Because it was the day before the Ravens' 2012 season opener, this particular practice was closed to reporters. However, it wasn't long before everyone knew about the distinguished guest who was at the Ravens' facility.

One-by-one, Ravens' players took to social media and wrote about meeting the great Muhammad Ali, the legendary heavyweight champion who died late Friday night.


Many of the Ravens acted like star-struck teenagers who had just met one of their heroes. It was both revealing and refreshing. And as it turned out, it was a fitting start to a Super Bowl-winning season.

Ali, who was in Baltimore for a fundraising event, attended the Ravens' dominating victory the next day over the Cincinnati Bengals. Ravens coach John Harbaugh kept in touch with the Ali family throughout the 2012 season and even invited them to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Battling Parkinson's disease, Ali couldn't attend the game. However, his daughter, Laila, put a photo on Twitter of her father watching the Super Bowl while wearing a Ray Lewis T-shirt and sitting in front of a sign that read "Ravens #1."

Ali's passing has spurred a flood of tributes and prompted many members of the 2012 Ravens to reminisce about his visit to the team facility.

The boxer was introduced to the team by Harbaugh's father, Jack, who told the famous "What's my name?" story from Ali's dominating 1967 victory over Ernie Terrell. In the buildup to the fight, Terrell repeatedly called his opponent "Cassius Clay," Ali's original name before he declared his allegiance to the Nation of Islam. As Ali pummeled Terrell in the ring, he repeatedly taunted his opponent by yelling, "What's my name?"

That question became a rallying cry for the Ravens during the 2008 season when Harbaugh took over and worked to create a new identity for the franchise.

After Jack Harbaugh retold the story and introduced Ali, who was wearing a purple Ravens long-sleeved shirt, to the team, the former heavyweight champ spent nearly an hour with the team, shaking hands and taking pictures. Ali allowed John Harbaugh to make a trace of his hand.

"Still can't believe I had the opportunity to meet this man ... words can't describe how much I admired his confidence and work outside of the ring," former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith wrote in an Instagram post today which ran next to a picture with Ali. "… It's important to recognize those who paved a way for you ... and those who helped change the way folks view you ... Muhammad Ali helped make this world a better place ... Thank You!!!! RIP"

Wrote Ray Lewis: "If he taught me nothing else live life your way. Because he was the only 1 putting in hrs that nobody else could see ... rest in Peace Champ I'm honored the time I got to spend with you on this earth. God has much work waiting on the other side."

On that day in 2012, Ali stood in the middle of a Ravens' team picture, flanked by Lewis and veteran linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. Five months later, the Ravens took another team picture as they prepared to play the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun