Making picks is part of the routine for media members covering the NFL.
They make picks at the start of each season, before each week’s games and again once the playoffs roll around. The “experts” usually only hit on about 60 percent of their picks – sometimes much lower – and pundits tend to go with the hot hand as their Super Bowl favorite heading into the playoffs.
In a year where the Ravens had plenty of open seats on their bandwagon, there was one sportscaster who loudly and unapologetically had them as his pick from Day 1: ESPN’s Chris Berman.
“There just was a resolve to this team, even going into the year that, ‘you know what, we were the best team in the AFC, and we’re going to prove it to you,’” Berman said.
The Sunday NFL Countdown host took the Ravens at the start of the season and never backed off his selection. As the Ravens went into the playoffs without much fanfare – everyone was hung up on them losing four of their last five regular season games – Berman stuck with them.
He was on an island, but he was confident.
“I thought, ‘I’m sticking with them for the playoffs. Let’s go,’” he said. “I loved what they potentially could do. And they made me look good. I’ll be forever grateful.
“So I stuck with them. That doesn’t make me smarter than anyone else. That wasn’t the point. The point was that they’re a very likeable team if you really like football.”
Berman has gotten to know a number of people within the Ravens organization over the years, and has a strong relationship with Head Coach John Harbaugh dating back to Harbaugh’s time on Andy Reid’s staff in Philadelphia.
“I talk to Coach Harbaugh every week,” Berman said. “He and I talk every Friday. Maybe it’s a superstition on both of our parts.”
Berman recalls a specific conversation he had with Harbaugh this season that he thought demonstrated the confidence the Ravens had in themselves. The Ravens were 9-4 at the time, having lost two straight games to the Steelers and the Redskins, and they were getting ready to play the red-hot Denver Broncos.
As the two men talked, Harbaugh brought up the two most recent Super Bowl winners – the Packers and the Giants – and how they both peaked once they got to the playoffs.
“I remember distinctly Coach Harbaugh telling me, ‘Why not us? Why can’t that team be us?’” Berman recalls. “I remember him telling me that before the Denver game.”
The Ravens ended up losing to the Broncos 34-17 that next week, which led to nearly everybody writing them off.
But Berman recalled his conversation with Harbaugh and still felt good about what they might do once they got into the playoffs.
“It wasn’t panic time, even though on the outside after Denver it didn’t look good,” Berman said. “It was as if the old Rock N’ Roll band was about to come together again, and they meant business.”
Once the Ravens got into the postseason, the road looked even bleaker. They were 9.5 point underdogs to the Broncos and the Patriots, with both games coming on the road.
In the win over Denver, they overcame allowing two special teams touchdowns, and quarterback
“To still win that game, are you kidding? Nobody does that,” Berman said.
When the Ravens then took down Tom Brady and the mighty Patriots the next week at Gillette Stadium, Berman admits that he couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride in seeing his prediction come to fruition.
“Absolutely there is a huge point of pride, especially when you get into it and you’re the only one,” he said. “I do recognize special opportunities and special groups. I like to think I do. And that was certainly the case with the Ravens. Whether I knew it or not, I identified this team as being special.”
And then when the Ravens drew a Super Bowl matchup against the 49ers – a team that Berman had taken to win the Super Bowl many times in the past – he knew he was standing by Baltimore.
“Like Tony Bennett, I left my heart in San Francisco, by my mind told me the Ravens,” he said.
Throughout their postseason run, the Ravens routinely referred to themselves as a team of destiny. Berman sees it a little differently.
“Destiny is real, but the word I prefer is resolve,” he said. “Destiny happens when a group of men or women have a resolve. All the parts were there. So was that destiny? I think that’s almost an insult, but I think that’s kind of an easy way to answer it without looking beneath the surface.”
And as Berman thinks back on his selection now that most of the Super Bowl excitement has passed, he’s appreciative that the Ravens ended up making him the smartest guy in the room.
“There is a huge sense of pride, but it’s not about me. It was fun watching this unfold,” Berman said. “I’ll be forever grateful to the Ravens because they made me look like I know what I’m talking about.”