Monday, January 28, 2013

Ray Rice On Verge of Becoming Football’s Brightest Star?

For all the chatter about Ray Lewis and the Harbaugh brothers, as the Harbowl campaign is sweeping the nation this week, Ray Rice, for the first time in his noteworthy NFL career, is emerging into a star running back after the Baltimore Ravens stopped abandoning the running game. The most he can do, if he’s handed the ball and knifes through San Francisco defenders, is validate his name as one of the most dynamic speedsters in the game.

With all his might, he’s quickly becoming a component on the Ravens offense, changing the team’s psyche that relentlessly results in fame and fortune. He’s done a good job for the Ravens. He is the ideal all-purpose running back for any offense, particularly under Jim Caldwell who is the Ravens offensive play-caller and knows how to utilize Rice, even though he’s conservative and has been criticized for not knowing the playbook. Early in the season, when Cam Cameron was calling the plays and couldn’t direct a stagnant and impotent offense, Rice wasn’t used to his fullest. But now, he’s clearly the centerpiece of the offensive attack, a dangerous player in open field, bursting through the holes with nifty moves.

It’s painful enough watching Baltimore not exploit its offense based on the speed and playmaking skills of the three-time Pro Bowler sometimes. The nausea, as Rice was forgotten and as the Ravens neglected his open-field brilliance, is finally gone and he is easily vital in the backfield for Baltimore to have success in the most important game of a long marathon. What has been lost in an incalculable, nauseating discussion is where Rice ranks in the National Football League, which is a bit absurd and shouldn’t be debatable when he’s indeed an elite runner in the game today. The man eludes multiple tacklers, he’s crafty and shows acceleration, but what overshadows Rice’s rush attack is QB Joe Flacco’s vertical passing.

The assumption has been that he will have the game of his life, will have monster yards on a night that he’s embraced by an audience tuning in to the most popular sports event. If he dares, he’d duplicate a 131-yard rushing performance that he had on a night spent in the frigid Mile High City, where he gave fans a Mile High Salute, which was a traditional touchdown celebration of Broncos all-time running back Terrell Davis. In his fifth NFL season, Rice has not lost his touch, running faster than ever, scampering into the end zone. So here he is this week, finally after five years, making his first trip to the Super Bowl.

He could be one of the Ravens players to flip the coin on Sunday, call heads or tails, and depending on which side the coin lands, then he may be running the ball early to fuel a crowd during a three-hour event of thrills and titillation, especially when he’s the team’s leading rusher. He could reign supreme in an offense that has become revolutionary in its own way. If Rice goes racing down Bourbon Street, not just to smell and taste Cajun food or Chef Emeril’s savory meals, he can easily be the real MVP of the Super Bowl and burst into view. All of which would be enough to make him elite, famous or a main attraction. But there’s more. As disturbing as it’s been to watch the running back position devalue recently, with the NFL turning into a pass-happy league this era, Rice is, respectively, the loudest man, as well as Ray Lewis, in the locker room. Once Lewis retires, which he’s announced weeks ago, Rice will take over as team leader. If he’s given the chance in Super Bowl XLVII, he will make tacklers miss, explode through the hole and dash into open field.

Amazingly, he’s come a long ways, wearing a smile during news conferences and speaking kindly of Lewis, who has been a father-figure to him and someone he can obviously look up to for guidance and consultancy. It would be nice to see Rice have a breakout performance, and not suddenly sputter when he can win his first Super Bowl and leave New Orleans happy, realizing he will be entitled to wear bling bling on his ring finger.

If only we could revere what Rice accomplished this season and wish him the best moving forward, he makes his sojourn in Baltimore, where he’s adored and his jersey is glorified. And when he was bad — as in terrible — he bounced back from adversity and ended his on-field woes, becoming an important player offensively and had the second-best postseason game a couple of weeks ago in zero-degree weather in Denver.

This is so much more than just a game. This is one of the proudest moments of Rice’s life, finally playing for what he’s been chasing since stepping foot into the league, since developing into a stud, reminding everyone that running backs are still relevant in this era. In his continuing quest to prove he’s the soul of Baltimore, like it or not, the running game is still alive. Over the years, though, teams have relinquished the running game.

Take last year’s Super Bowl, for instance. My point being is, even if it seems unrealistic and inaccurate, that the New York Giants won the contest having the league’s lowest-ranked ground game. As it is, ultimately, the NFL is a quarterback-driven, pass-crazed sport and nothing else seems to matter when a number of teams are lucky enough to have promised a franchise quarterback residency and megabuck deals to serve as their leader rightfully so. It was unfortunate, with his gifted speed and moves, to see Rice plagued by turnovers, for which he couldn’t ever hold on to the ball without fumbling it, so emotionally hurt on the sideline after a costly error.

It’s fine to say he’s made up for his mistakes, and has learned from them, not overwhelmed by his abundant recklessness that overshadowed his miraculous performances. It simply isn’t hard for people of football knowledge to fathom that conversations won’t revolve around him, with the media and the masses in general focused on that inevitably feel-good story of a veteran linebacker who will play the final game of his career and ride off into the sunset.

Get with it, folks. Rice, 25, is a downhill runner and rushed for 1,143 yards and added 478 on receptions. Rather than leave this guy out and insult him, he should be mentioned heavily in conversations throughout the week. It’s only fitting for someone who has entered his prime of his respective career. These football advocates, sugarcoating and refusing to credit Rice for his accomplishments, aren’t sure exactly whether he’s worth all the hype, all of which he will have to emerge from the tunnel on Sunday and play impressively. If so, he will convince every football watcher at the right place, at the right time, the game of roman numerals, the game where legends are born.

There is no way that he’s not a star, rushing for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons, at the height of his compelling career, in a week of one of the most outstanding adventures. The irony in all of this is that Rice has compiled so many numbers on the field that he’s painted a lovely story of his own, a contiguous tale of deeds in effort of beating opponents to capitalize on victories, which is how the Ravens made it to this point. He is the guy with the best attributes as a running back, having agility and lateral quickness, having the ability to quickly stop and change direction in his route with balance and body control to make tacklers miss.

This would be the moment for the Ravens, if they don’t, to realize just maybe how fortunate they are to inherit one of the top running backs in the league, as they are not commonplace but are scarce.

With Rice around, the Ravens are an ultra threat.

Watch out, San Francisco.

Rice is coming to a Superdome near you.