J. Michael and Brent Harris on a week of distractions for the Ravens
NEW ORLEANS -- First, it was all about Ray Lewis’ “last ride” as he retires after 17 seasons.
Then it was about his sideline antics, complete with kneeling, tears and quoting Scriptures in every interview, that has led to him being mocked on nationally televised comedy shows.
Then when the Ravens arrived at the Super Bowl, the storylines turned to less-pleasant themes such as the double murders that he was linked to in Atlanta 13 years ago.
This week came the accusations that Lewis used a deer antler extract, a banned substance by the NFL, a few years ago. It took him two days, but after saying he was “agitated” by the questions Lewis issued a vehement denial Wednesday.
The Ravens have run full force into a media crush at the Super Bowl. For a team that is heavily protected by its staff throughout the regular season -- going into a playoff game with the Denver Broncos earlier this month, a reporter was thrown out for simply asking Lewis a question about the Atlanta murders and the salty feelings that lingered almost led to a brawl postgame -- this is new territory.
There’s no hiding from the world’s media during the Super Bowl. Lewis pled guilty to obstruction of justice, but the case never has been solved. Now it has taken a back seat to the performance-enhancing story about Lewis, who tore his triceps in Week 6, had surgery and returned for the playoffs where he has a playoff-high 44 tackles.
“Do we seem distracted?” linebacker Terrell Suggs asked. “Come on, man. We can handle a lot. This team has very broad shoulders. We don’t let too many things bother us. Like I said, we know each other. We know our general (Lewis). We’re just really good at not paying attention to nonsense. We’re not distracted at all.”
Running back Ray Rice is, at least a little. A person with direct knowledge of the situation told CSNBaltimore that he was agitated that he had to attend a media party on Tuesday, after an hour-long Media Day at the Superdome.
Defensive tackle Terrence Cody confirmed Rice’s dislike for the process.
“I feel like everybody’s enjoying it. We still have one reason why we’re down here,” Cody said. “I know there are a lot of guys who don’t want to be down here doing this. I saw Ray Rice. … He didn't want to go. He wanted to get a massage. I know he was upset.”
After Media Day, there was an hour for media availability at the team hotel with all players Wednesday and again Thursday. After that, they’ll have the freedom to focus on football.
“I think we’re in a good place. You have to have confidence in our guys that we can deal with this kind of thing,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We've been in a lot of big games before. … We've had a little bit of experience with something like this. We’re handling it very well.”
Coach John Harbaugh, who will be going against his brother as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, spins it as the glass is half-full. He likes the idea of his team getting the attention after being written off all season. They lost four of the last five regular-season games and have been decimated by injuries. They weren't projected to be here.
“You got a chance to see who they really are and what they’re all about. The fact that their personalities were able to shine through in a really positive way is really good,” Harbaugh said of the Media Day session. “It’s really important. It’s positive, it’s good for football, it’s good for the Ravens, good for the NFL, and good for both teams. So that was great. But those guys are football players, we’re football coaches, you guys are football fans, and everybody wants to get to the game. We tell our guys the game isn't until 6:30 on Sunday. You can’t play the game on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday.”
In his 10th season, Anquan Boldin has been through it before with the Arizona Cardinals when they advanced to the Super Bowl in 2009.
“For us getting back to football helps out a lot with that,” said Boldin of the team practicing Wednesday. “It’s not often that you get to come and play in the Super Bowl. … I told the guys before we got here how crazy things could get once we hit New Orleans. … I've had my fix (of talking). Enough of it yesterday. If I can just play football, I’ll be happy.”
Like Rice, linebacker Paul Kruger is among the more media-friendly players in the Ravens’ locker room. He has had enough, too.
“I’m not somebody who likes to focus on myself. Plus, you don’t know anybody and you don’t know where this information is going so it’s a big question mark,” he said. “Most questions about either about Ray Lewis … or just randomness.”
Kruger believes getting lost in the event, and the controversy, can impact preparation for the game.
“I don’t want to say it’s completely not a factor at all. Any time you spend hours on end doing this stuff, that’s where you’re spending your time versus preparing for a game,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is going to be extremely distracted. We have enough time throughout the day to focus on the game and prepare ourselves. These next three days will be big for us.”