After setting the team record for victories in a season and earning the highest playoff seed in their 11-year existence, the Ravens realize there is an achievement that would resonate more powerfully than the other milestones:
A victory over the Colts.
Heading into today's AFC divisional playoff game at M&T; Bank Stadium, the second-seeded Ravens (13-3) have become educated this week on the importance of beating the third-seeded Indianapolis Colts (13-4), who will play their first playoff game in Baltimore since relocating to the Midwest in 1984.
From reading the newspapers to listening to the radio to hearing from the fans themselves, the players understand there's more at stake than a trip to the AFC championship game. This has become the city's Super Bowl.
"If it's important to our fans, it's important to us," linebacker Bart Scott said. "This was the game that they were calling for. They were calling for us to play the Colts because they're still bitter, and they're still sore in their bellies. For me and the Ravens, representing the city of Baltimore, we want to oblige them."
Many of the Ravens said at the beginning of the week that they barely knew that the Colts once played in Baltimore and didn't know the significance of the game because they were too young. The Ravens' average age is 26.6, and the Colts moved from Baltimore 23 years ago.
But in case the players didn't already know how much this game means to the fans, they received another reminder from Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley after Thursday's practice.
"Our city was never lower than we were the day the Colts left town," O'Malley told the team. "And our city was never more pumped up and proud of herself than the day you guys won that Super Bowl. We're counting on you. Go win."
Ravens coach Brian Billick said it would be nearly impossible for the players not to know how significant this game is for their fan base.
"You can't live in this city [and not] really grasp the depth of emotion that it elicits," Billick said. "These guys, if they don't know it -- they can't not know it, just going to the market, picking up the cleaning. It's very real and very tangible."
Wide receiver Derrick Mason, who is in his second season with the Ravens, said he realized the level of disdain for the Colts during his radio show this week.
"A lot of people are upset and a lot of people want us to win for more than an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl," Mason said. "They hate the Indianapolis Colts for the way that things went down. ... That gives you an extra incentive to go out there and play hard, not just for the other 52 guys, but for the fans as well."
Other players say their focus can't be on gaining revenge for the fans because that would take away from their ultimate goal of advancing in the playoffs.
In their first postseason appearance since 2003, the Ravens are looking to move on to the AFC championship game, where they would play the winner of tomorrow's game between the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers.
"We appreciate that part of our history, but we are in the process of writing our own," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I think we're more focused on the big picture -- getting another [Super Bowl] for the city."
Ravens players all agree that the heightened passion of the fans will have an impact on the game. The Colts, however, continually downplay the impact of what could be the rowdiest crowd they've faced all season.
"We have to worry about Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis, Steve McNair and Matt Stover," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. "Those are the guys we have to worry about, not anybody in the crowd."
This playoff showdown has the potential to live up to this week's hype.
It features the NFL's top-ranked defense against the league's top-rated quarterback in Peyton Manning. It matches a talented Ravens secondary (three former Pro Bowl players) against the Colts' dangerous receivers (Pro Bowl picks Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne). It pits a premier offensive tackle in Jonathan Ogden against a fearsome pass rusher in Dwight Freeney.
"One thing that is on a lot of guys' minds is just to cherish this moment because you never know, because this could possibly be our only chance at a Super Bowl," Suggs said. "So you just cherish this moment and play every game like it's your last, because it literally can be your last." email@example.com
Road to today's playoff showdown
Date Opponent Result
9/10 @Tampa Bay W, 27-0
9/17 Oakland W, 28-6
9/24 @Cleveland W, 15-14
10/1 San Diego W, 16-13
10/9 @Denver L, 13-3
10/15 Carolina L, 23-21
10/29 @New Orleans W, 35-22
11/5 Cincinnati W, 26-20
11/12 @Tennessee W, 27-26
11/19 Atlanta W, 24-10
11/26 Pittsburgh W, 27-0
11/30 @Cincinnati L, 13-7
12/10 @Kansas City W, 20-10
12/17 Cleveland W, 27-17
12/24 @Pittsburgh W, 31-7
12/31 Buffalo W, 19-7
Date Opponent Result
9/10 @N.Y. Giants W, 26-21
9/17 Houston W, 43-24
9/24 Jacksonville W, 21-14
10/1 @N.Y. Jets W, 31-28
10/8 Tennessee W, 14-13
10/22 Washington W, 36-22
10/29 @Denver W, 34-31
11/5 @New England W, 27-20
11/12 Buffalo W, 17-16
11/19 @Dallas L, 21-14
11/26 Philadelphia W, 45-21
12/3 @Tennessee L, 20-17
12/10 @Jacksonville L, 44-17
12/18 Cincinnati W, 34-16
12/24 @Houston L, 27-24
12/31 Miami W, 27-22
1/6 Kansas City (playoffs) W, 23-8