Mike Tirico, who will call the play-by-play in tonight's game for ESPN, says the Ravens are "an outstanding TV team for two reasons: Ray Lewis and Ed Reed."
"It's very rare that defensive players become the face of the franchise for multiple years in this era of the NFL, and they have certainly done that," he says. "And it's rare that defensive players bring people to the TV. When you're promoting a game, usually you're promoting the quarterback or wide receiver. But with the Ravens, you promote their defense. ...
"And in the team sports I've been around for the last 10 years, it's hard to find an individual whose personality imprint has become the calling card of the team like Ray Lewis has with the Baltimore Ravens."
No player — not even Deion "Prime Time" Sanders or "Broadway" Joe Namath — brought the combination of football skill and larger-than-life TV persona to the modern game the way Lewis has, producers and analysts say. From his fiery pre-game talks to his introductory dances, Lewis seems to live at the intersection of football as sport and prime-time entertainment.
"Ray Lewis is the star of stars," says Bardia Shah-Rais, senior producer at the NFL Network. "We like to say in the office here that I'd pay to watch Ray Lewis play football, but I'd also pay to watch him read the phone book, because he's just such a charismatic guy." (The Ravens will play the Cleveland Browns in prime time on the NFL Network Sept. 27.)
Shah-Rais, who produced the pre-game, post-game and halftime shows when the Ravens played the San Francisco 49er's last Thanksgiving, says, the Ravens are "a compelling group of guys who get what it takes to make good television."
Owner Steve Bisciotti campaigned to get the Ravens on tonight's marquee event, announcing in June that he was going to "fight like hell" to get the Ravens a home game on Monday Night Football.
"I know from visiting with the owner, Steve Bisciotti, at the owners' meetings the last couple of years, there's been a great desire to have Monday Night Football back [in Baltimore]," Tirico says.
"I don't believe the NFL intentionally kept us from having Monday night home games," Bisciotti said last week. "They want us on national television. That's why we're featured often. We're a good team with some standout players — some with names known to every NFL fan in the nation. ... Once we pointed out that it had been a while since we were home for a Monday nighter and had played so many consecutive on the road, they responded. Really, I think all we had to do is point it out to the league."
Like his predecessor, Modell, Bisciotti gets the larger importance of more than 10 million viewers tuning into a night-time event that makes downtown Baltimore sparkle and shine with TV lights and the energy of 60,000 fans.
"I love having a Monday night game at M&T," Bisciotti said. "We grew up watching Monday Night Football. It's the only game in the league that day. What's better than having the blimp flying over the stadium, the crowd fired up and the whole world watching Baltimore, the Inner Harbor and the Ravens? It's fantastic. It adds something special to the game, and our players and fans know that."