BALTIMORE -- After a delightful summer in which he carried the ball only 10 times in the preseason, Ray Rice is ready for some Monday Night football.
"It's sort of like that refreshing feeling, like the first day of school when you want to wear your new clothes," the Baltimore Ravens running back said. "That's what Monday night is. You put on your best outfit and you're ready to go. It's obviously a great feeling, because you know what Monday night is. A lot of great players are made on Monday night. Those are the ones that are remembered."
Many of those prime-time stars can thank Art Modell for the opportunity to showcase their talent on a national stage. Modell, the former majority owner of the Ravens and a man instrumental in making Monday night football a fixture in America, died on Thursday.
How fitting that Baltimore's first game since his death is on Monday night, against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"It's an amazing twist," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I would say a providential irony, you know? Maybe they are laughing about that up there right now. But Art Modell is a giant. He did pioneer Monday night football."
The Ravens will have a moment of silence before the game, and if linebacker Ray Lewis has his say, the players will draw from Modell's spirit long after the opening kickoff.
"I think Ray and some of the guys that have been around him will get the message across to a lot of the players on this team," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "This whole organization had a lot of love for him, and I think that will definitely show."
A year ago, Baltimore swept the Bengals behind the running of Rice. It's quite clear that Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis hasn't forgotten.
Reminded that Rice had a few long runs against the Bengals last year, Lewis interrupted the question and said: "59, 51 and 70."
His memory was sound. The 59-yarder came in the first game between AFC North rivals, a 31-24 duel. The other two lengthy touchdown runs were part of a 191-yard rushing performance in Cincinnati that carried Baltimore to a 24-16 victory in the season finale.
Now, after a nice little summer vacation, Rice is ready to pick up where he left off.
"We played the game in practice. But yes, I am eager to get out there and play four quarters because you're not just playing in a practice situation anymore," he said. "You're playing for the game, and you're playing in a real game. So, four quarters will tell it all."
Flacco said, "It's nice to have him, Game 1 ready to go. And hopefully, we can keep him healthy a full 16 heading into the playoffs."
Although the Bengals went to the postseason last year, they went 0-7 against teams that reached the playoffs. Beating the Ravens would go a long way toward dispelling talk about their failure to match up with the better clubs in the NFL. For that to happen, they've got to stop Rice.
"He can make one or two people miss, and based on our game last year, he took two big long runs in our last game at home," Cincinnati linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "I think if we do our best by shutting him down, keeping all eyes on him wherever he's at, then we will have a chance. We've just got to pressure Flacco, get him nervous, and stop Ray Rice."
Marvin Lewis noted that the Bengals managed to keep Rice in check on plenty of runs last year. The problem was those other ones, when the Cincinnati defense got out of whack.
"You have to get in your gaps, stay on your feet and make the tackle," the coach said. "That's how you prevent any run from going the distance. The other 35 runs he had were three (yards) or less, but you can't give up those explosive plays like that. That makes for a long day."
Or, in this case, a long night.