This goes on the list of things I never imagined saying, but here goes: I miss the San Francisco 49ers.
Yes, the Ravens’ much-ballyhooed opponents from Super Bowl 47 … the team of Montana, Rice, Young and so many other greats … scourges of the West Coast …
I’m sure you heard they were here for three days of joint practices with the Ravens at the Under Armour Performance Center, and anyway, now they’re gone and (sniff) I miss them.
OK, it’s not that bad. I don’t really need a hankie.
But with the 49ers gone, the Ravens are returning to business as usual, which means training camp as usual, which, let’s face it, isn’t as exciting or compelling.
I had been looking forward to the teams’ shared-practice event from the moment it was announced, and while I knew it would be unique, it exceeded my expectations.
Honestly, it was one of the cooler things I’ve seen in the NFL.
A pair of fiercely competitive squads that squared off for the Lombardi Trophy less than two years ago shared practice fields for three days and sort of, kind of, almost became one.
When they huddled up together and shouted “team” at the end of their initial walk-though Saturday, it seemed awkward. But when they did it again at the end of their last session Monday, it seemed right.
The Ravens had never practiced with another team, and the last time the 49ers did, with the Oakland Raiders, they fought all the time, San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis said.
“We thought we’d be fighting (the Ravens) because of that,” Davis said.
Nope. Here’s some of what I saw: 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh slapping hands with a Ravens player after he made a good play; Ravens linebacker
“You would have never thought the two teams would have gotten along so well,” Suggs said.
Behind the scenes, the Ravens’ organization went all out to make the 49ers feel at home, posting welcoming signs in the lunch room and giving up prime meeting space. It was impressive. No detail was deemed too small. The Ravens even put out napkins in the 49ers’ colors for San Francisco’s players to use.
The 49ers enjoyed the digs so much that Jim Harbaugh kept his players there for meetings instead of holding them back at the team hotel, as he’d planned.
When I asked Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh which brother first thought of doing this, he smiled and said, “I don’t want to make anybody say whose idea it was, because that might make somebody mad.”
Wait, doesn’t that mean … never mind.
Regardless, I can tell you they’re going to want to do it again, because the best part of the three days, hands down, was the usefulness of what unfolded on the practice field. The teams went against each other in everything from individual position drills to 11-on-11 scrimmages. It was intense and physical and all good.
Even a simple pass protection drill for the Ravens’ running backs became a tense drama as the 49ers’ pass rushers, led by Aldon Smith, tried to get to the quarterback. Some of the Ravens’ backs fared well, notably
John Harbaugh is a big proponent of pushing his players, testing them, measuring them. Practicing with the 49ers certainly enabled him to do that.
On what would have been the doggiest days of training camp, practice crackled with electricity.
By the middle of the regular season, when NFL teams are locked in their cocoons and scrapping for any shred of advantage, it will seem impossible that these teams literally broke bread together and helped each other improve. The brothers probably wouldn’t have minded seeing it go on; John said he crammed “a week’s worth of work” into three sessions, and the benefits were “better than I expected,” Jim said.
But all good things must end. It was time to move on. When the Ravens resume camp Wednesday, they’ll be all by themselves, and while that’s fine, I, for one, will miss their guests.