Savor the moments with these Ravens
Whether the Ravens cruise through Super Sunday and hoist the second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history or come to a halt at Gillette Stadium in Sunday's AFC title game, their fans need to realize something very important.
Nothing lasts forever.
They need to enjoy each and every moment that remains of this season because there's a real chance that some of the people who have become emblematic of Ravens football have reached that point in their careers when every season ends with a question mark and the siren call of a new life outside The Castle becomes harder and harder to resist.
So far, no one has broached the "R" word and no one is going to be pushed out the door because of any inability to contribute to another playoff run, but slam-dunk Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have been fielding retirement questions almost daily during this postseason, and not once has either one said unequivocally that he will be back next season. The same goes for center Matt Birk, who weighed the possibility a year ago and almost certainly will again.
There has even been speculation that general manager Ozzie Newsome might be close to turning the football operation over to top lieutenant Eric DeCosta, though it's hard to imagine him exploring some new horizon before he gets this team back to the promised land.
It's certainly possible that everybody comes back, especially if the Ravens fall short of the trophy ceremony, but you have to wonder when even the outspoken Reed retreats into coach-speak at any attempt to pin him down on the subject.
"We'll cross that bridge when the window closes," he said. "We'll cross that bridge when that happens. Right now, we're focused on playing football and winning this game. That's what it's about at the end of the day. It's about us going out and trying to win this game to the best of our ability, and that's what we're going out there to do."
There has been retirement speculation swirling around Reed for the past two years. He missed a big chunk of the 2010 regular season because of a serious neck injury that cast his football future in doubt. This season, he has started all 17 games, but he has been playing the past few weeks with a painful shoulder injury and got up slowly on two occasions in last Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.
This also has been a painful season for Lewis, who missed four games with a toe injury, and he also has played it coy about his future plans. When asked recently whether a second Super Bowl title might be a nice way to go out, he flashed a big smile and speculated that it might just cause him to "get greedy" for another championship.
"I don't have time to think about when it's time to do this or when it's time to do that," he said after last week's victory. "When it's over, it's over. Everybody here has to appreciate that great warriors fight until the end. Those are the stories that you'll always remember. You don't remember the stories of people going back two or three years, you remember the stories of people that carried (on) and carried (on). For me to be in my 16th year, and back in the AFC championship game, I don't just credit myself, I credit my mom and I credit God for everything. I never stop that. I joke about it with my kids, but I can't stop working until whenever is whenever, and I don't know when that is going to be."
If you want odds on who stays and who goes home, the most likely to retire would appear to be Birk, who has played through a lot of pain to get to this point. He has become a fan favorite in a relatively short time (three seasons in Baltimore), but he has to consider the toll that a 15th season might take on a body that has endured a lot of punishment.
"I don't think it's unique for someone in my situation to contemplate it, but I'm just focused on the moment, on the now," Birk said last week. "I've done it for a while, and nothing is guaranteed in this game. You don't know when your last play is going to be or your last game, and things happen. … Life happens. I just worry about the now, and after the season there will be plenty of time to figure out what I'm going to do next year."
Reed also figures to do some serious soul-searching, though there is little question he still can play at an elite level. He's a thoughtful guy, so he'll again weigh whether he wants to get out of the league before he starts having trouble getting out of bed. It wouldn't surprise anybody if he chose to get on with his private life.
Frankly, it's hard to imagine Lewis doing anything but playing linebacker for the Ravens, though he'll have plenty of offers when he eventually takes off his helmet for good. He has been so upbeat over the past few weeks that he seems to be projecting a strong likelihood that he'll be back, which would meet with even stronger approval from the Ravens and their fans.
Maybe nothing will change.
Maybe everything will.
First things first.