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Sunday is second homecoming for ex-Raven Heap

The words came straight from Todd Heap's heart. In a half-page ad in Friday's Baltimore Sun, the Ravens' former two-time Pro Bowl tight end thanked the city of Baltimore, its fans and the club for their "incredible support over the years."

Heap, who over a 10-year career became the Ravens' No. 2 receiver all-time, acknowledged in the ad that it was not his decision to leave. The club cut him abruptly in July, in a cost-saving measure, a move that surprised both Heap and Ravens' followers.

The 31-year-old tight end signed with the Arizona Cardinals and, with them, will return to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday to play the Ravens. Landing in Arizona represents a homecoming for Heap, who grew up in Mesa, about 20 miles from the Cardinals' home in Phoenix. He starred at Arizona State before being drafted in the first round by the Ravens in 2001.

Heap has struggled with injuries this season, the first of his two-year, $6 million contract. He had caught 13 passes for 150 yards before missing the past two games with bad hamstrings that also hindered him last year. He is listed as questionable for Sunday.

"It's been tough, not having him out there," Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "He's been busting his hump to try and get back [for the Ravens' game]."

"I'm taking it day to day right now," Heap told The Arizona Republic this week. "This is one of the games I looked at and was definitely excited about.

"I'm hoping I'll be ready."

Attempts to interview Heap and his family were unsuccessful.

Former teammates remember fondly the 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end who caught 467 passes for almost 5,500 yards and a club-record 41 touchdowns. How many times did he sky for the ball, oblivious to the crunch that was coming? Heap, a Mormon, never swore, smoked or drank. And he never heard footsteps.

"The love is always going to be there, off the field," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Of course, once you put on a different-colored jersey, here we go again.

"If the ball comes his way, and it just happens I'm there, I might tap him on his shoulder a little bit."

Heap helped shape players like Joe Flacco, making acrobatic catches of some errant passes by the Ravens quarterback. The pair connected 10 times in last season's 30-7 playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Anytime you have veteran guys around that you can get along with, and they trust you out there on the field, it makes things easier for a young quarterback. And Todd was one of those guys," Flacco said. "He was a veteran guy who's been around, played a lot of good football in his career and was able to have trust in me when he was out there."

In his ad in The Sun, Heap confessed that the Ravens players "have been like family to me" and that he was "proud to have stepped onto the field with each of you."

Pardon John Harbaugh for looking past that.

"I will be happy to see Todd," the Ravens coach said. "But, really, Sunday, to be honest with you, he is going to be a Cardinal.

"That's how I am looking at it, and that's how our team is looking at it."

Heap's legacy in Baltimore reaches beyond the field. A team leader in community service, he helped raise $1 million for a new pediatric wing at Franklin Square Hospital Center that bears his name.

On Friday, he paid homage to Ravens fans who chanted, "Heeeeeeeap!" with every catch.

"I am so blessed to do what I do for a living," he wrote in The Sun. "And I know that this great game is what it is, because we have you supporting us."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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