And that was all before lunch.
Head Coach John Harbaugh surprised his team with a morning meeting announcement that they were going on a field trip to the historic Civil War town of Gettysburg, Pa. Practice was cancelled.
The Ravens’ entire rookie class, a handful of coaches and some veterans who had already reported to training camp – including quarterback
“I’ve never really been into history like that,” rookie linebacker
“What I got from it is what it takes to win a battle, to overcome adversity and keeping the big picture in mind. Keeping the focus on the common goal and achieving that goal.”
Harbaugh is a major history buff. His summer vacations are often to American landmarks. His messages to the team frequently include quotes from some of the world’s greatest leaders.
This year, on the eve of the start of full-practice training camp, the Ravens head coach wanted to show his players the lessons first hand.
The team was guided by a couple of Gettysburg historians and six members of the Maryland Army National Guard. They took the Ravens around the different scenes of the three-day battle, explaining what happened, why it happened, and how it related to them.
On July 1, 1863, at the battle on Culp’s Hill, Marylanders split into the northern Union and southern Confederate sides clashed against each other. It was a lesson in what it takes to have a “warrior’s heart,” stated Chaplain Col. Sean Lee.
On Day 2, the Confederates attacked the Union’s flanks. Although the northerners suffered heavy losses, they held their ground on the rocks of Little Roundtop. By the end of the battle, an officer told Union General George G. Meade that he must be pleased with the result.
“In the name of common sense, why?” Meade asked.
“Because, General, the enemy has hammered us into a strong position which you cannot easily whip us out of,” his officer said.
Harbaugh looked around at his players as they nodded in agreement. Having their backs against the wall is a position the Ravens have often found themselves in and will someday again.
On Day 3, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, emboldened by two days of good results, decided to attack the Union’s center despite urging from his top officers that it was a mistake. He ordered 12,000 infantry across a long open field, only to be blasted by the Union on the famous Pickett’s Charge. It was the decisive blow in the battle, and forced the Confederate’s retreat the next day.
“It was a good example of how a general, a leader, a coach, has to listen to people that are giving them input,” Col. Sean Casey told the team. “What a gutsy move by Lee, but a huge failure.”
Lt. Col. Amy Bennett chimed in, talking about the valor the Confederates had shown, even in defeat.
“The handful of survivors that made it was luck. The other guys had a death sentence and they knew it,” Bennett said. “But they committed and they did it anyway because that was what was expected to take care of each other, even if it meant death.”
Harbaugh talked up the tour guides and military members as much as possible throughout the day. He was immersed in the history, asking questions about their tactics and thought process.
Like wide-eyed students, the players soaked up the lessons. They chatted amongst themselves, shocked by the sacrifice and thinking about their own position, as they are about to embark on their own challenges in the 2013 season.
Like the Union, who was fighting on their home turf of Pennsylvania, the Ravens will have to turn away many attacks if they are going to defend their Super Bowl title.
And the lessons of this day in Gettysburg National Military Park will not be lost.
“Leadership out here is like leadership on the football field and in the trenches,” rookie wide receiver
“Not looking to your left and your right, and just trusting each other definitely applies to the football field. It’s about believing in your next door neighbor, your teammates, to have your back.”