Ravens have grown up as a franchise

BALTIMORE -- Hundreds of thousands of Baltimore Ravens fans lined downtown streets and packed M&T Bank Stadium to toast the Super Bowl champions in a victory parade.

They celebrated Ray Lewis' last ride. They cheered the start of Joe Flacco's legacy. They also witnessed a franchise that has grown up by NFL standards.

On Saturday, Jonathan Ogden became the first player ever drafted by the Ravens to get elected to the Hall of Fame. A day later, the Ravens won their second Super Bowl, a significant achievement for a franchise that is only 17 years old.

Approximately one-third of the teams in this league have won multiple Super Bowls, and 11 teams -- except the Ravens -- have been playing for more than 40 years. The Ravens have achieved this feat while existing less than half that time.

This isn't to say the Ravens are on the same level as the Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys in terms of signature franchises in the league. But the Ravens certainly moved up a class after this past weekend in New Orleans.

And these Ravens are precocious.

"I don't know how many more times we can do this before Baltimore loses that chip on its shoulder," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti told the crowd. "I hope it doesn't ever happen."

This isn't the franchise formerly known as the Browns anymore, one that got kicked around while losing 31 games in its first three seasons. These Ravens are now among the NFL big boys. Former coach Brian Billick is the one who turned a perennial loser into a Super Bowl champion. But coach John Harbaugh made the Ravens consistent winners.

The Ravens are the only team in the NFL to reach the playoffs the past five seasons. They've advanced to the AFC Championship Game three times in those five years and would've gone to consecutive Super Bowls if Lee Evans had held on to the ball in last year's AFC title game.

Since the Ravens became part of the league in 1996, only five other teams have won more than one Super Bowl: Packers, Patriots, Steelers, Broncos and Giants. And only one team (the Patriots) has more Super Bowl titles than Baltimore during that time.

The Ravens move into the next era of the franchise in 2013. For the first time, they will start a season without Lewis, whose last game was the Super Bowl. At Tuesday's celebration, Lewis did his final squirrel dance at M&T Bank Stadium. Five years from now, Lewis will become the Ravens' second player in the Hall of Fame.

The franchise is now in the hands of Flacco, running back Ray Rice, linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and their sights remain high.

"Joe Flacco said we're repeating, baby," safety Ed Reed said. "They better look out for us, Baltimore."