After an offseason of work and a month of grueling two-a-days, Ryan McBean's football season was over before it started.
In many ways, it was an NFL player's nightmare.
McBean, on a one-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens and essentially fighting for his next professional payday, was rolled up on during the first half of the first preseason game in Atlanta. His left ankle was fractured and dislocated.
His season was over before mid-August. His future was unclear.
“When my foot was facing the direction it wasn't supposed to be facing, I figured, ‘Yeah, OK. Something is wrong,'” the former Oklahoma State defensive end told a Baltimore radio station at the time.
Might have been one of the best things to happen in McBean's life.
With some newfound free-time in his hectic football life, while he sat at home and slowly recovered from the six-month setback, McBean decided to sign up for a full slate of online classes.
He left Oklahoma State in 2007 relatively close to finishing his degree. And he finally had the opportunity to make that longtime goal a reality.
“I promised myself and my friends and family that I would go back,” McBean said on the phone earlier this week, days before heading to New Orleans with his Raven teammates for the Super Bowl. “I believe things happen for a reason.”
He still attended team functions and position meetings, even roamed the sidelines on Sundays, but much of the 28-year-old's week was filled with schoolwork.
And the dedication paid off.
McBean missed the Ravens' Dec. 17 home loss to Denver. He didn't make it to the stadium. Wasn't even in the state. McBean had informed his coaches earlier in the week that he'd be attending his graduation ceremony in Stillwater that weekend.
“I told Coach John Harbaugh, let him know that I'd be heading out to Oklahoma to get my degree,” McBean recalled. “And all my coaches, teammates, everybody was excited for me.”
So was his family. And a few of his former high school teachers. He credits both with pushing him to finish up that all-important degree. And they were all there on that special weekend in Stillwater.
They watched McBean, dressed in cap and gown, walk the stage inside Gallagher-Iba Arena. He was even singled out by OSU president Burns Hargis during his graduation speech.
“It was wonderful,” McBean said. “Just a wonderful experience, something I won't forget. It was really important to me and that whole weekend was great.”
His first month as a postgraduate wasn't too bad, either.
Since returning to his familiar place on the Ravens sideline, Baltimore is 4-1, including three playoff wins and an AFC Championship.
His debilitating injury kept him from contributing on the field. But this experience, an up close ticket to Ray Lewis' final (and emotional) run through the playoffs, is something he considers among his best professional memories.
“This is way bigger than me,” McBean said. “You got Ray Lewis on his final run, guys like Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, these guys who have been here. It's been special for all of us, making it to the Super Bowl.”
“It's just been a special month.”