The recent* *passing of the longest-tenured Ravens assistant coach, Clarence Brooks, shook the team. We all were hoping to see "C.B.," who had been battling esophageal and stomach cancer, at least one more time.
He died at 7:02 a.m. last Saturday in Weston, FL, shortly before the Ravens held the regular day-before-the-game morning meeting. The news brought silence and tears from those in the room when it was announced.
But, first, let's talk about the guy John Harbaugh called "the best position coach I've ever seen – best I've ever been around."
Clarence Brooks was passionate and relentless.
Ravens fans will remember the Thanksgiving night game against the 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 24, 2011. It was a battle of two of the NFL's best. That season, the Ravens fought their way to a 12-4 mark that produced an AFC North title. We advanced to the AFC championship, where we lost 23-20 at New England – yes, the dropped pass in the end zone and the missed field goal at the end. San Francisco powered to a 13-3 record and a devastating 20-17 overtime loss to the Giants in the NFC title match.
That turkey day was the first "Harbaugh Bowl." John and Jim served as the two head coaches that chilly November night.
Coach Brooks' plea with his defensive line for the game was simple: "We stop their run and then get after Alex Smith (49ers quarterback) with a vengeance."
His group, featuring the likes of Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Cory Redding and Paul Kruger, did that very well. So well, in fact, that San Fran managed just 170 total yards, and the Ravens tied a team record with nine sacks. Yes, count 'em, nine sacks.
With less than three minutes left in the contest, and the Ravens leading by what became the final score, 16-6, the 49ers moved the ball – a little. Facing a second-and-17 from their 24-yard line, Smith completed two passes, one on fourth down, for a first down. The defense eventually stopped that drive. But, Coach Brooks was furious.
He couldn't wait until his group reached the bench. Screaming and cussing – and this mild-mannered gentleman off the field – could curse with the best of them, Brooks crouched in front of his group, which had taken seats on the bench.
"Second-and-17!" he yelled, making the sentence much longer with added words not meant for this blog. He talked of getting off blocks and sending in substitutes for "you guys getting lazy." Ngata was the first to crack, trying to hide his chuckling behind his big right hand.
"You think this is funny Haloti?" yelled Brooks. (Actually, he added a word in front of the word "funny.") "'C.B.' c'mon. We're in the kneel down to end the game," Ngata pleaded. Suggs laughed out loud. "'C.B.,' they just announced that we had a team-record nine sacks. We did OK. You did OK." Brooks smiled a little, "I guess you guys did OK." The big guys surrounded their position coach, patting him on the top of head, pushing his hat crooked. "We love you C.B.," Suggs said as the coach pushed away, telling the guys to leave him alone. His smile said it all.
The Team Announcement
Yes, we loved Clarence. It was remarkable to me, as we gathered quotes about Coach Brooks to distribute to the media, how many grown men either started or ended their statements with "I love C.B."
After John Harbaugh opened last Saturday's meeting with various awards earned by the players last week, he said: "This is unbelievable. I don't even know how to deal with this. Clarence Brooks passed away. 'Wink,' (Linebackers Coach Don Martindale, one of Brooks' closest friends) why don't you come up and explain your conversation with Justa (C.B.'s wife)."
Wink stepped to the front of the team. "This is tough," Martindale said, fighting back his tears. "We all know and love him, and he is all of our best friend, even the rookies – he touched you. He wanted to get to Florida to be with his kids and grandkids and Mr. (Steve) Bisciotti flew him down there on a private plane. He was in and out of the hospital down there, and he got to have a birthday with his granddaughter. He just fought it so hard …
"He was still cursing us after that first game. He said to tell that guy he needs to get his pad level down. He said, 'Boy, Mike Wallace was a great pickup'…
"Justa said he had a great night at the hospital. Was sitting up in a chair. We all know he was a big man. He was down to 182. He hadn't had a real meal in two and half months. Then, he died this morning. We lost a great man, a great coach and peer – a great friend today."
Wink couldn't continue. Harbs knelt in front of the first row, asked everyone to reach out to the ones next to him and pray. Harry Swayne, our director of player engagement, led the prayer. When he finished, Harbs quietly said: "Let's go to work." And, the team left silently.
C.B. Carried The Weekend
When defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan huddled with his fellow linemen before the game in Cleveland, he shouted: "What's your reason for doing this today? Ask yourself, how about the man we heard about yesterday? How would he want us to play?"
After the victory, C.J. Mosley was asked about the 85-yard touchdown run by the Browns Isaiah Crowell. "I'm pretty sure Coach Brooks was M-effing us after that run. I know he's pissed off. Nothing else needed to be said. We did a great job after that."
In the team huddle in the locker room after the comeback win, Harbs shouted: "'C.B.' was watching us. Wink, tell them what you told me." Coach Martindale, with Jernigan leaning on his shoulders, smiled – maybe for the first time since his friend's death: "That run, you know he had to be cursing us. He definitely got put in a timeout up there. There were some F-bombs. Whoa, Whoa! Somebody had to say, 'We let that guy in here?'"
Peter King of MMQB named Clarence his Coach of the Week. He quoted former Ravens standout Rob Burnett, who was coached at Syracuse and in the NFL by C.B.: "Every day he was the same. Fair, honest, so honest, treat you like a grown man. He was a consistent force in a flux business. Everyone he touched got better as a player and person. … I can tell you he helped a few guys with their problems off the field. I mean really helped. And he wanted nothing in return." Well stated, Rob.
A good number of our players, coaches and staff will attend Brooks' services in Massachusetts. Some will go for the wake next Tuesday. Others to the funeral on Wednesday. There will be sadness. But, hopefully, we'll smile too, as we salute the man called C.B. May he rest in peace. And, may we not give him any reasons to curse our defense in Jacksonville.
Let's beat the Jaguars!
Talk with you next Friday,
P.S. You come back from a 20-0 first-quarter deficit on the road in the NFL, you've done something unusual, and you're happy. None more than Coach Harbaugh. When he got on the bus in the bowels of FirstEnergy Stadium last Sunday, he announced to the passengers, which included a good number of starting players: "It's great to win on the road. It's hard to do, and to do it like we did … Here's one of the best parts of it. The ride back to the airport after a victory on the team bus. Let's enjoy it!"