Preseason games don’t matter.
Don’t tell that to the young players fighting to make the Ravens over the next two weeks.
Former Pro Bowl linebacker Bart Scott, who had arrived in Baltimore as an undrafted rookie free agent, remembers his battle “like it was yesterday.”
It was Aug. 9, 2002 at M&T Bank Stadium. Scott’s first game as a Raven.
“We kicked off to start the game,” Scott told me Wednesday night. “I’m the three, the guy who runs right down the numbers, and we’re playing my hometown team, the Detroit Lions. I was not going to fail. I refused to fail.”
Was he nervous? “Not nervous, not scared, but I felt pressure. Felt pressure from family, from my old neighborhood, from everybody that supported me along the way, from everybody who thought I could do this. But, I also thought about the others who didn’t believe I could do it. I wasn’t going back to the pack with them. If they didn’t think I was special, I was about to show them. I wanted to show that if you did all the things right, you could come out of the neighborhood and achieve the impossible.”
Scott did not let the pressure get to him. It didn’t slow him, he used it as energy. “That kickoff was going to get everything Bart Scott had to offer. We kicked to my side of the field, and I ran with everything I had straight down the field. The Lions used a traditional wedge for their kickoffs. They had four big offensive linemen charging to me. I was the first one there. I was the wedge buster.
“I remember thinking, ‘Well, everybody has to go sometime. I’ll go out in front of 70,000 fans.’ I flew into two of them, and the third one hit me and spun me, so I was facing the wrong way. My ear pad was out. My helmet was almost off, but I noticed the two guys I hit were on the ground. I did my job. The best way to show somebody you’re fearless is to show them that you don’t care what happens to you, and that’s the way I looked at that play. It was another way I was saying, ‘I’ll do anything I can to make this team.’”
Did you earn respect? Scott laughed. “I don’t know. I think so. I’m not sure if they were saying I was crazy or stupid, but I knew they couldn’t question what I just did.”
Holdouts Helped Scott
Bart believes holdouts by both Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware helped Scott make the team. “By the time we got to training camp, I already had a lot of reps in practices, because Ray and Peter weren’t there. I started with questions and doubts, but the more I played, the more I realized I could do this. But, I knew I’d have to show it in the preseason games.
“You start counting. Ray was obviously going to make the team. Ed Hartwell, a draft choice the year before, was going to be there. I had all these guys in front of me. At least, that’s how I was looking at it. But, I grinded in camp, took all the reps. I was going to be noticed. That first play, that kickoff, was my next statement.”
And, how did the rest of that game go? “Man, I got my first sack that game. Joey Harrington. I thought, ‘This is not as hard as I thought.’ Then I blitzed another play, and they got me. They let me fly through a hole, and the next thing I knew, I was cracked from the side, and I think the first thing that hit the ground was the top of my helmet. That was my ‘Welcome to the NFL’ moment.
“Felt like I played 90 plays that night, and it was hot. In the second half, we were all young, but I think we knew what it meant to be on a Ravens’ team, especially on defense. It was grittiness and physicality. And, in Baltimore Ravens fashion, we won it with defense.”
Will Demps, another free agent rookie that season, made a late interception to secure the Ravens’ victory. Demps, many of you will recall, became a starting safety that season when he lined up next to our first-round choice that year – Ed Reed.
“You guys had broken up the  Super Bowl team after not making it back (to the championship) the previous year,” Scott said. “We ended up being the youngest team in NFL history. Me, Will, Reed, Anthony Weaver, Chester Taylor, Lamont Brightful, Chad Williams. Hey, I loved Chad. He was a tough little guy. Heck, we were fighting to get into the playoffs by December. That was something.”
Another Accomplishment For Bart Scott
Bart Scott is something, too. From his rookie free agent status in 2002, to starting next to Ray Lewis for five years, to earning large contracts with us and then the Jets, Bart made it happen.
And, he’s done it again.
Scott has been promoted by CBS-TV to co-host the network’s landmark show, “The NFL Today.” That’s the one with James Brown, Boomer Esiason and Bill Cowher that airs every Sunday before games. The one Shannon Sharpe so excellently shared. “I like to think I earned the show. If you look at it, I’m probably the least famous guy on the show. I must have done something right. I worked hard before this, and guess what? Once again I found hard work paid off,” Bart explained.
Scott ended our conversation talking about his climb to the top. Maybe you’ll want to share some of what Bart said with a youngster trying to achieve. Maybe it will take you to a higher level today, or tomorrow.
Here’s what he said:
“It was important for me to prove that you can come from a bad place that has gang violence, drugs, robberies and killings, and that doesn’t have to define you. You determine who and what you’re going to be. You have to go for it. What did Michael Jordan say – ‘You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.’ My Mom said, ‘Aim for the stars and land on the moon. Never be afraid to fail.’ Everything I’ve done is because I was fearless and relentless. … And, I was willing to pay the price. Who cares if it takes you 10 hours to do something that another person can do in five. As long as you end up in the same place, who cares? Never be afraid to fail.”
Words from a former Raven worth noting. Good words for all of us to see and maybe share.
Looking forward to watching tomorrow night’s preseason game against the Redskins. Pick someone to watch on the opening kickoff. Maybe you’ll find the next Bart Scott or Will Demps.
Talk with you next week,