Watching Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh introduce veteran tight end Benjamin Watson at yesterday's press conference, I thought of a teary-eyed Steve Smith Sr. after our divisional round playoff loss at New England a little over a year ago.
You remember. We finished the 2014 season with a 10-6 record, went on the road in the wild-card weekend and thumped the Steelers, 30-17. The following Saturday (Jan. 10, 2015), we jumped to a 14-0 lead in Foxboro against the "Tom Bradys," led 31-28 with seven minutes left in the game and lost (35-31) when Joe Flacco's pass to Torrey Smith barely missed connecting in the final moments of the contest.
The Patriots advanced to the AFC championship – a 45-7 thrashing over the Colts – and then beat Seattle in the Super Bowl.
We were that close, and the hurt on Smith Sr.'s face said everything. He came to the Ravens to compete for a Super Bowl, knew that we had just missed a serious opportunity, and this ferocious competitor let the tears flow. His teammates saw this, including the youngest of the Ravens.
"It is that important to me," Smith Sr. said at the time. "It's important to all of us. 'Harbs,' Joe, [Terrell] Suggs, every player in this room – all of us."
Newsome brings men like Steve and Watson to the Ravens to help us get over the hump to become a playoff contender, and, hopefully, a champion. Can Watson provide the type of play and leadership that Smith Sr. has? That guys like Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, Steve McNair, Matt Birk and others have historically provided for the Ravens?
Think about it. When Oz supplemented the Ravens with Woodson, Sharpe and a veteran special teams ace named O.J. Brigance, they helped us win Super Bowl XXXV in the 2000 season.
With the additions of McNair, who joined his former Titans teammate Derrick Mason, and defensive end Trevor Pryce, the Ravens produced the best single-season record in our history – 13-3 in 2006.
A few years later, the Wizard signed Pro Bowlers Matt Birk, Vonta Leach and Brendon Ayanbadejo and, ta-dah, this trio gave us a boost that ignited the victory in Super Bowl XLVII.
Head Coaches Have To Buy
Late yesterday, Newsome first credited head coaches Brian Billick and Harbs. "We've had two head coaches who allow players to be who they are. They're not afraid of strong personalities coming into the building. You know there are coaches who don't want that older veteran who comes here with a certain style and mindset."
Do these veterans have a "Ravens'" profile? "It goes back to what Ted Marchibroda told me when I asked him what type of players he wanted, and he said 'The guy who loves football,'" Newsome offered. "If you ask me for a profile of what we want, you start there. Football has to be important to them, and continuing to play for the right reasons is important. It can't be just about the money. The money is important, sure. But, these guys you mentioned wanted to win championships, and they all are natural leaders. They are highly competitive, and they could still play. Think about what Benjamin Watson said today at the press conference."
Here's what Watson said: "You humble yourself to understand that you can always get better. I don't believe I've reached my fullest potential, and I think as long as I have that attitude, I can continue to improve."
You don't think our young tight ends Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle will be influenced by a teammate who carries that attitude to work every day? What will it mean for Breshad Perriman to have Benjamin and Smith Sr. encouraging him regularly?
"When you can add a special person, a quality leader who can still play at a very high level, some of the headaches every team faces can be handled in the locker room," Newsome added. "What's the right word I'm looking for? It's not that they control the team, but they can steer things. Yes, steer is the word. When guys are grumbling, these veterans can say, 'Hey, we have to go through this to get to the next level.' You can't measure how that can help the head coach and the assistants."
Newsome pointed to early in his Hall of Fame career when his older teammate was Calvin Hill. "Calvin was my mentor. He ended up presenting me when I made it to Canton. He had walked the road before, and he helped me avoid mistakes and gave us young players a perspective we needed to hear.
"Calvin, like the guys who have come to the Ravens later in their career, had that natural leadership skill."
When Newsome told me that we had an agreement with Watson, he said, "This guy is an impressive person." (And, oh by the way, Watson had 74 catches last season in his 12th year in the league.) "My biggest goal is to come here and be someone that can be trusted, someone who can be a leader, to contribute on the field to winning – because that's the most important thing," Watson said yesterday.
Look, we have lots more to do to get back to our usual winning ways. Newsome will add more veterans to the 2016 Ravens, and we need to be at our best in the upcoming draft. But, like adding the former Panther Smith Sr. two years ago, signing Watson gives us an important boost.
We got better yesterday. And, there's more to come.
Congrats, Coach Harbaugh
Miami University, known as the "cradle of coaches," has a statue of John Harbaugh in front of its stadium. Harbs stands next to fellow Miami products like Ara Parseghian, Weeb Ewbank and Paul Brown. Tonight, John is being inducted into his high school Hall of Fame. He and his brother, Jim, will both receive that honor at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, MI.
John was expected to be the starting quarterback his senior season at Pioneer. He was disappointed when the head coach came to him and said he was going to start an underclassman instead. You guessed it ... his brother, Jim. John instead took handoffs from his younger sibling and also played defense.
Talk with you soon,