Todd Heap and his family arrived in town days ago to enjoy some nostalgia and catch up with old friends heading into an extremely significant moment for the former Ravens star tight end.
Heap, 34, will be inducted into the Ravens' Ring of Honor on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium during a ceremony at halftime of the team's game against the Carolina Panthers. Known as one of the toughest and most respected Ravens players in franchise history, Heap played for a decade in Baltimore and established a high standard at his position.
"I'm so honored and happy that this is happening," Heap said. "This is something you dream about. To have your name up in that stadium forever, it's beyond words. It's really indescribable when you think about it, because it's such a big deal to be recognized for what you did and to be mentioned in the same sentence with so many great people.
"I can't wait. When I got the call from [Ravens owner] Steve Bisciotti telling me I was going into the Ring of Honor, I was practically speechless. It means a lot."
A former Arizona State consensus All-American, Heap was drafted in the first round by the Ravens in 2001 following their Super Bowl XXXV victory. After a one-year apprenticeship behind Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe, Heap took over the position and began making leaping catches all over the field.
Heap's willingness to sacrifice his body set him apart. At 6-foot-5, 252 pounds, Heap was athletic enough to occasionally line up at wide receiver to bolster a passing game that at the time lacked many proven threats other than him.
Heap took the hard shots, including a brutal shot to the chin from New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather in 2010 that drew a $50,000 fine. He twisted and contorted his body to make the difficult catches, including several inaccurate throws from quarterback Kyle Boller, but Heap never complained. He just did his job: catching the football.
"That's what I was about. I was willing to do whatever it took to get the football," Heap said. "I always wanted to be known as someone who would give up his body for the team. I took some hits, but it was always something where I knew what it took to get the job done and I was fine with that. That's football."
Heap ranks second in franchise history in career receptions with 467 and second in receiving yards with 5,492. He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and caught 41 touchdown passes, the most in franchise history.
Heap was a fan favorite, and undoubtedly fans will salute him with their familiar shouts of "Heeap!" when he's introduced Sunday.
"The fans, the team, everyone was great to me when I was in Baltimore," Heap said. "I plan to thank everyone when I get up there to speak, especially my coaches, my teammates and my family. I couldn't have done it without them."
Heap was released in 2011 as a salary-cap casualty and finished his career with the Arizona Cardinals. For his career, he caught 499 career passes for 5,869 yards and 42 touchdowns.
Heap remains good friends with Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, who dislocated and fractured his right hip for the second time in the past year against the Cleveland Browns last week.
"I'm sick about what happened to Dennis," Heap said. "It's such a shame to see that happen to Dennis. He worked so hard to get back on the field. He's in my prayers. Knowing Dennis, he'll do everything he can to rehab the hip and try to get back out there.
"He has such a determined personality and such high character that I would never count him out. It's really concerning to see that happen, though, without even being hit. It's very unfortunate for him to get hurt that way again."
Heap will join running back Earnest Byner, defensive end Michael McCrary, outside linebacker Peter Boulware, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, kicker Matt Stover, running back Jamal Lewis, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, eight former Baltimore Colts and the late owner Art Modell in the Ring of Honor.
"It's going to be very emotional for me," Heap said. "I'm just very proud and excited and I'm just really glad my family is here to share this with me. It's definitely going to bring back a lot of old memories from a lot of great times playing in Baltimore. It's going to be a fun day."