’ starting offense had a brief but productive appearance as the Ravens beat the 49ers, 23-3. Rice ran for 17 yards on three carries as the Baltimore starters drove to a touchdown on their opening offensive series. Rice, quarterback Joe Flacco and almost all of the Ravens’ other offensive starters then were given the rest of the night off.
Rice remains eligible for training camp and the preseason but will be suspended without pay for the first two games of the regular season. He also was fined an additional game check based on last season’s salary. The league’s punishment will cost Rice a little more than $529,000. He pleaded not guilty to a third-degree aggravated assault charge and avoided trial when he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program following the incident in Atlantic City in February with Janay Palmer, then his fiancée. The two later married.
“Just playing the game in general — it’s the preseason but you know what, when you’re out there it’s [like] a regular season game,” Rice said. “And that’s how I approached this preseason because I know what’s coming [going] forward. Every game I go out there, I’ll give it my best so that my teammates know. That’s the respect I’m talking about, is going out there and showing them guys … what you’re gonna get when I’m able to come back.
“That’s my job. That’s my job across the way, and it’s a lot of respect that I have to go out there and earn because of the position I put myself in. Going out there and playing football is something I’ve done my whole life. Coach [John] Harbaugh said it to me: It’s my safe haven. And just to go out there and prove it again really felt good.”
Rice has slimmed down since last season, when he averaged only 3.1 yards per carry.
“I do feel different,” he said. “I guess it’s safe to say I feel like back when I was a rookie. That’s the weight I’m going to continue to try to play at. It’s been good because obviously what I went through last year and added a little bit of extra weight, you can’t make the cuts and stuff like you want to do. Training this offseason and focusing on the stuff that I needed to focus on — diet, exercise, all the stuff that I needed to do — I finally got down to a weight that I’m comfortable at. And I’ve gone out there and executed.”