Ravens running back Ray Rice runs against the Browns during a game in Cleveland on Dec. 4, 2011.
Ravens running back Ray Rice runs against the Browns during a game in Cleveland on Dec. 4, 2011. (ap file photo , Carroll County Times)

Lots of NFL news before last week was three days old.

• Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following a road rage incident.

• Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch arrested for the third time since 2009, this time for driving drunk.

• Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant arrested for assault - of his mother - after she called 911 alleging that he hit her and ripped her clothes.

• Ravens running back Ray Rice signs a five-year, $40 million contract that seemingly assures that the young star will spend the prime of his career in Baltimore.

(Note for lawyers: Dumervil, Lynch and Bryant are, of course, all innocent until proven guilty. Rice is guilty only of getting rich, which, despite what politicians might have you believe, is not a crime.)

Dumervil, Lynch and Bryant just happened to be the mug shots of the moment. Last month, other high-profile, highly paid professional athletes were arrested. Next month, more will be.

Chances are, Rice won't be.

Besides being the team's best offensive player, he's never been arrested, never been associated with scandal. He's been underpaid from his first day with the Ravens, yet he took the high road with his contract. He's active in the community, highly interactive with fans and he always looks like he's enjoying himself.

He's the kind of pro athlete you don't mind your children looking up to.

Now, I've never really believed athletes' questionable behavior has too much of an effect on kids, who grow more cynical and savvy every generation.

My favorite running back when I was kid was O.J. Simpson. Had No. 32 pajamas and everything. And I didn't turn into a murderer. Or a bad actor.

Maybe that's a lousy example because The Juice didn't go bad until after his playing days, but there were plenty of poor character guys in pro sports in the 1970s and I never noticed my friends being too influenced.

Kids should admire athletes for what they do on the field - and the hard work they put in to be able to play - not what happens off it.

Still, as a parent who recognizes how important (and pervasive) we've made pro sports, the best possible scenario is for kids to gravitate toward good players who also happen to be good guys.

So I feel pretty happy Rice is my oldest daughter's first sports hero.

(OK, she picked him because he wears No. 27, her favorite number, but she got hooked by his ever-present smile and his joyous end-zone celebrations.)

Rice has been the Ravens' most dynamic offensive weapon since the day he was drafted in 2008, and he's evolved into one of the top playmakers in the NFL. His 2011 numbers were off the charts: 1,364 rushing yards, 78 receptions for 702 yards, 15 touchdowns.

Nobody in the league had more yards from scrimmage, and he has helped the Ravens make the playoffs every season he's been with them.

But the 25-year-old Rice is worth even more than that to the Ravens, who, like pretty much every NFL team, have had their share of players with off-field issues.

He's turning into the face of the franchise and it's a face that will appear on posters and in commercials, not on "Most Wanted" bulletins.

You can take canned quotes for what they're worth, but it seemed telling that Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said nothing about Rice's speed or power or catching ability in the team's press release announcing Rice's signing, but did point out Rice's community efforts.

"I think they are almost unmatched by any player in the NFL," Newsome was quoted as saying. "You'd have a hard time finding a player who does more or is as serious about helping others as Ray is. He is one of those players you can proudly say, 'He's on our team.'"

And now he'll be on their team for a long time.

That makes the diehards happy. They'll be able to cheer on the player who converts all those first downs, scores all of those touchdowns, and often puts the offense on his back.

It also makes parents happy. They won't have to explain to their kids what the phrase "suspended for four games" means. At least about their favorite player.