The Ravens are set to begin their 25th season in Baltimore and have already proved they are one of the NFL’s top franchises.
In their short history, the Ravens have won Super Bowl titles in the 2000 and 2012 seasons. Four teams — the Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions — have yet to play in a Super Bowl.
The Ravens have had only three coaches — John Harbaugh, Brian Billick and the late Ted Marchibroda — but only Marchibroda had a short tenure, lasting just three years because of the team’s financial hardships.
The Ravens are represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame by three players: left tackle Jonathan Ogden, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, all of whom might be the best to ever play their positions. Two more might eventually be enshrined in right guard Marshal Yanda and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Before the season begins, we go back in history and present the Ravens’ All-Time team for the franchise’s first 24 years. Let’s begin with the the offensive players and coach.
Quarterback: Joe Flacco
Flacco completed 3,499 of 5,670 passes for 38,245 yards and 212 touchdowns during 11 seasons in Baltimore. He led the Ravens to a Super Bowl title in the 2012 season while completing one of the best postseasons in league history. Flacco led the Ravens to the playoffs six times, winning the AFC North title twice and advancing to the AFC championship game three times. Flacco beats out Vinny Testaverde, who had one of the strongest arms in NFL history. Testaverde threw for 4,177 yards and had 33 touchdown passes in the Ravens’ 1996 inaugural season.
Running backs: HB Jamal Lewis and FB Vonta Leach
Ray Rice might have been a more complete player, but Lewis was simply a beast. At 5 feet 11 and 245 pounds, he put fear into opposing tacklers. Not only could Lewis run through you, but he also had enough speed to turn the corner. Once he got his shoulder pads squared at the line of scrimmage, it was like tackling a runaway 18-wheeler going downhill. He rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003 and was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. Lewis rushed for 7,801 yards on 1,822 carries during his six years on the field (he missed 2001 because of a knee injury) with the Ravens and ran for a then-NFL-record 295 yards in a 2003 game against the Browns. He controlled the game and was a great finisher. Leach had tough competition from Sam Gash, but Leach liked to run through his blocks. It seemed like a pleasure to him. He ran out on the field like the Juggernaut character in the X-Men.
Wide receivers: Derrick Mason and Steve Smith Sr.
Mason was an easy choice because he became the team’s all-time leading receiver with 5,777 yards from 2005 to 2010 and had 29 touchdown catches. No one could run the deep comeback route like Mason. He was a competitor who was ornery and always intense. Unfortunately, receiver has not been a position of strength through the years because of several failed draft picks. The Ravens have had some good ones, like Qadry Ismail and Torrey Smith, and Anquan Boldin remains a fan favorite. Steve Smith Sr. had an immediate impact, though, because he gave the team some toughness on offense. He played in only 37 of 48 games in Baltimore but had 185 catches for 2,474 yards and 14 touchdowns. With Mason and Smith, you aren’t going to lose many games.
Tight end: Todd Heap
There was only one consistent player through those years of revolving quarterbacks and receivers, and that was Heap. Throw it anywhere on the field and Heap would go and get it, which is why he had so many injuries and even more fans. Heap had no fear of going up and attacking the football. He played in 133 games for the Ravens and had 467 catches for 5,492 yards and a franchise-record 41 touchdowns. Shannon Sharpe is second on this team after Heap. Sharpe was on the downside of his career in Baltimore, but he was a player the team rallied around. It will be interesting to see where current tight end Mark Andrews stands in this group when his career is over.
Offensive line: LT Jonathan Ogden, LG Edwin Mulitalo, C Wally Williams, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Michael Oher
Because of size, speed and athleticism, Ogden has no peer and was more technically proficient than anyone he played against. It’s hard picking a left guard. Ben Grubbs was perhaps the best athlete to play that spot for the Ravens and could make blocks into the second level, but the nod goes to Mulitalo, who was a mauler. Matt Birk was a fan favorite at center, but Williams was better and certainly more powerful and agile. At right guard, it’s Yanda. He was a grinder who could beat opponents with finesse or physically knock them off the ball. The Ravens have struggled finding a right tackle, but the best and most consistent was Michael Oher.
Coach: John Harbaugh
Harbaugh is the most complete of the three. Even though I make fun of his T-shirts, he is great at building team morale and working under the team concept. His teams never quit. Billick was an excellent motivator, and few could organize better. The best technical coach of the three was Marchibroda. He could draw and scheme up offensive plays with anyone who has ever coached in the NFL, but the Ravens didn’t have the money at that time to provide him with players. If there is an unsung hero of this franchise, it’s Marchibroda.