Beware the wrath of Ravens slighted by Pro Bowl voters

December 24, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

The best thing that could have happened to the Ravens entering the final two weekends of the regular season happened Tuesday afternoon, on the players' day off.

They found another chip to put on their collective shoulders.

No team in the NFL this season uses those chips better than this one. If the Ravens needed a little extra edge for today's still-pivotal game in Pittsburgh, the Pro Bowl voters gave it to them.

Of course, one might wonder why an 11-3 team fighting for playoff positioning, going up against a hated rival in a city where it hasn't won in five years, needs extra motivation.

The Ravens probably don't - but they'll take it that way anyway, which is one of their most impressive attributes in this turnaround season.

This is what they do, because this is who they are. Eternally overlooked, underrated, disrespected, hungry to prove something to a nation of disbelievers. And they're led by the man who was most vocal in saying he and his team didn't get their due - Ray Lewis, one of the most visible, marketable and popular players in the entire NFL.

What can you say, though? It works.

No wonder this town loves them so. The Ravens are the perfect fit for a city that constantly thinks everyone is talking about it behind its back.

So it has gone with the Pro Bowl selections announced last week.

Most fans, certainly the ones around here and, by now, others around the country, know more about which Ravens were left off the AFC team than which ones were voted on.

And leading the outrage? The Ravens' Pro Bowl players themselves, especially the four defensive starters.

Chris McAlister: "The guys that didn't make it know that everyone that did thinks that we all should be in it. We don't think that there is anyone who should have been left behind."

Adalius Thomas: "A lot of guys did a lot of the dirty work, and all the cover guys got the glory. So, hats off to guys like Kelly Gregg, Trevor Pryce, Bart [Scott]. Guys who I really think should've made it, didn't make it."

Terrell Suggs: "I think we've been slept on the whole year, and that cost some guys from going. If you look anywhere on this team, anywhere on the starting 11, you just pick one.

"[But] we kind of knew they wouldn't let us monopolize the Pro Bowl."

Either one of the Ravens' assistants is an acting coach, or the players really are that zoned into thinking about the collective rather than the individual.

This is how they should be talking, though, because possibly more this season than any other, the defense is an example of one player's success not being possible without another's. So it's admirable how they stick up for each other.

And, it seems obvious, playing the Rodney Dangerfield card gets their juices flowing.

Plus, the key players come by that attitude honestly. Thomas and Scott, for instance, are in fact once-overlooked players - a sixth-round pick and an undrafted rookie, respectively - who have turned themselves into elite linebackers. Only one got rewarded this year, and it stood to reason that he'd stand up for the other.

Suggs' draft tale, about his supposedly subpar 40 time that made him slide down the board, is part of Ravens legend now. And you probably are mildly familiar with Lewis' tale of redemption by now.

Everywhere you look, chips on shoulders. Not only is it pointless, then, to bask in individual glory, such as a Pro Bowl berth, it's counterproductive in every way.

If they think even for a moment any differently, the Ravens only have to look back at last season - the year of so much dissension over contracts and roles and respect and the resultant disharmony that nearly cost Brian Billick his job.

Several players have said that at the root of much of what went wrong during that 6-10 season was that the Ravens, collectively and in some cases individually, were a little too impressed with themselves.

Not this season. They are confident, and growing more so with every win, but also eager to take any and all slights, real and perceived, and use them as fuel.

The results, at times, have been spectacular. The notion that the Chiefs never lose at home in December was attacked like raw meat, and the Ravens dominated, 20-10. Same for the first time they played today's opponent, a month ago in Baltimore, when some viewed the Steelers as a sleeping giant; the Ravens put them to sleep but good, 27-0.

Now they come into Heinz Field, where they haven't won since 2001, with so much riding on it for both teams - the Steelers have to win to stay alive in the postseason conversation - and the Ravens are chomping away at the far-from-scientific voting for a little-watched exhibition game that, truth be told, no one really wants to play in.

But they've been snubbed.

You wouldn't like to play them when they're snubbed.

david.steele@baltsun.com

David Steele -- Points After

"Peace on earth and goodwill to men" is all well and good, but it takes a lot of the juice out of Shaq vs. Kobe tomorrow afternoon. So does Shaq being hurt, of course; now we don't even get to see if last year's truce held up.

Admirably stepping into the void, however, are Terrell Owens and Jeff Garcia.

Prediction for Friday's Champs Sports Bowl between Maryland and Purdue in Orlando, Fla.: By the second quarter, everyone will be wondering whether both teams left their defenses back home.

I'll feel better flying Northwest from now on, knowing that it stood up for its values and principles by recalling the in-flight magazine with Carmelo Anthony in it.

Being the throw-in on a trade of an All-Star, to make the contracts fit and so his salary cap space can be used the next offseason -- that's not quite the career arc we once envisioned for Joe Smith, is it?

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