One day before their season opener, Ali made a surprise visit to Ravens' practice and spent nearly an hour with the players and some of their children. Ali stayed to watch the Ravens beat the Cincinnati Bengals, their first step toward their second Lombardi Trophy. Ali's impact lasted throughout the season as players talked about his message to the team: the need to earn respect.
"I can't believe I had the honor of meeting this man," receiver Torrey Smith tweeted on the day of Ali's visit.
The Ravens have looked to Ali for the franchise's battle cry since John Harbaugh became their coach. During his first season in 2008, his father, Jack, gave a speech about Ali that he had delivered many times before. Jack Harbaugh recounted Ali's 1967 title bout against Ernie Terrell, who called Ali by his given name, Cassius Clay, even after Ali had changed it to reflect his devotion to Islam. As he hit Terrell during the lopsided bout, an angry Ali yelled, "What's my name?"
During team huddles thereafter, John Harbaugh would yell, "What's my name?" The players would respond, "Ravens," three times. The slogan appeared on players' T-shirts and flashed in lights on the stadium scoreboard.
When Jack Harbaugh was retelling the same story in September 2012, John had arranged for Ali to be driven in a golf cart right behind his father. The players gathered around him and broke the huddle by chanting "champ."
Ali and his wife, Lonnie, continued to follow the Ravens that season.
"We were totally taken," she wrote in an email to the New York Times in January 2013. "They are a family, and we felt like family. We became fans."
Before the AFC Championship Game, the Alis sent a text message to Harbaugh saying they were proud of the team. Harbaugh invited Ali and his wife to the Super Bowl in New Orleans, but they decided to watch the game at their home in Arizona.
A couple of hours after the Ravens won the Super Bowl, the daughter of the three-time heavyweight champion tweeted out a picture of Ali wearing a Ray Lewis shirt.
My dads health is normal! Here is a pic of him today! Thanks for all well wishes http://t.co/eJxKS6bE— Laila Ali (@TheRealLailaAli) February 4, 2013
During one of the greatest seasons in Ravens history, the team had "The Greatest of All Time" in their corner.