FULL-COURT PRESS ON T.J.
With a healthy number of teams chasing him, it took a five-man, full-court press to convince T.J. Houshmandzadeh to join the Ravens.
The pressure came from Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Ray Lewis and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. "It was all about recruiting T.J., because he was hearing from a good number of teams," Newsome explained. "John and I talked with him. Cam told T.J. how he'd fit into our offense. Ray texted with him, and they talked, and then we brought in our Mariano Rivera – our closer – Steve Bisciotti."
Houshmandzadeh agreed: "Hearing from Steve made a difference. I mean he's an NFL owner. Who am I? I just had a head coach tell me he didn't want me. Now an NFL owner is texting and calling me. When an owner does that, albeit not spending a great deal of time on it, it gets your attention. What owner does that? It told me so much about the organization, and I have always heard good things about the Ravens."
All of this happened over a 24-hour period that began in the wee hours of last Sunday and ended with T.J. committing early Monday.
"I have to admit that my first instinct was to go to St. Louis where I could play against Seattle twice a year. I wanted to get back at them for letting me go," Houshmandzadeh told me. "I know that's kind of childish, but I didn't lose any competition to any receivers there, and I wanted to make sure they knew that by the way I would play against them. The competitor in me said, 'I'll show you.'
"Then you have Coach Harbaugh, and a Hall of Famer like Ozzie calling me, and that got me thinking hard about the Ravens," T.J. continued. "They were honest and told me how I'd fit in.
"Then there's Ray. You listen when he talks," Houshmandzadeh said.
"When I heard that we were trying to get T.J., I recruited him for the second time," Lewis explained. "We talked a year ago when he left the Bengals and became a free agent." When asked how he recruited the productive receiver, Ray smiled: "I texted and said 'Let's go win a championship. Let's talk.' When we talked on the phone, I told him he would be another piece in our puzzle to get to Dallas. I told him he's been to the Pro Bowl, been to the playoffs, has the big numbers, but now it's time to win a championship."
*(Ray then paused, smiled and said: "I'll tell you something, we're going to be hard to defend. You can't cheat anywhere. If I was playing us, I'd be scratching my head a little. If you double Quan (Anquan Boldin), then Mase (Derrick Mason), T. J. and Todd (Heap) are singled. They can all win that match. Then you have Ray (Rice) out of the backfield with Joe (Flacco) throwing, Cam's play calling…It's a lot to cover.")
When Houshmandzadeh's agent told Newsome that T.J. still wasn't sure about coming to the Ravens, Oz asked Steve "The Closer" Bisciotti to come out of the bullpen and secure the win. "Steve can be very persuasive," Newsome said.
Going into Sunday night, the five-man Ravens' recruiting team waited for the answer from T.J. "I had talked and texted with T.J. while talking with Oz and 'Harbs.' I was hoping to get a 'yes' before I went to bed Sunday night and wondered whether it would be too aggressive to call one more time," Bisciotti explained. "When I woke up Monday morning, I was thrilled with two texts: one from Ray that said 'He's coming' and the other from T.J. that was very classy. He said he would be proud and honored to be a Raven," the owner added.
That's great teamwork – ownership, personnel, coaching and players – all working for the Ravens' common good. Way to go guys, and welcome, T.J.
WHAT AN OPENER!
ESPN asked the NFL to schedule the Ravens at the Jets for the Monday night opener. Ron Jaworski told me that a month before the NFL announced this year's schedule in April. It's a great opening game with a lot of story lines that include Rex Ryan, Bart Scott, two young quarterbacks, two playoff teams, two tough and physical defenses and on and on. Reporters are having a field day with all of this.
We're ready. I'm convinced of that. The locker room is alive. Players are having fun with each other. The practices are fast, crisp and executed at high levels.
And, as you've heard, Ray Lewis has a little edge about this game. He's tired of anyone talking about what's going to happen. Ray wants Monday night at 7:10 (the exact kickoff time) to be here right now. And I love this line that Ray gave to the media yesterday: "The greatest gift we have (as a team) right now is our opportunity Monday night."
Indeed, what an opportunity! It will be a great competition played by some of the best athletes in the world. You're right, Ray: Monday can't get here fast enough. Let's go beat the Jets.
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.