He had already clutched the Lombardi Trophy about 10 hours after he held it for the first time. He had watched quarterback Joe Flacco receive a new car as the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII and he had done one more interview as a newly minted champion.
But before Baltimore 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 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 to Baltimore on Monday afternoon, and their stirring playoff run 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 pictures of them standing with the power couple and linebacker Ray Lewis, who played the last game of his 17-year career Sunday, got on stage with Blige to teach her his signature dance moves.
“I think everybody was just having an awesome time,” Flacco said. “I went and spent some time with the family and then we went to our postgame party. . . . 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.
On the two-hour-plus flight home, the Ravens passed around the Lombardi Trophy.
Harbaugh said that there was a point late Sunday night or early Monday morning when 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.
The final game could very well serve as a microcosm to the Ravens’ season.
They played a nearly 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 108 yards for a touchdown. But the rest of the way, they hung on for dear life, enduring a 34-minute stadium power outage, a couple of key injuries 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 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 in the game’s immediate aftermath was somewhat muted 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 in age 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 after he threw 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the playoffs.
Then the Ravens must address the status of veteran safety Ed Reed, who will be eligible for free agency, though both sides have expressed interested 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 more time to celebrate.
“One thing about winning the Super Bowl is that you do everything you want and you finally realize that everything was worth it,” running back Ray Rice said. “No team is going to be the same. . . . We’ll forever be champions because we won the Super Bowl.”