After waiting nearly a decade and a half, Sean Considine has finally found something he has been searching for since high school … and it's a lot bigger than his first Super Bowl.
The 8-year veteran special teamer will suit up for the Ravens on Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII, a game the former Byron all-stater and Iowa all-Big Ten safety has wanted to be part of since he was drafted by the Eagles in 2005.
But it's the group of guys with whom he's made this journey that has become the best part.
"I've been searching for this atmosphere, this type of team, ever since the 1999 state championship in Byron," Considine said earlier this week, via telephone from New Orleans. "A group that comes together so tight, basically puts up a wall where all the guys inside are on board, respect each other, get along, and fight for the same thing. If you've ever been a part of something like that, you know it doesn't happen very often.
"But every now and then, you'll have that type of group combined with a magical year. It happened in 1999, but I haven't quite had that with any team I've been a part of since … until this year in Baltimore, where it feels like that's happened again."
Just when he thought he was out
It's just the latest step in Considine's remarkable road in football. The former Hawkeye walk-on developed into a fourth-round NFL draft pick, and spent his first 6 years with two teams, the Eagles and the Jaguars.
But last season, just 4 weeks into the year with the Panthers, Considine was cut after a rough special-teams outing against the Bears. He landed on his feet with the Cardinals, but wasn't sure if he would continue his career.
Then, he got a phone call from Ravens coach John Harbaugh, his former special teams coach in Philadelphia. The Ravens, one of the worst teams in the NFL on special teams in 2011, were ready to bring Considine in to help shore up their issues.
The rest is history, still being written.
"For the stars to align the way they did this year … the whole deal has been just tremendous luck or whatever you want to call it, and what a great opportunity it's been," Considine said. "For Baltimore to need a veteran role player like me, for John to be in the position he was in, for us to have had that relationship in the past … it's not often that a plan comes together and plays out exactly the way you mapped it like it has for me this year.
"Back in the offseason, going into my eighth year, I was thinking, 'Man, I've got to get to the Super Bowl.' It was one of the last things left in my career that I hadn't had the opportunity to compete for and experience, and I wanted it so bad."
One team, one mantra
All season, Harbaugh studied the past, talking to his veteran-laden team about what it would take to play their best football come playoff time. He looked at the recent Super Bowl winners, searching for the key.
The message in the Ravens locker room throughout the postseason has been simple: Do your job, trust your teammates, focus on the little things to have big-picture success.
Harbaugh had no trouble selling the formula.
"This is a team sport, and the ability to have the talent and the experience get overlooked sometimes these days, with everybody trying to find the next new superstar," Considine said. "To have kept this nucleus in place all these years, you've got to give credit to [general manager] Ozzie Newsome. Then, to bring in a coach like John, who, like Ozzie, understands the true value of 'team,' of 53 guys believing in and committing to things as a unit, that really gives you a great chance to hoist that Lombardi Trophy. Baltimore's done it better than any franchise I've seen."
The team's mantra has bounced around Considine's head since the AFC Championship win over the Patriots 2 weeks ago – even during a week off to spend time with family and friends in Byron, even as the team got back together in Baltimore for their flight to New Orleans on Monday.
"It's easy to see how players can lose focus during Super Bowl week," Considine said, "and I've been really challenging myself to concentrate on the football game itself. My No. 1 goal is to win the Super Bowl, not just play in one."
The Big Easy challenge
The challenge of zeroing in on the game was even tougher once the Ravens got to the Big Easy. Some 7,000 media credentials were assigned to all manner of writers and broadcasters, and they're all in one place at one time for the media day activities.
Considine said he gave interviews to Christian organizations, media outlets from foreign countries, even Nickelodeon.
"It's a frenzy, all sorts of people out there," he said. "Some are dressed up in crazy costumes, some are from publications you've never heard of and will never come across again. It's about as much fun watching them walk around and talk to guys as it is for them to hear what we have to say."
Among the hordes of people that will descend upon New Orleans this week are roughly 50 of Considine's family members and friends from Byron, Dixon and Amboy. The team was given evenings off, and he spent dinnertimes with those who went down to share his experience of a lifetime.
Considine's maximum allotment of tickets is 15, meaning that most of those folks won't be attending the Super Bowl itself. But he was sure those without tickets will would stay occupied.
"It's not hard to find something to do in this town," he said with a chuckle. "They'll probably be running around Bourbon Street, just having a good time."
Considine, too, is taking everything in as much as possible. He doesn't know how many more chances, if any, he'll get at this go-round.
Retirement has been a big focus in Baltimore throughout the playoffs, after veteran linebacker Ray Lewis – the face of the franchise – announced before the postseason that he would be playing the final games of his 17-year NFL career. It's an issue not completely foreign to Considine, whose career has already lasted twice as long as the average NFL player.
"It always crosses your mind, especially when you hit the age I am, 31, and think about how much you've got left and the impact the game takes on your body," Considine said. "I love the game of football, and to make the decision to walk away is very difficult. But one of these days, it's going to be the best decision for not only me, but my wife and kids as well, and I'll focus on that more once I'm done with this game."
But the urge to step aside from football isn't as much in the forefront for Considine after following up the instability of 2011 with the playoff run he's been dreaming about since he first entered the NFL.
After last season, Considine found himself dealing more with the business of the NFL than the joy of playing football. But 2012 has renewed his faith in the league and the game, and he said he's experienced enough to enjoy the position he's in more than he would have earlier in his career.
"I had the opportunity to play in an NFC Championship with Philadelphia [after the 2008 season], and I don't think I was quite old enough, or at a high enough level, to understand how tough it really is to compete for a Super Bowl berth," Considine said. "To be that close, I didn't quite appreciate it as much as I should have.
"This year, especially with the way things have been in my career, bouncing around so much the past few years, I just understand so much more how fortunate I am and unbelievable this whole experience is. It also has a lot to do with my attitude, just having fun playing the game and enjoying being part of this team this year. It's been a breath of fresh air, and I'm pinching myself every day."
Road to the Super Bowl
• Byron High School, class of 2000: Won Class 3A state championship in 1999. … 2-time all-state running back. … Ran for school-record 4,010 yards & 65 TDs in career, & school-record 34 TDs as a senior. … Had three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
• University of Iowa, class of 2005: All-Big Ten safety as a senior. … Part of best 4-year run in Hawkeye history, as Iowa went 38-12, including 24-8 in Big Ten, from 2001-2004. … Part of four bowl games, where Hawkeyes went 3-1. … Scored TD off blocked punt in final game, Iowa's 30-25, last-second win over defending national champion LSU in Capital One Bowl following 2004 season.
• NFL: First pick of 4th round (102nd overall) by Eagles in 2005 draft. … Has played for Eagles (2005-08), Jaguars (2009-10), Panthers (2011), Cardinals (2011) and Ravens (2012). … Has 260 career tackles (195 solo), 15 passes defended, 6 fumble recoveries, 4 INTs, 2.5 sacks & 2 forced fumbles. … Also has 100 special teams tackles. … Played on Eagles teams that lost in second round of playoffs after 2006 season and lost NFC Championship after 2008 season.
• 2013: Has played in every game for Ravens on special teams, recording 7 tackles. … Also has 2 tackles (1 solo) as back-up safety. … Reunited with head coach John Harbaugh, who was Considine's special teams coordinator with Eagles. … Had 1 rush for 3 yards on fake punt against Eagles in Week 2.
• Philadelphia Eagles (2005-2008): Drafted as first pick in 4th round (102nd overall) of 2005 draft by defending NFC champion Eagles. … Played strong safety in 46 games (17 starts) over 4 years in Philly, with 136 tackles (93 solo), 2 INTs, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries. … Also played special teams, covering kickoffs and punts, recording 68 special teams tackles (including team highs of 26 in 2006 & 32 in 2008).
• Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-10): Signed as free agent in offseason. … Played in 25 games (11 starts) a strong & free safety on 2 years with Jags. … Had 78 tackles (62 solo), 2 INTs, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 passes defended. … Also played special teams, covering kickoffs and punts, recording 17 special teams tackles.
• Carolina Panthers (2011): Played 4 games without a start on defense. … Had 1 fumble recovery. … Covered kickoffs and punts. … Was released after Week 4 loss to Bears.
• Arizona Cardinals (2012): Signed with Cards 1 week after being let go by Panthers. … Played 8 games without a start on defense. … Had 4 assisted tackles, 1 fumble recovery. … Covered kickoffs and punts, recording 8 special teams tackles.
• Baltimore Ravens (2012): Signed as free agent in offseason. … Has played in every game this year as special teamer, recording 7 special teams tackles (6 solo). … Also has 1 solo tackle and 1 assist as back-up safety. … Reunited with head coach John Harbaugh, his special teams coordinator with Eagles. … Also had 1 rush for 3 yards on fake punt against Eagles in Week 2.