Wearing a dark suit and a purple striped tie, an outfit that he said his wife picked out, Ravens coach John Harbaugh met the media for the first time here and set the tone for his team ahead of Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
His message was simple: the Ravens will enjoy all that comes with playing in the Super Bowl but they will be ready to play Sunday.
Harbaugh joked with reporters, playfully encouraging them to ask repetitive questions to his younger brother, Jim, the head coach of the 49ers. He thanked team officials and fans who turned out in droves on a cold and wet day in Baltimore to send the team off. He then promised that his Ravens would be business-like and focused as they try to win their second Super Bowl in franchise history.
"I think we embrace the things that are a little bit different about it because we're at the Super Bowl," Harbaugh said. "It's got to be a little bit different. Let's put that where it belongs, make the most of it, and let's make the most of our preparation. We're going to get our full meeting times. We're going to get our full practice times. We'll be ready to go on Sunday."
Speaking at a news conference held at the downtown Hilton, the team's headquarters this week, Harbaugh's players made similar statements, minimizing their accomplishment in getting to the organization's first Super Bowl since the 2000 season and saying that they still have work to do.
"The bottom line is we're down here for a job," said quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens' offensive star of the playoffs with eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three games. "I think it will feel a lot better once the week is over and we can look back on hopefully what we've done and feel good about it. All those other years were kind of in the past. You forget about them and they are what they are, you went as far as you can go. To realize that we finally achieved our goal of being AFC Champions it feels really good and we can taste it so we need to go out there and finish the business."
Only four current Ravens have played in a Super Bowl — wide receiver Anquan Boldin, linebackers Ray Lewis and Brendon Ayanbadejo and safety James Ihedigbo — and Lewis is the only one who has held the Lombardi Trophy. Lewis, who will play his last game of a 17-year career Sunday, remembers the days leading up to the Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV victory against the New York Giants in Tampa, Fla.
Back then, he said he was hanging on every word from veterans Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson. As the Ravens prepared to leave for New Orleans, it was Lewis who was dispensing the advice, fielding questions from various teammates about what to expect when they arrived.
"I think you just have to be real honest with them and just lay it out, like, 'What are we really here for?,'" Lewis said. "The bottom line is we're here to win a game. There are only two teams left right now. For us to be where we are right now, we have to finish what we started the whole year. That's one thing about when we came in 2000. There were so many guys that were so dialed in and so focused. It's the same thing I'm trying to spread to this team. What is our focus? Why are we really here in New Orleans? I know there are a lot of things going on. I know there are a lot of things that we could be doing outside but the bottom line is, we're here for a business trip."
Asked about the team's emotions as they walked off the plane just after 4 p.m. central time, Lewis said. "All week I've heard guys talking like, 'Man, I can't believe we're here. We made it, we made it.' Today, I think it actually confirmed for a lot of people that it's really real. There's no next week. Whoever wins this game will feel that confetti drop. It's one of the most ultimate feelings I've ever felt in my life and I would love to really experience that with these guys."
Lewis fielded questions on everything from his off-the-field issues earlier in his career to his relationship with long-time teammate Ed Reed to the recent parity of him done on Saturday Night Live. He seemed relaxed and focused, intent on enjoying the build-up to the final game of his career but also determined to exit a winner.
"I was 25 when I won my first Super Bowl," he said. "To be 37 and back here and have a chance to win another one in my last year, there's no greater hunger that I have. I told my teammates this, I'm going to give my teammates everything I have and not just on Sunday. Starting today, I'm going nowhere. I'm sitting in my room and I'm studying and studying and studying. I owe them something as a leader and that is to have myself totally prepared. My hunger is probably off the charts right now."
Lewis talked about how much it would mean to win not just for him, but for long-time teammates like Reed, fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs, running back Ray Rice and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Rice, who remembers watching the Ravens win their only Super Bowl, has said throughout the playoff run that the team owes it to Lewis to send him out the right way.
"Honestly, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity," Rice said. "My first time down at the Super Bowl was my second year in the league. I was down in Miami, and I actually had to do media day. I know this is not media day, but still I get to enjoy all the festivities and at the end of the day, we have to go play a game. I'm going to soak up every moment because this is something that some people only get to do once or twice. Some people get lucky, but not many people get to do this at all, so I'm just blessed to be where I'm at today."
Rice called the Ravens a "team of destiny" after their 38-35 victory in double overtime over the Denver Broncos in the divisional round. More than two weeks later, they arrived in New Orleans as a loose and confident team that is prepared to enjoy the experience but has promised to be ready to play Sunday evening. That's just how Harbaugh wants it.
"I can't say we are a team of destiny until we get it done," said Suggs. "I guess we will only accept that moniker come Feb. 4 and we have taken care of business."
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