Winds of Change

Bill Simmons often laments that the Celtics, thanks to Kevin Garnett’s injury in 2009, Kendrick Perkins’ injury in the 2010 NBA Finals, and Perkins’ trade to Oklahoma City the following year, never got a true chance to defend their 2008 title. Celtics fans play cute with the facts here — Andrew Bynum missed the 2008 Finals, after all, and injury is part of the risk with an aging team — but the basic premise remains. Boston put together a talented, cohesive core, that with a few breaks could’ve won two or three straight titles. At the time, that championship looked like the start of something new.

Last month’s Super Bowl win, though, was a culmination. Since then, Ozzie Newsome’s expressed a clear refusal to sacrifice the franchise’s long-term health for another run at Super Bowl glory. He has his second ring, and now he’s moving on.

The Ravens will not defend their title in any meaningful sense of the word. Yes, they’ll get that prime-time Thursday NBC slot to open the season. But they’ll be without the emotional leaders who defined the era the title validated, with a transition long in the making finally having been formalized, although as of now its main beneficiary appears an Aberdeen McDonald’s.

The heart of this team was 37; its soul was 34. Dismembering an “old guard” is one of the most delicate tasks management can perform. But like a band-aid, it’s actually less painful to remove all at once.

On Twitter, Ravens muse Kevin Van Valkenburg noted fans should view this team as a class of graduating seniors. Savor their accomplishments, but welcome a new group.

Still, it’s only natural to want to return to battle with the troops you had — especially when the players we’re parting ways with include football “warriors” like Anquan Boldin and Bernard Pollard. (Belittle the war analogy all you want, but the Ravens celebrated their title by riding around the city in tanks, and no one really seemed particularly off-put by the whole thing.)

But we have to accept this. You can’t embrace the last-ride mentality in January and renege by March. Winning a Super Bowl doesn’t change that. If anything, it solidifies our direction.

The Ravens weren’t built to be a dynasty. That ship sailed when Chris Redman, Kyle Boller, and Anthony Wright took meaningful snaps for top-5 defenses.

We’ve locked up Joe Flacco, because when you have a quarterback who just threw 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions over four playoff games, that’s what you do. I’ll gladly accept the risk Flacco regresses to whatever exactly his mean is rather than risk returning to the quarterback wilderness. You just can’t win Super Bowls with Trent Dilfer anymore. Locking in slightly above-average players like Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger to near superstar-level contracts is, regardless of the sport, the surest way to mismanage a payroll. Boldin will be 33 next season, and the list of receivers who age gracefully is a short one. Pollard? Yes, the Ravens beat New England partly because we beat their skill players into submission. But that’s clearly a decreasingly sustainable defensive model, and at some point John Harbaugh probably deserves a team he can fully call his own, despite my personal affinity for player old guards that have de facto locker room control.

Having feared the worst only a few months ago, I don’t want to watch this team slowly disintegrate before our eyes.

If you love something, let it go.

* A quick Ed Reed note that will only make sense with some European soccer knowledge: Does it sting every time I see Didier Drogba play for a club called Galatasaray, a Turkish side I’d never heard of before it plucked Drogba from his strange Shanghai excursion? Absolutely, and it probably would even if Fernando Torres’ play didn’t resemble a lifeless imitation of Fernando Torres. But the final ball Didier Drogba ever kicked for Chelsea quite literally won the club the Champions League, and sometimes you shouldn’t mess with a perfect ending, particularly a Super Bowl that clearly meant so much to him.

Ideally, Reed would retire — I don’t want to see him play for another team, and I don’t want to see him disappoint in a Ravens uniform. But I don’t think Ed Reed cares what I want him to do.

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