NEW ORLEANS — The Ravens arrived in New Orleans Monday after a raucous sendoff in Baltimore, with thousands of fans gathering in a cold drizzle to wish their team well before it headed off to the Super Bowl.
“Today our fans showed us that they’ve always had our back; it was raining and cold in Baltimore and I think the streets were just jam-packed flooded,” running back Ray Rice said. “They just showed us today what it really is all about. They’re just proud of us.”
Where many 49ers came off the plane Sunday dressed casually, in plaid shirts and jeans, the Ravens were in suits and ties, attired in their Sunday best, as many teams require for road games.
And where John Harbaugh’s younger brother, Jim, in his arrival news conference Sunday night seemed at times annoyed with the process (he was far more genial Monday), John, the Ravens coach, was smiling and said his team is “thrilled” to be here.
“This is pretty cool; this is pretty exciting,” he said. “We had an incredible sendoff down at the Inner Harbor this afternoon. Our organization, our Ravens staff putting together this trip has been flawless. We’re just excited to be here and we’re looking forward to going to work.”
Harbaugh added that the realization of what his team had accomplished in getting to the Super Bowl happened days earlier, as his team was relishing its AFC Championship game win against the Patriots.
“It really set in on the ride down the interstate on the way to Providence [to T.F. Green airport] from Gillette Stadium,” he said. “That’s when it set in. We already knew our opponent so that was kind of embedded in our minds. It was time to get ready at that point.
“We’ve been getting ready for these guys for weeks, so we understand the challenge. It’s the Super Bowl. It’s a big deal. We’re going to enjoy that part of it, but enjoy the football part of it more than anything. Our guys are football players, they love football, they love everything that goes with it and that’s what we’ll be focused on.”
This is the fifth straight year the Ravens have been in the playoffs, though the first time they’ve made it to the Super Bowl during that streak. Despite not having experience in the big game, Rice thinks Baltimore’s postseason experience has been a positive.
“The last few years have definitely helped out,’’ Rice said. “I didn’t know what playoff football was about my rookie year. The second year was good, but after my third season, that’s when I really started to understand what playoff football was about. We started getting guys on the team that hadn’t been to the playoffs and they’ve been in the league 10 years.
“I can’t even tell you how the experience has been because you grind all season, and everybody was talking about us when we lost a couple games, but we knew we only needed one. You grind to get into the playoffs. And everybody knows when you get into those games, it’s totally different.”
After three straight losses in December, Baltimore was 9-5 and seemed headed for an early vacation.
But the Ravens’ win against the Giants in their 15th game helped them to the AFC North crown.
Center Matt Birk, in his 14th season, said the character of the team got it to this point.
“I think we have great leadership. I think Coach Harbaugh is a great coach and a great leader,” said Birk, a Harvard product. “I think the guys in this room, their performance and their careers speak for themselves, but they’re not guys that are just in it for themselves. They’re team guys; they lead and the rest follow.
“Everybody’s going to have bumps in the road. You’re going to have downs in the middle of the season and we understand that and you try your best to avoid them, but it’s going to happen. I think when we had ours nobody panicked because players still believed in players and in coaches and coaches believed in players and we still believed in the way we were doing things.
“Our philosophy is just to come to work ready to work and try to work as hard as you can to get as good as you can and that’s basically all we do.”