OJ Brigance was seen as one of the toughest players on the Baltimore Ravens team that won the Super Bowl in 2000, but, when the Ravens again took the title on Sunday, the former linebacker watched from the confines of his wheelchair.
Stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) since his playing days ended, Brigance became a rallying point for the team in his new front office role. He was the team’s honorary captain in the AFC title game against the New England Patriots, and, when the team won, Ed Reed presented him with a game ball.
In the past season, OJ Brigance has been a behind-the-scenes force for the Baltimore Ravens, helping find and assemble talent as the team’s director of player development. But the former NFL linebacker took center stage as the Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers to win the Super Bowl.
Ravens players and coaches have looked to OJ Brigance as a source of inspiration throughout the team’s unlikely run to the Super Bowl, Bleacher Report pointed out. He also provided one of the most iconic images of Super Bowl XLVII as he celebrated on the field in his wheelchair amid a shower of confetti.
OJ Brigance first noticed symptoms of the disease in 2007 when he felt numbness in his shoulder. After noticing similar symptoms elsewhere, he looked into it and realized ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, could be the cause. Doctors later diagnosed him with the fatal and incurable ailment.
Brigance is now left with limbs that hang limp and muscles that no longer respond. He cannot speak and uses his lips and eyes to control a computer that speaks for him.
Even with the limitations, players still spoke highly of OJ Brigance and the work he did for the team.
“There aren’t enough words to describe what that man means to me and to this team,” punter Sam Koch told the Baltimore Sun. “Just seeing ‘Juice’ here with a smile on his face is inspiring. If I have to choose a word for him, it would be ‘powerful.'”
Before the game, Brigance spoke highly of the players that propelled the team’s unlikely journey.
“Super Bowl XLVII means so much to me,” OJ Brigance said though his DynaVox machine, “not because of the game but because of the journey it took to get here. That’s where the maturation comes. I predict a Ravens victory, of course. But there is no failure if you have done all you can do.”