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Ravens' O.J. Brigance brings a different power to second Super Bowl journey

Team executive delivering strength to players, staff

January 28, 2013|By Jonathan Pitts, The Baltimore Sun

His eyes darting side to side as he scans the screen, he summons a quote from 2nd Corinthians he believes could not fit his situation better.

"[God] says, 'My power is made perfect in weakness,'" Brigance said through his machine. "I have no physical voice, and have atrophied arms and legs, but God has given me a voice and platform to do my greatest work. This significance of moment is not about me. It's about the thousands of people out there on this same journey I am."

To the game

No one knows exactly what causes ALS — some evidence suggests a link with head trauma, though it's inconclusive — and thus far, all doctors can do is try to slow its course. But Brigance's loss has been the field's gain.

Not long after his diagnosis, he and Chandra created Brigance Brigade, a foundation that has raised more than $1 million toward research and financial support for sufferers of the disease that will probably kill him.

Brigance, who has outlived most who have ALS, insisted he will be the first to beat it.

Nine years into his second Ravens life, his assistant, Harry Swayne, carries much of his load, but the one Brigance shoulders is plenty. Though he has two nurses to help, it takes four hours to get ready for work in the morning. Yet he's there about 9:30 every day, shooting players upbeat emails, engaging in off-color banter or speaking at meetings.

Four days before they're to leave for Louisiana, the players dressed in their wood-paneled locker room. Some evaded the hordes of reporters asking about the 49ers, Lewis' pending retirement, the Harbaugh Bowl.

Every player asked about Brigance made time to speak.

"If there's one thing that's stressed here it's that we're going to face adversity," said kicker Justin Tucker in a nod to the Ravens' many injuries, three-game losing streak and more. "What matters is what you do with it. If there's anyone who exemplifies that, it's O.J."

"I love and respect O.J. If he can show up here every single day with the energy and excitement and vigor that he has for life, you can show up here on a tough day and do more than just get your job done," linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo said.

"Seeing O.J. go through what he does, and handling it so well, reminds you we're only playing a game," Flacco said, spinning a ball on his finger.

The team headed for the practice field.

In his office down the hall, Brigance pondered his journey and that of the men he loves.

"The world says seeing is believing, but men of faith say believing is seeing," he said, his eyes gleaming as he worked the DynaVox.

"I believe that despite my diagnosis, I will walk again," he said. "This team believes no adverse circumstances will stop them from achieving their goal of being world champions in football and in life. There are no great accomplishments without faith."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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