Stephens: WKU’s Rainey deserving of Super Bowl ring


Senior running back Bobby Rainey charges through the defensive line Nov. 16, 2011, in a game against Troy at Smith Stadium. His performance in that game made him the all-time leading rusher for WKU and gave him the record for the most rushing yards in one season. Rainey was signed as an undrafted free agent on Saturday by the Baltimore Ravens.

Brad Stephens

There’s one reason I’m pulling for the Baltimore Ravens Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII.

It’s not because I prefer Ravens coach John Harbaugh to his brother, San Francisco 49ers coach Jim (which I do).

It’s not because the 49ers bludgeoned my Green Bay Packers in the Divisional round.

It’s not because of some deep-seeded rebellion against my Cleveland Browns-loving and Art Modell-hating father.

It’s definitely not because I want to see Ray “Look at me” Lewis finish his career with a Super Bowl ring.

Actually the reason I’m cheering for the Ravens Sunday won’t even be playing in the game.

He’s an undrafted rookie who, after a productive preseason, spent most of the regular season either on the practice squad or injured reserve.

He won’t be throwing any passes, calling any plays, making any tackles or kicking any field goals. Instead he’ll be standing on the Baltimore sidelines with his teammates, soaking up the moment of what should be his second straight bowl game.

I’ll be cheering for the Ravens Sunday because of Bobby Rainey.

I’m not sure it’s possible for a college football player to give more of himself to his school and his team than Rainey did during five years at WKU.

The running back came to the program in 2007 as the Toppers were making the transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision. After a redshirt season in ’07, he played sparingly in 2008 and 2009 as the team stumbled to 2-10 and 0-12 records.

In those years Rainey averaged 6.17 and 6.52 yards per carry. Despite that production, the Griffin, Ga., native never got more than 144 attempts in his first two seasons playing.

Rainey stuck with the program even though the team was losing games and not getting him the ball enough.

Willie Taggart fixed that problem when he became head coach after the 2009 season. Rainey fit his power-running offense perfectly, and he figured the best way for his new squad to win games was by making Rainey the workhorse.

 Taggart got Rainey a nation-high 340 rushing attempts in 2010. He rushed for 1,649 yards, the nation’s fifth-best total.

Then as a fifth-year senior in 2011 Rainey ran the ball a nation-leading 369 times for a 1,695 yards, breaking WKU’s single-season and career-rushing records. The Toppers rode Rainey to a 7-5 record — their first time winning more than two games since his redshirt season of 2007.

Despite their winning record, WKU was left out of the 2011 postseason, and Rainey’s career ended not with a nationally-televised bowl game, but with a bowl snub.

Part of the reason that was so disappointing was because of everything Rainey did for Topper football.

No position in football takes more down-by-down punishment than running back. For a running back to run the ball 709 times in two years with that kind of production, while not missing any time for injury, is a statement to his dedication.

There were several times a game when Rainey took hits that would put most of us on the shelf for a week. But any time Taggart called his number Rainey was there to run up the middle for seven yards.

He did everything he could to carry WKU to FBS football relevance during his five years, while never letting the success go to his head.

Rainey always gave credit to others, whether it be deflecting chances to brag during interviews or in taking his offensive line to Shogun’s and picking up the tab.

There are plenty of jerks in Division I college football — Bobby Rainey definitely wasn’t one of them.

It’s been rewarding to see him sign with the Ravens after going undrafted and be part of a team that’s playing on the nation’s grandest stage Sunday night in New Orleans.

After being placed on injured reserve earlier this season, he won’t be the man carrying the load for the Ravens in the Super Bowl like he did so many times during his career at WKU.

But if Baltimore wins, Rainey will still get a possession every football player dreams of — a Super Bowl ring.

Here’s to hoping Rainey gets that ring.