Coach Harbaugh's Saturday Night Speech
The head coach's "Saturday Night Speech."
That's the one I think has the most bearing on what dispositions the players bring to the game the next day. John Harbaugh first addresses the goals with his players for any game on Wednesday morning. He'll repeat those messages in a variety of ways on Thursday and Friday. There will also be some rousing message prior to taking the field just before kickoff.
But, that Saturday night proclamation, given in a ballroom at the team hotel, that's the one. It is the "This-is-who-we-are-and-here's-why-we-will-kick-ass-and-take-names-the-next-day-speech."
Coach Harbaugh's speech last Saturday night in Cincinnati started out calm and ended up primeval.
"Men, we're loose, light-hearted, we're joyous, and we're excited because we are something special," Harbs began. "There's not an easy way. Anything worth achieving isn't going to be easy. If it was easy, it wouldn't be great.
"Is there a man in here who doesn't want to be great? … I am talking about greatness. Be the best. The best team, the best player, the best coach," the head coach continued and began pointing at men around the room: "You want to be the best coach, the best rush linebacker – or best defensive player in football? Or, the best quarterback, best fullback, safety – the best football team in the world?
"There is only one way to be great. You have to take it," John paused and then exclaimed: "Everybody agree? You have to take it. If you decide you want to be great, you will be. And, you can talk about fortune and misfortune, luck and connections and all the other stuff people make up excuses about in their lives. The people who do great things, accomplish at the highest levels, they decide to be great. And nothing gets in the way of that: not an opponent, not fortune, not fate – nothing.
"We've done the hard things – the work – to be here. We've earned this opportunity," Harbs said. "Can you say this to yourself: 'There will be nothing that stands between me and greatness.' We decide what will happen, not the team in the orange and black. You will not allow that to happen because you will play every single play like your [football] life is on the line.
"When you line up tomorrow, there is only one thing: you and this moment. If you're a corner, it's just you and your technique against the guy across from you. On the offensive line, you are in that phone booth, and it's you and that man across from you. Inside linebackers: you and the triangle read – that's all there is in the whole world. And everyone plays every play like it's eternity, like everything is at stake in that moment, because that could be the one moment that wins it for us.
"We're going to go out there tomorrow with joy. We're going to have a bounce in our step, and we're going to have a light heart," John continued. "We're going to be nasty, tough men. That's who the Ravens are. They have not seen this Ravens team. They don't know what's coming. Make the most of it!
"I just want to scream!" Harbs looked around the room. "Should I?" The players started chanting: "Scream, scream, scream!" With that, the Ravens' head coach reared back and let out a yell that might have been heard through the entire hotel.
Messages From The Coordinators
Prior to the team meeting on the night before a game, the Ravens three coordinators – Cam Cameron, Chuck Pagano and Jerry Rosburg – each address their groups separately. Jerry told his young men of special teams: "We will play championship football. We will take care of the ball and win field position for our teammates. We will show everyone what we are made of."
Chuck stressed that the Ravens had put themselves in a position coaches and players had talked about before the season began: playing for a division championship and bye on the last day of the regular season. "There will be six or seven plays tomorrow that will determine the outcome of the game. We can't predict what those plays will be, but we can play each play with great technique and fundamentals. We will communicate with each other. We will give our best effort for 60 minutes, one play at a time, giving everything we have. And, we will win," Pagano said.
Cam noted: "During the lockout, you knew, and we as coaches knew, that we would get to this opportunity." (Pointing at Joe Flacco.) "When Joe was working with one trainer in the morning and another trainer in the afternoon last Spring, Joe knew. Vonta [Leach], you came here for opportunities like this, right? And, we have a man like Marshal [Yanda] among us. They told me he'd be out at least two weeks. We know what he's going to do tomorrow. He's going to start. Men, we are ready. We've waited for this opportunity. Now, let's go and do what we know we can."
Matt Birk's Hair
I dropped this item from my blog last week because I wasn't sure how it would be perceived by you. While we were as serious as can be in our prep for the Bengals, our team does enjoy each other and has fun along the way. Here's the blurb:
"I want it made clear, that I did not bring up the subject of my hair," Matt Birk claimed after Coach Harbaugh asked me how to spell the word "coifed" yesterday afternoon (12/29).
Harbs admits that he complimented Birk, who obviously cares a lot about his hair, about how well maintained Matt's hair is. "Before we started practice, I said 'Matt, your hair is always groomed, well coifed."
The Harvard grad Birk was unsure of the word "coifed." He asked Harbs: "You mean quaffed? How do you spell your description?" John said: "Pretty sure it starts with a 'c,' not a 'q.'" Birk scoffed and said: "I'm pretty sure you're wrong."
After practice, Harbs passed me in the hall and asked: "How do you spell 'coif' like in having groomed hair?" I began "c-o-i." John stopped me: "Not q-u-a?" I said: "Pretty sure c-o-i-f. Think q-u-a-f-f has something to do with smell and aroma."
"Yes," Harbs exclaimed with a smile. "Miami University over Harvard … Miami University, established 1809." (John is a Miami of Ohio grad.)
When I saw Birk this morning (12/30) and noted how happy John was about the spelling, even going so far as to throw the date his college started, Birk said: "Okay, I'll give him this, but let him know Harvard was started like in 1730, and Miami probably copied everything from them."
(By the way, I was wrong on "quaff." It's not about aroma, it means to drink heartily.)
Enjoy the playoff games this weekend. We'll be like you, watching the games. Can't wait to see who comes to Baltimore. We'll be ready.
Talk with you next week.
P.S. "Priceless" is the word Coach Harbaugh uses to describe moments like these team meetings, the locker room after a big win or the chartered flight after clinching the AFC North in Cincinnati against another playoff team. One of the cool things I saw on our return flight last Sunday were players on the team talking to each other about what the practice schedule should be this week – the one just completed. There was Joe and Ray, Jarret and Anquan, Ed and Birk – all in a cluster. They weren't talking about trying to convince Harbs how many days off they should get. They were discussing what kind of practices would keep them sharp, yet still get them fresher for next week. It was impressive.
In another section of the plane, Harbs knew what was going on, and he just beamed. "These are good men. They are a team," he said.
Kevin Byrne, a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.