Three Saturdays ago, the night before the Ravens' Week 15 game against the Saints, Ray Lewis stood up in the team hotel and gave a passionate speech reminding his teammates of their ultimate goal.
Everyone sitting in front of Lewis had watched the Saints go on their Super Bowl run last year, and had seen New Orleans celebrate as its players brought home the Lombardi Trophy.
That night, as the Ravens prepared to take on the defending Super Bowl champs and make their final push for the playoffs, Lewis wanted his teammates to block out all of the distractions around them. What's important, he said, is everyone making an individual sacrifice for the good of the team.
That's the same message that Lewis is sharing with his teammates now that the Ravens' postseason opener is three days away. Cherish the opportunity, and make sure you capitalize on it.
"I've watched some of the greatest warriors come in this business and leave this business - I won't name names - without a ring, without that," Lewis said yesterday. "When you get that, the thing that waters your mouth again is to feel that again. So, when you find yourself back here, the message starts to become simple: What will you sacrifice for your team? What will you give up for that ultimate prize?
"(In) three weeks, there will be one NFC champ, there will be one AFC champ, and that's it. Out of 32 teams, there will be two teams standing. What would you give up to be that team? And for me, when New Orleans was coming in here, they are still defending champs until somebody else touches that confetti. And that's what I try to get my young guys to clue in, like this is what you play for. This is what we watched. This is what we all sat there and watched. The team that's coming in here tomorrow, we watched this. We watched them win the Super Bowl against the Colts last year. Do you want to feel that? Because I do. I do again. That's the only reason you play the game."
The last two years, the Ravens have made the playoffs as a wild card team, gotten at least one win on the road and given themselves a shot at a Super Bowl. But they haven't quite gotten there.
This time around, with his NFL clock ticking and his chances at another Super Bowl ring dwindling year-by-year, Lewis is hoping his team can take the next step.
"We have that opportunity now," Lewis said. "We're back in the dance in the third year. Some people say three is the charm; I say let three stay (the) charm. I say finish. Let's finish now, because we've done everything else. We've been to the AFC championship, we've been to the divisional rounds, we've done everything we're supposed to do.
"What's next for us? The next step is finish."