Is it possible to have a very quiet, personal moment in the midst of 70,000 people?
For Ravens All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, each time he is on the field, he has that moment. Every time he marches out of the M&T Bank stadium tunnel, Haloti, who tragically lost his father during his freshman year at Oregon and his mother just prior to being drafted by the Ravens in 2006, looks up and points to the sky in an intimate moment where he can give thanks.
In December, 2002, Ngata's father, Solomone, was killed in a single-vehicle truck accident. Then, three years later, shortly after the end of Haloti's junior season, his mother, Olga, who suffered from diabetes, died of a heart attack while receiving dialysis treatment.
His parents had always provided a loving and family-oriented household. Haloti, the middle of five children, learned humility, respect and integrity, attributes he now lives by and is passing on to his family.
"Basically, it's me thanking God for my parents," states Ngata. "I just point up and say a quick thank you to God for the blessings and the parents he has given me on this earth to help raise me to be the person I am today. That's what I try to do a lot of times is show my parents through me and show what kind of people they were and how they raised me. Hopefully, they are proud of me."
The first time he was introduced in front of a raucous Ravens crowd as a rookie, Haloti admits he was a little intimidated, but he has now become comfortable with the cheers.
"I used to get nervous when I first started doing it," Ngata explains. "The first couple of times, I was real nervous, but also emotional because my parents weren't there. I wanted them to be able to see me coming out of the tunnel.
"Now, I kind of look at it as dominance or us showing and putting fear in the offense," he continues. "When they see us coming out, it's like, 'Here come some of the playmakers of this team.' I think it's pretty awesome to be a part of that and be a part of that group. That's what I see now. I don't really get nervous coming out, it's just more cool than anything."
Motivations Of A Man
Coming in as a supremely talented, but young and raw athlete, there were questions from every direction about Ngata's motivation and ability to play at the highest level.
"I really wanted to prove those who doubted me wrong," recalls Ngata. "I actually hung up some of those quotes from doubters when I got drafted and used it as motivation, just trying to prove them wrong and let them know that Baltimore made the right decision and that I was worth a first-round pick."
Starting all 16 games as a rookie, he put those questions to rest almost immediately. In his first contest, Ngata snagged an interception, which he nimbly returned 60 yards, setting the stage for many big plays to come.
Paying It Forward
As a two-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro honoree, Ngata has worked supremely hard to become one of the top defensive players in the NFL. However, he realizes that he could not be where he is today without learning from those Ravens who came before him.
"I really didn't know if I was going to start right away," Ngata remembers. "But I think the coaches and players that we had on our team and our defense gave me no choice but to get on the field and start right away.
"They put a lot of pressure on me, but I think with having guys like Trevor Pryce, Kelly Gregg, Dwan Edwards, Aubrayo Franklin and Justin Bannan – those guys helped me a lot when I was a rookie to get used to the system and how to play certain techniques. Without those guys, I really don't think I would have been able to play the way the Ravens wanted me to play."
Now, Ngata is the veteran to whom rookies look for leadership, guidance and wisdom. Asked how he can help usher in a young, talented group of defensive linemen that includes second-year players Terrence Cody and Arthur Jones and rookie Pernell McPhee, Ngata responded in his typical humble fashion.
"A lot of it is actually really shown by example – the way you practice, the way you conduct yourself, the way you play the game. I think those guys watch you on film, especially the younger guys, and they always say to me, 'Man, you are bulldozing people out there. How do you do it?' It is mental as much as it is physical. You have to know who you are going against. You have to know your play. You have to know what your body can and can't do. It's just trying to teach the younger guys those things and show them by example."
When fans think of the most dominant defensive lineman of all time, more often than not, Reggie White comes to mind. An NFL fan as a youngster, Ngata, too, was inspired by White's game and persona.
"Not only was he a great football player, but he was a great person off the field," says Ngata. "I always wanted to be like him and be that type of person on and off the field. But, watching him on the football field, how dominant he was and how he could take over games, I just always wanted to be like Reggie White. I think when you have more people like him, it shows people that there are a lot of football players that do a lot of good things. I just want to show that there are good football players, and we are good men."
Today, fellow players, opponents, fans and coaches don't hesitate in their praise of Haloti Ngata as one of the most dominant defenders in the game. But, the unique thing about Ngata is that his play on the field is not the only thing for which he wants to be remembered.
"I want people to think that I was a dominant football player on the field, but was a humble man off the field – a great, God-fearing man that did great things on and off the field."
All in all, it's the off-the-field moments after the game that Ngata enjoys the most.
"When I come home and see my family, it's something else. It's like a peace, and there is so much love. Just to see my son and how excited he gets to see me and how he says he saw me on TV, it's great to come home to something like that and be a part of a family. It's just awesome. Hopefully, my wife and I can have more kids and experience more of that."
At home with his son and his wife, Haloti Ngata proves some of the most important moments of all for a Pro Bowl player can happen with the pads off. And, every day on and off the field, he shows everyone what kind of people his parents were, how they raised him and why everyone should be proud.