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The inspiring story of Ravens director of player personnel O.J. Brigance has been well-documented.
Brigance is suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gherig’s Disease, which severely limits his physical capabilities. But even though he may not be able to communicate or move like he used to, the longtime linebacker still maintains a strong presence around the Ravens.
All players pay tribute to Brigance before each game, but several players paid tribute to Brigance during the Ravens’ 38-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Linebackers Brendon Ayanbadejo and Antwan Barnes performed Brigance’s celebration dance when they made plays on special teams, the area in which Brigance was known.
Brigance was a linebacker for the Ravens and Miami Dolphins from 1996-2000, when he won a championship ring with Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV. Before that, he played in the CFL with the B.C. Lions and Baltimore Stallions from 1991-1995, winning a Grey Cup in 1995.
As a person who was always undersized and overlooked, Brigance beat the odds year after year, and the current crop of Ravens players know his football stories as well as his fight with ALS.
Ayanbadejo said that one day last week, a group of Ravens were sitting in the hot and cold tubs at the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills, Md., and a television was broadcasting a special on Brigance.
The program showed footage of Brigance making special teams tackles in the 2000 postseason. He notched a team-high 10 in the playoffs, along with the very first stop in the Super Bowl.
When he did make that tackle in the Super Bowl, Brigance got up, waved one arm in a circle and gave a six-shooter-like gesture to the crowd.
Ayanbadejo and Barnes decided then that they would emulate Brigance.
“I have so much respect for O.J.,” Ayanbadejo said. “He is such an inspiration to us every day. I talk to him before games to ask him for just a little of his strength out on the field. It was a fun way to honor him when we did something that he accomplished back when he played.”
Ayanbadejo and Brigance have a special bond. Both men paid their dues in the CFL and then clawed their way onto the NFL gridiron with passionate special teams play.
Now, Ayanbadejo is a three-time Pro Bowler as a special teamer, including last season when he led the Ravens with a career-high 30 special teams stops.
“On the field and off the field, I want to be a man of O.J.’s caliber,” Ayanbadejo said. “He wasn’t flashy by any means, but he had emotion when he played. That always shows, even now.”