Difficult Decision But Right One
When I was asked my opinion about keeping training camp here at Owings Mills or going back to McDaniel College, where we have one of the best fan experiences in all of pro sports, I immediately thought of our season opener against the Steelers.
We stomped them, 35-7. It was one of my happiest days as a Raven.
Now, we've all discovered since then that the Steelers are still the Steelers – a mean-playing, tough team that is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They have the same record we have (8-3), and when we played them last month, it was like most of the Ravens/Steelers' clashes: close and a nail-biter to the end. (We won that game, 23-20.)
Without worrying about the fans – I admit that – my answer to the training camp question was: "Whatever we did this year, let's do that again, because we were really ready for the opener."
But, we all know, the answer is bigger than that. Training camp at McDaniel College is special. The bond we created with the many fans that came to camp in Westminster is so much a part of our tight connection with you. Our coaches and players treated it that way. They interacted with you. They signed autographs. They gave equipment and footballs away.
That's what delayed our decision. It was almost like we didn't want to face the obvious answer internally: our team, your team – the Ravens – can prepare better for the season at Owings Mills than it can in Westminster. But, that meant we would lose that festival of camaraderie between you and us that was created on the fields of McDaniel College.
In the end, we knew what the right decision was. But, we all know that we've lost some of our magic with you, the fans.
All I can say is that we'll try to capture it in other ways. That's a promise. But, we also know it will never be the same as those wonderful connections we experienced with camps in Westminster.
Something's Happening Here
Something's happening here. What it is, is not exactly clear.
We noticed in the preseason – and wrote about it – that there's something special about this Ravens team. And, we've all seen a lot of that so far this season. The Ravens are 8-3, tied for the best record in the AFC. The team has overcome injuries to key players like Ben Grubbs and Lee Evans, who are now back. The defense held the 49ers, who rode into Baltimore with an eight-game winning streak, without a touchdown when Ray Lewis and his backup, Dannell Ellerbe, did not play. We are finding ways to win and overcoming obstacles.
This is a group of men working hard, having fun and getting after opponents. They like each other. There is high energy on the practice fields, in the cafeteria and in the weight room.
(Did I just see Joe Flacco cruise around the corner on a motorized three-wheeler? Yup.
"Joe, where did you get the vehicle?" Flacco: "Down the hallway." "Whose is it?" Flacco: "Don't know, but it had the keys in it and was begging me to take it," as Joe disappeared quickly around the corner.)
The 16-6 victory over San Francisco Thanksgiving night was significant. It gave the Ravens two wins in five days over quality teams fighting to get to the playoffs. With the way the 49ers and Bengals play – as physical as any teams outside of Baltimore – we were beat up as John Harbaugh gathered our team in the locker room last Thursday after the important victory.
A chant of "See you Wednesday" started in the back of the room. A number of players were asking Harbs to give them the next five days off. "Is that what we want to do? Is that what we need? What do the rest of you think?" Harbaugh shouted out to the Ravens.
Standing closer to the head coach, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Jarret Johnson almost simultaneously said: "Too long, Coach. Too long." John asked the group: "How about coming in Tuesday? We can do the things we normally do on Mondays and get a head start on the Browns. What do you think?"
That same trio spoke up again: "Let's just come in Monday and have our regular Tuesday off."
"Everybody good with that?" Harbs yelled. No one uttered a discouraging word. "Take care of yourselves the next three days. Rest up, get off your feet. See the trainers if you have something, and we'll text you Monday's schedule."
A team wanting to work. A team understanding the importance of this December stretch of games. A team with outstanding leaders. All very good to see.
Not usually in the locker room before the game, but was there before the battle with San Fran. I escorted a videographer from NFL Films working on the "Sound FX" special, which aired last Saturday on the NFL Network. (If you did not see the special, check out some of clips in the "Video" section of our website. These give outstanding insight to what goes on during a game.)
Coach Harbaugh's message to the players prior to kickoff was simple and to the point: "Men, we've talked about this. Tonight is about basic football. When you tackle, get your helmets between the numbers and drive. When you run, go north and south. … Ed, come in here and break us."
With that, Ed Reed moved to the middle of the team huddle: "Let's do this tonight for Baltimore. Let's do it for those we've fed the last two weeks. Let's do it for all those fans who wear purple and show us love. Baltimore on three: one, two, three." And the team shouted out: "Baltimore."
Ed's little speech surprised me and made me happy. We had a lot of players, including Ed, who had been out in the community the last two weeks buying Thanksgiving dinners and giving to those in need. How about Ed calling out to them and the rest of us who don purple, as the final words spoken to the whole team before kickoff of a huge game! You gotta love that No. 20.
Had the chance to spend time with Jackie and Jack Harbaugh, John and Jim's parents, at M&T Bank Stadium in the pre-game. They are such good and humble people. They so wanted to be with their sons, but they didn't want media attention to the Harbaugh family to take away from the game or John and Jim's preparation and pre-game routine.
Jack mentioned that Archie Manning, who had experienced having his quarterback sons face each other, had called him. "He told me that he didn't have any real advice for watching the game," Jack said. "He said to just try to enjoy the game and that it would be over soon. I understood what he was saying. We just have to get through this tonight and recognize that it is special, and we're proud to be part of it in a small way."
After taking the couple, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last Friday, to the field for a picture with their sons, we took Jackie and Jack to Art Modell's former office at the stadium, and that's where they watched the game on a television. "We usually talk a lot when we watch the Ravens and 49ers games. We talk to each other and talk to the TVs – you have to help the refs every now and then," Jack explained. "But, for this one, we barely said anything. It was certainly different."
John's parents can go back to yelling at the TV this Sunday when we face the Browns, a team that is two bad field goal snaps from being 6-5 and in the heart of the playoff chase. They'll be ready for us on the shores of Lake Erie. We'll be ready, too. Let's beat the Browns.
Talk with you next week.
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.