Pieces to the puzzle

Every NFL roster tells a story.

The Baltimore Ravens, freshly-minted as Super Bowl champions, are more than just Ray Lewis’ last ride or John Harbaugh’s sibling rivalry.

Much more.

For instance, before Flacco became the new ‘Joe Cool,’ he was directing the Delaware Blue Hens to an upset victory over Northern Iowa in the Div. I-AA playoffs. Flacco was unflappable inside the UNI-Dome that afternoon in 2007, throwing for 312 yards and showing amazing proficiency on third down (sound familiar?) in a 39-27 quarterfinal victory over the previously-unbeaten and top-seeded Panthers.

Matt Birk, a St. Paul native who played 11 seasons for the Minnesota Vikings, finally got his first taste of a championship after a decade and a half of service in the league. A Harvard graduate, six-time Pro Bowler and former Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient, Birk has been a consummate professional throughout his career.

Did you know that ex-Iowa Hawkeye defensive back Shawn Considine was Baltimore’s leading special teams tackler this postseason? Considine, who previously played for Philadelphia and Jacksonville, was cut by Carolina and then Arizona. With his career at a crossroads, he received a call from Harbaugh – Considine’s special teams coach with the Eagles after he graduated from Iowa in 2005 – and joined the Ravens 11 months ago. Now he has a Super Bowl ring.

Considine isn’t the only former Hawk in the Baltimore lineup. Marshal Yanda, a 2007 draft pick out of Iowa and 2011 Pro Bowler, has been a mainstay next to Birk on the Ravens’ offensive line.

And speaking of that line, ex-Iowa State standout Kelechi Osemele started all 16 games in his rookie campaign with the squad. The 6-foot-5, 335-pound mountain helped stave off San Francisco’s vaunted pass rush on Sunday, as Flacco went virtually untouched yet again.

Safety Ed Reed – one of the better defensive backs to ever play the game – joined Birk as a first-time champion. The nine-time Pro Bowler is 34 years old and doesn’t have much left in the tank. It seemed very fitting that the Lombardi Trophy was finally resting in the NFL’s most capable hands after the game.

Of course there are inspirational figures Michael Oher – the man made famous by ‘The Blind Side’ movie – and O.J. Brigance, a former Baltimore player who is now battling ALS. Both are relatively well-known, but their names aren’t of the household variety like Lewis and Harbaugh.

Super Bowl XLVII, power outage and all, will be remembered as the star linebacker’s swan song and the battle of brothers. Without the unsung heroes and their largely-unrecognized backgrounds and achievements, though, the Ravens would be just another team without a title. They are as deserving of praise in their own right as the characters we already know so well.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net