NEW ORLEANS -- The vision has consumed some of them for almost a decade. During their most painful moments as Ravens, they wondered if it would ever happen, if they would ever experience a moment that their leader has spoken of so many times.
Linebacker Ray Lewis is the only Ravens player qualified to talk about it. Twelve years ago, he stood on the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., and lifted the Lombardi Trophy as confetti rained down on the Super Bowl champions.
Now, in the final game of his sterling 17-year NFL career spent entirely in a Ravens uniform, he and his teammates finally have the opportunity to fulfill that vision together. When they take the field tonight and face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Ravens will be looking to celebrate the end to an important era for the franchise with a championship.
Safety Ed Reed has played 11 seasons with the Ravens and will likely follow Lewis into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While he has listened to Lewis talk about the feeling of winning a Super Bowl, Reed has endured near-misses and postseason heartbreak. He has a chance to change that tonight, less than a half-hour's drive from where he grew up.
Reed is hardly alone. Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Vonta Leach, Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk, Bryant McKinnie, Marshal Yanda, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Cary Williams, Corey Graham and Bernard Pollard have played five or more seasons in the NFL without getting a chance to touch the Lombardi Trophy. While the NFC-champion 49ers have a relatively young nucleus, the Ravens' core is loaded with experience and running out of chances.