When an NFL head coach looks into his backfield, what does he hope to see? A playmaker—a guy who can pick up yardage or even go the distance when there’s nothing there. In Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens have that and more. After five outstanding seasons and a Super Bowl win, Ray has proven to be one of the league’s most elusive backs, averaging five yards every time he takes a handoff and reeling in 60–plus passes a year. He also owns the second-longest run in NFL postseason history. For Baltimore fans who love their smash-mouth football, Ray comes up big in this category, too. Despite being one of the shortest players in a generation, he gives as good as he gets. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Raymell Maurice Rice was born on January 22, 1987 in New Rochelle, New York. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) Raymell—or Ray for short—was the youngest of four kids. His mother, Janet, taught special needs children.

Ray never knew his father, Calvin Reed. In 1988, he was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Ray’s cousin, MyShaun, stepped in to provide male guidance when needed. But Myshaun was killed by a drunk driver when Ray was 10. At that point, Ray figured he’d better learn how to take care of himself. 

Ray was not a big kid, and he didn't expect to be a tall, imposing adult. His mother stands a hair under five feet tall. But Ray was strong, smart and fast. He gravitated to football and basketball, where he learned how to stay low to the ground to navigate through the forest of taller players.

As Ray began playing organized football in the youth leagues of Westchester, he gained a reputation as a battering ram. His strong legs also made him a good punter and place kicker—two jobs he held until he got to college. Ray wasn’t a bad defensive back either. He loved to break up passes and meet runners who broke through the line. He also had soft hands and good anticipation.

When Ray watched NFL games on TV, he was drawn to running backs who didn’t shy away from contact. His favorite was Eddie George of the Tennessee Titans. To this day, he wears George’s #27.

In 2001, Ray enrolled at New Rochelle High School. One of the top high schools in the country, NRHS was never known for producing great athletes. Its notable alumnae include director Elia Kazan, actor Richard Roundtree, sports radio personality Craig Carton, billionaire Jerome Kohlberg and Henry Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver. Quite a mixed bag. Ray is already the best pro athlete the school has produced.

In 2002, during his sophomore year, Ray established himself as one of the top players on coach Lou DiRienzo’s varsity football squad. He was flanked by Glen Lee and Courtney Greene. Both of these stars would also be college teammates of Ray’s. 

Ray became the featured back as a junior for the Huguenots, gaining over 1,000 yards and scoring 21 times. He led NRHS to the state championship. A few months later, as point guard for the basketball team, he helped the Huguenots reach the state finals.

In Ray’s senior season, he was the team’s dominant star. He gained 1,192 yards on 112 carries and scored 31 touchdowns.  Once again, the Huguenots made it to the state title game, but this time they were defeated by Christian Brothers Academy and their two-sport superstar, Greg Paulus. After the season, Ray was named First Team All-State as a running back.

By this time, Ray was narrowing down his college choices. He was most impressed by coach Paul Pasqualoni of Syracuse and committed to the Orangemen. But when the school fired Pasqualoni that spring, Ray changed his mind. He felt he owed his loyalty to the outgoing coach, not to Syracuse. This opened the door for the schools that had missed out the first time around. Greg Schiano, the dynamic young coach of Rutgers, convinced Ray that the Scarlet Knights were on the verge of snapping a 14-season losing streak. He told Ray that he had a chance to be part of something great.

ON THE RISE

As Schiano promised, in 2005, Ray’s freshman year, Rutgers turned in its first winning season since 1990. Ray worked his way into the starting lineup during a campaign that energized the New Jersey campus. He finished the season with 1,120 yards and five touchdowns. Ray’s best game came against UConn. He tore through the Huskies for 217 yards.

The Scarlet Knights went 7–4, including a 4–3 mark in the Big East. That December, the team played in its second-ever bowl game, the Insight Bowl. Rutgers put up a great fight in a 45–40 loss to Arizona State. The Scarlet Knights actually led 24–17 at the half, but the defense collapsed in the final 30 minutes.

Ray’s backfield mate was fullback Brian Leonard. Before Ray’s arrival at Rutgers, Leonard was being touted as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. In 2006, Leonard devoted himself to blocking for Ray, accepting the fact that he would not get as many touches as in past seasons. His selfless decision helped Ray blossom into a big-time runner, which in turn helped boost the Scarlet Knights into the Top 20.


 

 

 

 

 


Eddie George, 2003 Playoff

     
 

As a sophomore, Ray set a school record with 1,794 yards, including a 225-yard performance against Pitt. He also scored 20 touchdowns.

With the Rice-Leonard tandem sharing the backfield and sophomore Mike Teel calling the signals, the Scarlet Knights beat several quality teams, including UNC, Illinois, Syracuse, Pitt, South Florida and Louisville. The win over the Cardinals was the most electric game of the year—Louisville was the #3 team in the country at the time. Rutgers actually snuck into the Top 10 before losing to Cincinnati and West Virginia late in the year. The Scarlet Knights finished with the #12 national ranking.

In the season-ending Texas Bowl, Ray rolled up 170 yards in a 37–10 drubbing of Kansas State. It was the first bowl win in school history—quite a drought considering Rutgers was one of the two colleges that participated in America’s first football game, in 1869.

Ray was part of a group of fearless, confident players that had helped transform Rutgers football. Like Ray—who at 5-8 had not been considered Grade A beef when he began his college career—their love of football and never-say-die spirit more than made up for any physical shortcomings.  

In 2007, for the first time in their history, the Scarlet Knights entered a football season nationally ranked. They were pegged at #16 in most polls. Early losses to Maryland and Cincinnati squashed any hopes of a national title, but in mid-October, Rutgers managed to pick off the nation’s #2 team, the South Florida Bulls. Coach Schiano used every trick in the book to win 30–27. 

Ray battered the South Florida defense. He gained 181 yards—many of those coming with defenders riding his back. Ray was thought of as a speed back, but in this game, he showed that he could be a power back when his team needed tough yards. Late in the game, Ray fumbled, giving South Florida a chance to win. The Rutgers defense—which recorded seven sacks in the game—stepped up and denied the Bulls. It was a team effort in the truest sense, and one of the proudest moments of Ray’s life.

Ray’s best statistical game during the 2007 regular season came against Army. He set a school record with 243 yards in a 41–6 rout. The previous record-holder was Terrell Willis.

Ray outdid himself in the International Bowl against Ball State, upping his own mark to 280 yards. Rutgers triumphed 52–30. It was the school’s eighth win against five losses. In what would prove to be his last college game, Ray was named the MVP.  


Ray Rice & Brian Leonard, 2008 HIT
     
 

Three days later, Ray announced that he would skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. In 38 games for the Scarlet Knights, Ray set school records with 4,926 career yards and 49 touchdowns. Only Lee Suggs of Virginia Tech found the end zone more often for a Big East school.

Come April, there were a lot of talented runners on the board in the first two rounds of the draft—including Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Rashard Mendenhall, Jamaal Charles, Kevin Smith and Matt Forte. Ray lasted until the second round, when the Ravens called his name. Baltimore had veteran Willis McGahee in the backfield, but the club needed a young talent like Ray to back him up.

As it turned out, McGahee missed huge chunks of time in 2008 thanks to a variety of injuries. Fullback LeRon McLain picked up most of the slack when the star was sidelined. Ray saw lots of action, too.

The Ravens, meanwhile, handed the quarterback job to fellow rookie Joe Flacco. The team had a killer defense led by Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. Baltimore simply needed a passer who could manage it’s ground-based offense. Flacco proved up to the task.

The Ravens rebounded from three straight early-season losses to go 9–2 in the final 11 games. They finished at 11-5 to secure a playoff berth.  

Ray got plenty of touches as a rookie. He actually led the team with 22 carries on the season’s opening weekend. Later in the year, he ran for 154 yards against the Cleveland Browns. In all, he gained 454 yards on 107 carries and caught 33 passes for 273 yards.

By playoff time, Ray was feeling the pain of a long season andhad to sit out the Wild Card game against the Miami Dolphins. Fortunately, Baltimore didn’t need him. The defense ate up Chad Pennington and the Miami offense. The Ravens caused five turnovers in a 27–9 win.

A week later, Baltimore got a taste of its own medicine in Pittsburgh. The Steelers put the defensive clamps on the Ravens and won 23–14. Late in the game, McGahee absorbed a vicious hit and had to be carted off the field. The sight was particularly painful for Ray to watch. He learned a lot from McGahee about the NFL. He especially appreciated what a difference quick feet made in the pros. He would take that lesson into the 2009 season.

MAKING HIS MARK

After the beating absorbed by McGahee, the Ravens elevated Ray to the starting lineup ahead of his mentor. By limiting McGahee’s carries, coach John Harbaugh hoped to keep him relatively fresh and injury-free. McGahee could save his best for the Ravens when Flacco got the team into the red zone. 

Ray ran for 108 yards in the season's first game, a 38–24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. He scored his first touchdown as a pro in Week 3 against the Browns, as the Ravens took their third straight. The formula was simple. Ray got the lion’s share of the carries, and then McGahee would be inserted to punch the ball into the end zone. By season’s end, Ray would amass over 1,000 yards and McGahee would reach double-digits in the touchdown department. 


Ray Rice, 2008 Upper Deck Heroes
     
 

But it was far from a smooth campaign. Baltimore hit a rough patch starting in October and lost six of nine games. Playing from behind so often, Flacco was forced to put the ball in the air. While this diminished Ray’s rushing stats somewhat, it gave him a chance to show off his receiving skills. He reeled in an extraordinary number of passes, albeit often in losing causes.

With their backs against the wall, the Ravens clawed their way back into playoff contention with three wins in their final four games. Ray got Baltimore back on track in Week 14 when he ran for 166 yards (and caught passes for 50 yards) in 48–3 thrashing of the Detroit Lions—not bad when you consider he sat out almost the entire second half.

Baltimore’s only loss down the stretch came in a 23–20 nailbiter against the Steelers. Ray was fantastic in this contest. He tore through the Steel Curtain for 141 yards on 30 carries. Prior to that game, no running back had reached triple-digits against Pittsburgh in 32 games.

When the regular season came to an end, Ray had himself quite a year. He ran the ball 254 times for 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught a team-leading 78 passes for 702 yards and another touchdown. Only seven other players in history had gained 1,000 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving in the same season.

The Ravens finished 2009 with a 9–7 record, good enough to squeak into the playoffs. Their reward was a Wild Card date with the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium, a notoriously difficult place to win a postseason game. Earlier in the year, the Ravens had lost 27–21 on the same field.

This time it would be different. Ray set the tone on Baltimore’s first play from scrimmage when he took a handoff up the middle and exploded for an 83-yard touchdown. It was the second-longest run in NFL postseason history. Toward the end of the first quarter, Ray scored again after an interception of a Tom Brady pass by Chris Carr. That made the score 21–0. Baltimore won 33–14. Ray finished with a team playoff-record 159 yards on 22 carries.

Suddenly, the Ravens were the trendy pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. This turned out to be wishful thinking. In the next round, Indianapolis piled up 17 points in the first half and coasted to a 20–3 win. Ray was the only player in purple and black the Colts couldn’t stop. He was high man for Baltimore in both the rushing and receiving departments.

Ray picked up right where he left off in 2010. Never the focus of the team’s attack, he nevertheless provided the balance that enabled the running and passing game to succeed. Ray racked up about 100 yards a game between rushing and receiving as the Ravens finished strong with six wins in their final seven games to win the AFC North with a 12–4 records.

Only Ray’s final numbers told the whole story. At season’s end, he had 1,220 yards on the ground, plus 63 catches for another 556 yards. He scored a total of six touchdowns and was third in the league in total yards from scrimmage. Only two other players had more touches than Ray’s 370.

The Ravens met the Chiefs in their first playoff game and dispatched them with relative ease. Kansas City led briefly 7–3 until Flacco found Ray with a short pass for the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter. Baltimore poured it on after that and won 30–7. Ray scored another touchdown one week later as the Ravens played the Steelers. His 14-yard scamper tied the score 7–7, but Pittsburgh prevailed 31–24 on a TD run by Rashard Mendenhall with less than two minutes on the clock.


Ray Rice, 2009 Score
     
 

Ray’s first game of 2011 also came against the Steelers. This time he had better luck, running for 107 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns. He had five more 100-yard games during the year—including a 204-yard game in a road win over the Browns. Ray proved the road warrior in the final game of the year at Cincinnati when he ran for 191 yards and scored his 11th and 12th rushing touchdowns of the season. He also logged a three-touchdown game in a home win over the Arizona Cardinals in late October.

Ray finished the year with a career-best 1,364 yards on the ground and another 704 yards on 76 catches. He scored 12 touchdowns on the ground, another four on catches, and threw a TD pass for good measure. Ray’s 2,068 yards from scrimmages was tops in the NFL. He earned his second trip to the Pro Bowl.

Unfortunately for Ray and the Ravens, the season ended earlier than they would have liked. After another 12–4 record and AFC North title, they fell agonizingly short of a Super Bowl berth. After defeating the Houston Texans in the second round of the playoffs, Baltimore faced the Patriots for the AFC Championship. With Lewis, Reed and other veteran defensive leaders beginning to show their years, the fans and players acknowledged that this might be the Ravens’ last chance.

Leading 20–16 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens gave up the go-ahead touchdown on a fourth-down quarterback sneak. Baltimore stormed back in the closing seconds. Flacco found Lee Evans in the end zone with a perfect pass, but Sterling Moore batted it out of his grasp. Then Billy Cundiff missed the game-tying field goal. It was a shattering defeat.

Ultimately, t he 2012 season would reveal a lot about the Ravens. With the roster aging, many felt that the team’s championship window was closing. Their emotional leader, Lewis, was unlikely to play during the 2013 regular season because of a serious arm injury. Reed turned 34 early in the campaign, creating even more questions about the Baltimore defense.. More responsibility would have to be shouldered by Ray and Flacco.

These transitions can be tricky, and often involve a step backwards before a club starts moving forward again, but Ray was having none of it. After signing a five-year contract with the team, he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth year in a row. He also caught 61 passes and scored a total of 10 touchdowns.

The highlight of the year—not just for Ray and the Ravens, but perhaps for the NFL—came in a November game against the Chargers in San Diego. With two minutes left and the score 13–10, the team faced a 4th-and-29. Flacco sent four receivers deep into the secondary but could not find an open man. He took his only remaining option and dumped the ball of to Ray, who then provided his own brand of magic. Ray danced around three tacklers only to find Eric Weddle and two more Chagers closing in for the kill. Boldin came out of nowheere and leveled Weddle, enabling Rice to dive between the two remaining defenders for the first down. A field goal tied the game and the Ravens went on to win 16–13 in OT.

The victory enabled Baltimore to survive a horrible 1–4 finish and still win the AFC North title with a 10–6 mark. They faced the surprising Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round and defeated them 24–9. Rookie Bernard Pierce led the rushing attack with 103 yards, and Ray chipped in 68 on the ground and 47 yards receiving—all on one fantastic catch and run.

Next up came a see-saw battle with the Broncos. Most fans figured that the Ravens would get blown out against a resurgent Peyton Manning in Denver. But Flacco stepped up to play the best game of his career, and Ray proved to be an unsung hero with 30 carries for 131 yards and a tochdown. Manning actually gave his team a 35–28 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Ravens got the ball back on their 23-yard line with 1:09 to go. After an incompletion and a scramble, Flacco heaved a long pass to Jacoby Jones that found its way over Denver's prevent defense for a 70-yard touchdown to tie the game. With one minute left in overtime, Manning threw an interception in Denver territory. Justin Tucker booted a 47-yard field goal to send Baltimore to the AFC Championship.


Ray Rice, 2011 Topps
     
 

The AFC title game against the Patriots was anticlimactic by comparison. The Ravens traveled to New England and won easily, 28-13. Ray scored the game’s first touchdown early in the second quarter and combined with Pierce to roll up exactly 100 yards on the ground. The Ravens did most of their damage through the air, with Flacco throwing three TD passes.

Super Bowl XLVII was billed as a battle of brother versus brother, as the Harbaughs dominated the media coverage. Most prognosticators assumed the 49ers would have the advantage on the turf in the New Orleans SuperDome. But the Ravens were able to match San Francisco’s speed on offense. In a strange and exciting game, they also made more big plays. Baltimore scored three times in the first half and confounded Colin Kaepernick, the young 49er passer. When Jacoby Jones opened the second half with a 108-yard kickoff return, it appeared a blowout was in the offing. But then the lights went out in the SuperDome for 35 minutes. It was a very different game when they came back on.

The 49ers were energized and the Ravens were flat. Ray coughed up the football late in the third quarter, resulting in a San Francisco field goal to make the score 28–23. Baltimore added a field goal only to watch the 49ers drive right back down the field and score another touchodwn. The Ravens denied the ensuing 2-point conversion to cling to a 31-29 lead. Late in the fourth quarter, San Francisco moved deep into Baltimore territory but could not push the ball across the goal line. The Ravens held on for a 34-29 victory. Ray accounted for 78 yards in the game—59 rushing and 19 receiving. His 12-yard run in the fourth quarter helped keep the eventual game-winning drive alive.

While Flacco—the Super Bowl MVP—deserves a great deal of credit for leading Baltimore to the postseason in each of his first five seasons, it is unlikely he could have done so without his Ray, his fellow draftee and dynamic double-threat. No back in football creates moreproblems for defenses, and no one works harder to give his quarterback a chance to succeed. With the Super Bowl coming to Ray’s old stomping ground in New Jersey in 2014, don’t be surprised to see him find yet another gear when playoff time rolls around.

RAY THE PLAYER

Ray may be short, but he does not have a small body. He is rock-solid and knows how to use his low center of gravity to deliver painful blows to would-be tacklers. Add good speed and quality moves, and you’ve got a very special player. If defenders commit too early, they might miss Ray entirely. If they try an arm tackle, Ray can break out of it.

Although Ray has a way to go before anyone starts calling him the best in the business, he may already be the most complete third-down back in football. Depending on the yardage, the Ravens can hand the ball to Ray or throw a check-down pass to him. Either way, they can be fairly certain that he will get close to the first down marker.

Ray is a popular teammate, and not just because he makes huge plays and hangs on to the football. Whenever praise is directed at him, he is quick to share it with his teammates—particularly his linemen. Indeed, Ray has always been a team-first guy. He wants to win and stats are a secondary concern.


Ray Rice, 2012 Score Insert
     

 

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