Feb. 18, 2013
Auburn, Ala. - Former Auburn football linebacker Josh Bynes understands overcoming adversity.
As a high school senior, Bynes' season was cut short with an injury.
He arrived at Auburn in 2007 and started the final eight games of his sophomore season, enduring Auburn's first losing season in nine years and the program's first coaching change in a decade. Just two years later, he helped the Tigers to the BCS National Championship, their first title in over 50 years.
As an undrafted free agent, Bynes signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. It was a year filled with ups and downs. As a member of the practice squad, he was activated for only one game.
Entering his second season in 2012, he was hopeful to make the active roster and back up middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Little did he know that in a seven-month stretch, he was about to experience the lowest and highest points of his career.
It was during a July goal line scrimmage that Bynes made a routine tackle that had a not-so-routine result. Bynes was hit from behind and pain began to set in.
"I thought I had the wind knocked out of me because I was in pain," Bynes said. "The first person that came up to me was Ray Lewis and he said `you're hurt'. He told me that I had hurt my back and that he had to have surgery like that two years ago."
Bynes thought he was fine, but quickly it became apparent. The pain was not normal.
"A few seconds went by and after a minute, the right side of my leg went numb," Bynes said. "I ended up going to the hospital because they didn't know what was wrong with me. Come to find out I fractured a few bones in my lower back. It was the most excruciating pain ever."
Fortunately for Bynes, the injury did not require surgery. He was prescribed several weeks of rest to heal the injury.
"I couldn't move," Bynes said. "The sudden movement made me feel like I was going to die. I had to literally sit for weeks and do nothing but sit on the couch and ice my back. I couldn't do anything but sit."
The difficult recovery process was made easier with the aid of Bynes' fiancé, Briana Johnson, a former Auburn volleyball player, whom he met when he first arrived to Auburn's campus in 2007.
"She helped me through the whole process and helped me with the ice and getting up in the middle of the night when I couldn't get up," Bynes said. "She was the most important person I could ever have through the process. I couldn't have gotten through it without her."
With Briana's help, he recovered and returned to the practice squad in September. He continued to progress and on Oct. 17, was signed to the 53-man roster.
"It was just crazy how many things I had gone through just to get to play," Bynes said. "I was happy and excited for the opportunity."
With injuries mounting on the team, Bynes' role increased. In Week 15 against Denver, he made his first career start at middle linebacker.
"I was ready for my moment to go out and do what I have wanted to do since I have been here," he said. "I always have been practicing and preparing myself to step up and be the next guy. That is why we have the `Next Man Up' (motto) at the team facility because our team was hit with injuries. Everybody had to step up in some form or fashion."
Despite losing to the Broncos, Bynes tallied a team-high 13 tackles.
"I knew it was my opportunity to show the team what I could do on a regular basis as a middle linebacker. I think I did a pretty good job when I was out there. Just to get the opportunity was a blessing. It was just a dream come true. I tried to take advantage of all three games I played in. Hopefully it continues for years to come."
As Ray Lewis and other defensive players returned from injuries, Bynes' role in the playoffs came as a special teams player. The Ravens' improbable playoff run as a Wild Card team began with a win at home versus Indianapolis, followed by wins at Denver and New England to earn a berth in the Super Bowl.
"It was unbelievable. There was a confidence around the team that we could take our game to the next level and win that championship. That is the same thing I thought here (at Auburn) and I said that in front of the team," Bynes said.
The Ravens' team was a tight-knit group and players throughout the season imparted "Wise Words" to the team, offering their words of motivation. Late in the season, Bynes had his opportunity to share insight with his teammates, comparing the Raven's season to Auburn's 2010 BCS National Title.
"I saw the same things in this team that I saw in the team at Auburn that won the national championship. This team had the same thing like fighting adversity. We had trials and went through all sorts of things, but at the end of the day we knew we were going to get to that Super Bowl," Bynes said. "That is the same thing that happened when we went to the national championship. We had confidence. We knew people doubted us, but we knew if we got to the Super Bowl, we were going to win that too."
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native not only shared his Auburn experiences with his teammates, but also carried a daily reminder with him to the Ravens' practice facility.
"I wear my Auburn book bag to meetings and they (teammates) give me a hard time about it," Bynes said.
Even 800 miles away from the Plains, Bynes would frequently hear "War Eagle!" at Ravens' home games and even on the road.
"At home games, right by where we go into the locker room behind the bench, there are always Auburn fans there and they always give me a `War Eagle!' Bynes said. "Hearing that all the way up here is amazing. I always give them a `War Eagle' back."
Despite only seeing action on special teams during the Super Bowl, Bynes helped create a wedge that allowed teammate Jacoby Jones to open the second half with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Bynes also capped the Ravens' second Super Bowl in franchise history, as he tackled the 49ers kickoff returner Ted Ginn on the final play of the game near midfield to secure the 34-31 victory.
"Making that last tackle and sealing the victory was just amazing. That is something that not a lot of people see. He broke a lot of tackles on that last run, so there was no telling what would've happened if I wasn't there. I didn't know who was around me. It would've been their Super Bowl and not ours had he returned it. It (the tackle) solidified that we were Super Bowl champions. That was a great feeling for me going through the whole year with injuries and starting and fighting through the adversity. It was amazing. I couldn't ask for anything better."
The victory gave Bynes his second championship in just three years and in the process, he became the first player from Auburn's 1957 and 2010 national championship teams to claim a title at the college and NFL level.
"It means the world to me. To mean something like that in Auburn history is amazing. I love Auburn. No matter where I go, I love watching Auburn. When I first heard that, I shared it on Facebook and it was just amazing to see how all the people gave me a `War Eagle!' back. It was definitely a great moment in my life. I am going to be in Auburn history for a long, long time. I am going to be remembered. My name is always going to be connected with that. I was the first one to do it. It means the world to me."
With two titles comes difficult decisions.
"My Super Bowl ring is going to go next to my National Championship ring on my right hand," Bynes said. "They say the weight of the Super Bowl ring is pretty big, so I am planning on putting it on the little finger. The National Championship ring goes on my right ring finger. It is going to be a little handful."
Bynes, who plans on coming back to Auburn in the near future, is not content with where he is as a Super Bowl champion. With the retirement of Hall of Famer Lewis at middle linebacker, Bynes knows his hardest days are ahead of him, working to solidify a long-term roster spot with the Ravens and a goal of being in the starting rotation.
"For me, the opportunity is right in front of me. I need to take advantage of it and grab it by the horns and go with it. I want it to be my job to take, but you know, if it happens, it happens. Regardless of what happens, I am going to do what I am going to do. That is all I worry about."