Monday night's regular season opener at the new Meadowlands stadium might be a road game for the Ravens, but for Ray Rice, it will feel like he's playing in his backyard.
Rice, a native of New Rochelle, New York and a former star at Rutgers University in New Jersey, will not only be taking the field in a stadium near where he grew up, but he'll have plenty of friends and family members in attendance as well.
The Ravens' running back estimated he'll have a personal cheering section about 35 or 40 people strong on Monday night, many of whom he expects to be decked out in No. 27 jerseys and t-shirts.
"I'm trying to make it a special event," Rice said. "Christmas came early to a few people."
As if the emotions involved with playing in the regular season opener on Monday Night Football against a much-hyped Super Bowl contender in the first game of that team's new stadium weren't enough, Rice also will have a homecoming of sorts.
Boy, it's too bad he has nothing to play for.
"[Playing on the road] is more exciting when you find out you're going to a place where you were born and raised and played college ball," Rice said. "So, I've got to let my emotions get high. I know [my heart] will be racing a little bit, but when they game settles down, I stick to just going out there and trying to play my game."
Rice was one of the most worked running backs in the league last year, getting 332 touches and racking up over 2,000 yards of total offense. After a light preseason workload (Rice had just 13 touches all preseason), however, the third-year back says he's in peak condition going into the 2010 regular season.
"I feel great. It's the best I've ever felt," he says. "Our training camp was physical. It felt good to get tackled during camp by our guys. You don't necessarily want to be tackled by another team. But I feel fresh going into this game. It feels great to know that you got your workload in camp, but now you're ready to play the regular season."
In what's likely going to be an old school, physical, grind-it-out type of game, the Ravens will rely heavily on Rice on Monday to churn out tough yards and keep the chains moving.
The Jets won't make that easy. They posted the NFL's top defense last year even without massive defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who missed most of the season with a torn ACL. Jenkins is a huge force (literally and figuratively), and will make it even tougher for the Ravens to move the ball on the ground.
"It's going to be tough to run the ball against them, and it's going to be tough to run the ball against us," Rice said. "We've got to pick and choose our spots when to run the ball. I'm sure coach [Cam] Cameron and our offensive staff are going to be smart about that. This game is going to be a game of execution. We both play physical games. We both play that physical game of football. But, it's going to be who out-executes each other.
"I don't think it's going to be a first-quarter knockout. I want the game to go four quarters. That way, our true testament and will come out."