One Harbaugh has his team in the Championship round of the NFL playoffs. Now it’s time to see if the other can get his team to the final four, as well.
Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers pulled off a thrilling win over the high-powered Saints yesterday, with Maryland product Vernon Davis scoring the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds to push San Francisco one game away from a Super Bowl appearance.
Tom Brady and the Patriots also moved on to the next round with a dominating win over the Broncos, meaning that if John Harbaugh and Ravens handle the Texans today, they’ll need to head up to Gillette Stadium to battle it out for the AFC Championship.
Today will be a big day for every player and coach that comes out of the tunnel and plays a part in trying to get the Ravens to New England, but it will be an extra special moment for the Ravens’ rookies, who have yet to experience an NFL playoff game. M&T Stadium will be packed and millions will be watching at home, making this environment like no other most of the rookies have been a part of.
“It’s just like a dream-come-through type of situation,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “You’re playing on a great team that has an honest chance of making it to the Super Bowl and winning it. Being a rookie on a team like that, it feels great.”
Smith, a first-round pick, knew that he’d be drafted high and have a shot to be a part of a day like today at some point in his career. That wasn’t the case for LaQuan Williams, an undrafted rookie wide receiver who earned a training camp tryout and subsequently battled his way onto the roster.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, man,” Williams said. “Just a dream, getting a chance to play in a big-time game. We’ve got a great team and a really good chance to take it all the way, so we’re just going game-by-game and trying to make some plays.”
Emotions will obviously be high with a packed stadium of over 71,000 intense fans cheering them on, but most of the rookies I talked to said they don’t anticipate feeling any different today than they would any other Sunday.
“It’s just football,” wide receiver Torrey Smith. “Obviously, I’m going to be excited about it, because our stadium is going to be nuts, but at the end of the day, it’s just another big game. I think I’ll be locked in a little more, but the game slowed down so much for me that I’m not overwhelmed by the magnitude of the game at all. Just go out there and play ball.”
Torrey Smith might not expect to have any extra emotion running through him, but Jimmy Smith admits that he’ll be a little extra fired up as he runs out of the tunnel this afternoon.
“I think the nerves will come before the game because I’m a rookie and this is the playoffs,” Smith said. “This is a big-time team that we’re facing, big-time challenge that I have to go against. I’m anxious, nervous, ready, all of it. But I like the challenge.”
One factor which will help most of the Ravens’ rookies today is that they got plenty of game experience during the regular season and, in a sense, don’t feel like rookies anymore. Torrey Smith started 14 games this season and led the team in receiving touchdowns. Jimmy Smith got three starts and both he and McPhee have been a key part of the Ravens’ sub packages on defense. Williams saw action in 12 games and is comfortable in special teams duty.
That experience will help ease the players’ transition from regular season football to playoff football.
“It’s just reality right now,” defensive end Pernell McPhee said. “It’s just what’s going on right now. It just hit me because I didn’t really think I’d be in the position I’m in. Now that I’m here, I’m just taking full advantage. I got an opportunity to go play in a Super Bowl on a great team.”