It’s safe to say that the last thing the Baltimore Ravens needed was another distraction.
On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated broke a bombshell of a report detailing one of the latest product being used by athletes looking for an edge: a deer-antler spray containing the performance enhancer IGF-1 that is also available in pill form. Several prominent athletes were identified as users, but Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has to be the biggest name on the list. Lewis, who missed much of the season with a triceps injury and is retiring after the Super Bowl, has strongly denied the allegations and is set to play in the game on Sunday.
Nonetheless, Antler-gate figures to become one of the biggest stories leading up to the big game, and not for the reasons that Lewis would hope. It remains to be seen just how much of a distraction it will be in the Baltimore locker room, but the track record for similar bizarre stories leading up to the Super Bowl does not appear to work in the Ravens’ favor.
A fullback for the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1980s, Stanley Wilson’s talent as a lead blocker was overshadowed by a cocaine problem that resulted in multiple suspensions during his career.
Wilson kept himself clean during the 1988 regular season and did a brilliant job as the lead blocker for a Bengals running game that just missed producing two 1000-yards rushers. But Wilson relapsed on the eve of Super Bowl XXIII, with the coaching staff finding him in the bathroom deep in the throes of a cocaine high. This resulted in Wilson being left off the Super Bowl roster and eventually a lifetime banishment from the NFL, as it was his third suspension for cocaine usage.
The Bengals would go on to lose the game to the San Francisco 49ers 20-16 and have not been back to the Super Bowl since.
While the Stanley Wilson incident was bad, his relapse on the eve of the Super Bowl was hardly something that came out of left field. Eugene Robinson’s actions prior to Super Bowl XXXIII, however, stunned everyone associated with the NFL.
Robinson, a veteran safety for the Atlanta Falcons, was widely regarded as one of the NFL’s most respected players, a fact hammered home when he was awarded the Bart Starr Award for “high moral character” on the eve of the Super Bowl. But Robinson was arrested later that night after soliciting an undercover cop who was posing as a prostitute, not only breaking the law but also team curfew.
It was something of a surprise that the Falcons kept Robinson active for the big game. It was less surprising that Robinson played poorly, getting burned by Rod Smith of the Denver Broncos on an 80-yard touchdown en route to a 34-19 defeat.
In 2002, many people regarded Barrett Robbins to be one of the NFL’s finest centers. Robbins had just finished up the best regular season of his career, earning a spot in the Pro Bowl and anchoring an Oakland Raiders’ line that paved the way for an offense that led the NFL in scoring.
But Robbins suddenly went missing the day before Super Bowl XXXVII, spending much of the day partying in Tijuana after neglecting to take his depression medication. Robbins was in no condition to play when the Raiders found him and was left off the roster altogether for the next day.
The Raiders were crushed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48-21, while Robbins was later admitted to the Betty Ford Center and diagnosed as bipolar.
There are reasons to think that the Ravens can overcome this distraction in time for Super Bowl XLVII. For one, this story did not break the day before the big game. There is also no tangible proof that Ray Lewis used the spray, and there are no plans to hold him out of the Super Bowl. The timing of the story is also somewhat fortunate for Lewis; this is not even the biggest PED-related bombshell to fall upon the sports world this week, according to many sports fans.
Still, this is not something the Ravens needed while preparing for the Super Bowl.