Byrne Identity: Locker Room Dispute about Best Athlete

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Let's start with this: the Ravens are made of great athletes who are super competitive and have tremendous belief in their abilities.

Derrick Mason
is not the only player who has a high opinion of himself. Like Derrick, most want the outcome of a game on their shoulders. Most believe if the Ravens will do that, we will win.

Thought that after the devastatingly painful loss to the Steelers, we needed a little fun – and some good-natured arguments among the players, so…

It was easy to do…wandered down to the locker room and started asking players: "Who is the best athlete on the team?" Didn't say football player…athlete.  Who stands out among these accomplished, skilled and elite performers?

I talked with 20 players, and 11 of those answered the same: "Me."

Haloti Ngata: "Other than myself?"

Ray Rice: "In the end, me."

Chris Carr: "Me, seriously, it has to be me. I've been a punt returner, kick returner, nickel back, safety. Who else has played all those positions?"
: "Besides me?"

Todd Heap: "You just wrote down his name," the tight end said after he saw me write his name in my notebook. "I played Division I football and basketball, and some of my coaches thought baseball was my best sport. They thought I could be a pro centerfielder. But, I had to pick a sport."

Michael Oher: "Well, I am a great athlete…"

T.J. Houshmandzadeh: "The more I think about it, honestly, it's me."

Lardarius Webb: "To tell the truth, me. I was nominated as a McDonald's basketball All-American." (To which Houshmandzadeh replied: "Nominated is not being one, plus it was in Alabama. How many good basketball players are in Alabama?")

Tom Zbikowski
: "Ask anyone. Me."

Well, I did ask someone other than our players. With Ozzie Newsome's blessing and help from Director of Personnel Eric DeCosta, our scouts were polled and they provided a "top 10" list for me. Here it is:

TOP 10 ATHLETES ON THE RAVENS

(When I asked Ozzie, Eric, Vincent Newsome, our Director of Pro Personnel, and George Kokinis, the Ravens' Senior Personnel Assistant and former GM of the Browns, to: "Quickly, name the best athlete on the Ravens." Ozzie and Eric immediately answered Ngata. Vincent said Oher, and Kokinis proclaimed Boldin.)

Here's something I was reminded of in this process: belief in one's abilities is a significant part of being a successful pro athlete. I've seen pickup basketball games featuring some athletes better than ones who make it to the pros. For whatever reason, these great athletes didn't become pros. Maybe they didn't have the determination or self-belief that the pros possess. Maybe they had different priorities.

When I showed Carr and Jarrett Johnson the top 10 list our scouts produced, both were stunned. "I'm not in the top 10, are you kidding me?" Johnson said. Carr is still talking about it: "You can't be serious with that top 10. I'm not in  it. What kind of list is that?" Love those guys and their confidence. Both of these starters, by the way, are important cogs to our 8-4 record right now.

Secondary Coach Chuck Pagano, who heard me ask Ed Reed, stepped in and offered this: "It has to be this guy (Reed). When I coached him at Miami, they were having the Big East track championships. Ed went out there in his pajamas, and won the javelin throw." I looked at Ed. "I could heave that thing."

Reed did not pick himself and gave thoughtful answers to the "Who's the best?" question. "Anquan is very athletic. Haloti and Oher, for their size, can really move and catch," Reed said. "Let's have a softball game, or a basketball game, and then make the decision. That would tell a lot. I'd want to evaluate Haruki, Anquan, Haloti and Oher in those and then make my call."

Reed added that he thought Carr was right for being offended. "Chris is really a good athlete." Sam Koch, who a number of players mentioned as one of the Ravens' best athletes, believes Ed "could have played major league baseball. I've never seen an arm like his. He can throw and I hear he can really hit."

Matt Birk picked Reed: "Lateral movement, explosion, hand-eye coordination, Reed has it. Oher is unusual, and so is Haloti. When you consider them and Suggs, with their size, that's pretty impressive," Birk said.

One of the best parts of this research was instigating the following conversation held by Lewis, Rice and Boldin:

Lewis: "Too many different things to consider. We need some criteria."

Rice: "Not really. Me, but Boldin's up there."

Lewis: "It could be Zibby (Zbikowski.)"

Rice: "We have to do it by position, but me – jump high, run fast, basketball, anything on concrete."

Lewis: "Concrete? Boy, you're foolish."

Rice: "I was great on concrete. That's what we had when I was kid. I won everything, scraped up my knees every day."

Lewis: "I question the scouts' list. They've only seen us play football; never saw me wrestle. I might have had the best single leg in all of high school."

Boldin: (Standing up and wiggling his leg) "Single leg. What is that? A dance step."

Rice: "I dunked when I was in the 8th grade and I was 5-7. I have video."

Boldin: "Bring that video in and let me see it."

Rice: "I've got video of me in football against our archrival (high school). I think I scored 35 points, including kicking the extra points."

Lewis: "This is just like the NFL trying to pick the 100 best players of all time. You can't do that because of the different eras. Let's do ours by position."

Rice: "I had 27 touchdowns in 12 games when I was in Pop Warner football."

Boldin: "I'm starting to think about this: baseball, track, boxing, football – I do it all."

Lewis: "Boxing? Who are you kidding?

Boldin: "I train in the offseason."

Lewis: "That doesn't make you a boxer. You're just throwing punches. If I fought Manny Pacquiao, I'd throw him against the ropes and just start whaling on him."

Boldin: "He'd hit you five times before you started a punch. Now, 'Zibby', maybe he's the best athlete. He is a professional boxer. Hard to beat that."

That conversation continued with Mason, who picked Oher, Fabian Washington and rookie Arthur Jones getting involved. (Rice did say that "We should have a bad body contest and, A.J., that would give you the chance to win.") It was fun listening and watching the guys discuss all of this.

In the end, the consensus of the players was not unlike the voting from our personnel department. For the players' votes, Reed had a few more mentions than Haloti, with Boldin, Oher and Zbikowski also in the top five mix.

The good news for us is that these athletes are Ravens and they are determined to go to Houston, who are still in the playoff hunt in their division, and win. Let's beat the Texans. Talk with you next week.

Kevin

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.

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