Ravens' less-heralded players have shined this postseason
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But the story of the Ravens' run to Super Bowl XLVII has as much to do with the players you haven't heard about much.
Jacoby Jones. Paul Kruger. Pernell McPhee. Corey Graham. Bernard Pollard. Dennis Pitta. Dannell Ellerbe. Not exactly household names -- at least not outside their own households -- but they have been major contributors in the three playoff wins that got the Ravens within 60 minutes of the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.
"From the outside perspective, certain guys are deemed the leaders or the best players," said Kruger, an outside linebacker/defensive end who has been the team's most consistent pass-rusher in the playoffs and leads the Ravens with 21/2 sacks in the postseason. "Within the locker room, we know who's who, and we understand the value of everyone. It's not something that's really talked about but it's something that everyone understands."
And Kruger understands that he and his teammates -- even the lesser-known ones -- now have the opportunity to create their own piece of history with a win over the 49ers.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "Guys can really make a name for themselves and really do something special. I know I'm looking forward to it. It seems like most of my special games have come in big-time situations like this. I'm hoping to do the same thing in this game."
Legends are created in the Super Bowl, and it often is the big-name players who benefit most. Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw and every other star in every era with a championship ring offer proof of that.
Flacco hopes to add his name to that list, and he performed splendidly with eight touchdown passes and no interceptions. And Lewis, whose impending retirement after a 17-year career has been a central theme of this year's game, is desperate to add a second Super Bowl title before bidding farewell to the NFL.
But football's ultimate game is about unlikely heroes, too.
Packers receiver Max McGee, filling in for the injured Boyd Dowler in Super Bowl I, had seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. All this while nursing a hangover because he never expected to play a prominent role.
Redskins rookie running back Timmy Smith ran for a Super Bowl-record 204 yards in Washington's win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.
49ers wide receiver John Taylor, the understudy to Jerry Rice, caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Montana with 34 seconds to play in San Francisco's 20-16 win over the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.
Steelers running back Willie Parker, an undrafted free agent, had a Super Bowl-record 75-yard touchdown run in Pittsburgh's win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
He already has produced a signature moment in this year's playoffs. With the Ravens trailing the Broncos 35-28 in the final minute of regulation in the AFC divisional round, Jones ran a "go" route down the right sideline and caught Flacco's long pass at the Broncos' 20. He raced into the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown to send the game to overtime, and the Ravens won it in the second overtime session.
Graham also was a star in that epic game. He picked off Peyton Manning and returned the interception for a touchdown in the first half. His second interception of the game -- while covering Brandon Stokley near the end of the first overtime session -- was converted into the game-winning field goal by rookie Justin Tucker.
"I think we have a lot of guys stepping up," Graham said. "Someone has to do it, so why not us? You need guys to step up. We know what the Ray Lewises, Joe Flaccos and Anquan Boldins are going to do for us, but you need other guys to step up and make some plays. That's what it takes, and hopefully that will continue."
There were several big-time plays by players with not-so-big-time reputations in the Ravens' AFC Championship Game win over the Patriots. Pitta had a touchdown reception. Pollard tackled Patriots running back Stevan Ridley in the fourth quarter and Ridley fumbled the ball, a huge stop late in the game. And the Ravens sealed the win when McPhee deflected Brady's pass, which was intercepted by Ellerbe.
"You go back to those old Chicago Bulls team with Michael Jordan, and they had role players who would do the dirty work, guys like Dennis Rodman," McPhee said. "That's the way we look at it. It's us guys doing the dirty work, and sometimes we get opportunities to make plays."
The challenge is especially difficult in the Super Bowl against multi-talented quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, who is equally adept at running and passing. McPhee knows it will take a special effort to contain him. But there is one way to do it.
"If he wants to run, we'll send those dogs after him, and we'll hunt," McPhee said of the Ravens' pass-rushers. "It's all about making plays."
And if McPhee has a chance to get a shot at Kaepernick on a scramble? "If I get a shot at him, I want to make him remember me," he said. "I want to hit him so hard he don't want to run the ball anymore."
A hit like that on Super Bowl Sunday, and McPhee will stake his claim as one of the Ravens' under-the-radar players with a special moment in the biggest game of his life. Same goes for just about all the players not named Lewis, Flacco, Boldin or Rice.
Another unlikely hero in the offing?
"It's the kind of moment you live for," Kruger said. "It's why you play this game."