I'm reminded regularly that these Ravens players you guys cheer are normal people and, for the most part, really good guys.
I'm not naïve. I'm sure that, like my family, there are things going on that I wouldn't like and are destructive. It all starts with bringing the right type of player to the Ravens. Like we don't want jerks to be part of our home-game experience in the stands, Ozzie and Co. try not to bring jerks in as players.
One of the places I get to see the players in a very good light is at the weekly production meetings with the network TV crews broadcasting our games. For example, when we arrive at our hotel in Providence tomorrow, we will immediately go to a meeting room where a select group of Ravens will meet one-by-one with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, along with the producer (Lance Barrow) and director (Mike Arnold). (This is CBS-TV's No. 1 crew.)
The sessions are held to give the broadcast team extra insight into the upcoming game, plus find out more from the players about their lives off the field. These meetings are usually relaxed and fun. By the time they start, the hay is the barn for the coaches and players, so to speak, and they are relaxed and more open than they usually are with some media earlier in the week. For this game, CBS asked to meet with John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis and Ray Rice. If you watch the telecast of the game, I'm sure you will hear at some point from either Jim or Phil: "When we talked with so-and-so last night, he said…" That information comes from these meetings.
A few weeks ago, when we played at San Diego, the CBS-TV crew included the venerable Dick Enberg, who is a former college professor, and Dan Fouts, the Hall of Fame quarterback. These two did an outstanding job of getting our players to open up and give some insights to their world beyond the gridiron. Enberg is especially good at this.
Dick asked Ray Rice about Ray's close relationship with his mother and growing up without a father in the house. Ray talked about how seriously he took his responsibility as the oldest child. He said that he told his younger brothers that they would give his mother, who is a special education teacher, last summer off. "I told them that they had to have jobs to pay for food, and we would all work to make sure my mom could have some leisure time," Rice said. "It really worked. They learned a little bit about paying for things and fixing food, and my mom got to relax. We all had a good time doing that."
When Rice finished, Haloti Ngata came to the room. He and Fouts, both products of Oregon, talked a little about the Ducks and how good they could be this season. Enberg focused on how Haloti has spent the last 2 offseasons going back to college. Ngata, whose parents are deceased, explained: "I promised my mom before she died that I would get my degree. I have to do that. I will get it. I'm getting closer."
Enberg asked Joe Flacco about his calm demeanor on the field, even after big plays. Joe smiled and said: "I am excited, but I am aware that any demonstration I do, my family is going to make fun of me. They do it all the time. So, I do think about it a little. They don't miss anything." Dick then followed with a question about last season. "Joe, did you ever have a 'Wow, I did that moment?'" Joe's answer was typical of his even keel style: "Not really. Nothing really comes to mind. Making the AFC Championship was pretty cool."
When Enberg got time with Ed Reed, he asked the 5-time Pro Bowler about studying writing in college. "Do you write anything now? Have you written anything recently?" Enberg queried. "I'm still studying. I'm a student of football now, Dick," Reed said. "I think a little bit of what I'll do after I'm finished playing, and I am interested in coaching some day. Not sure what level, but I enjoy teaching the game."
Coach Harbaugh is always the last to come to the production meetings. That way, no player ever has to wait for him to finish. (I've worked with head coaches who insisted on going first.) Again, Enberg got a Raven to talk about something outside of the game the next day. Dick asked Coach: "You coached with your father at Western Michigan, and I see where your dad roomed with you at training camp this summer. That has to be special."
John agreed how unusual that is and added that he knows his father is proud that his two sons became coaches and that his sister married a coach. Harbs then explained: "My dad helps me now. He was on the sideline during our game last Sunday (vs. Kansas City). We were dominating the Chiefs in a lot of ways. We controlled the line of scrimmage. We were beating them up, but here we were in the 4th quarter, and they were right with us. I kind of gave my dad a look like: 'Can you believe we're tied against these guys?' He walked over and told me, 'You're going to win this game. Keep doing what you're doing. You are physically dominating. Don't let your players see your concern.' It was great advice," Harbaugh concluded.
I'm excited to hear what our group tells the CBS crew this week. These meetings are a fun part of the job.
SO WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?
It was one of those weeks with a lot of evening events, which allowed plenty of opportunities for fellow Ravens fans to ask: "What do you think will happen Sunday in New England?"
Like I know more than you guys. I don't. We have the same questions, expectations and even doubts you have. And, as Chris Berman loves to say: "That's why they play the games."
This will be a good one. The Patriots are winners, and they have the best home record in the NFL since 2000. (By the way, it's just one victory more than we have at M&T Bank Stadium in the same span.) They have an MVP quarterback, a Hall of Fame coach, a sophisticated defense, one of the best receivers ever and an offensive line with 3 Pro Bowlers. If you take the 6 reporters from The Baltimore Sun who cover us the most and know the Ravens the best, we will lose – 5 of the 6 predict that.
But, you know what, we're pretty good. We were the team that made the playoffs last season, advancing to the AFC Championship game. Our quarterback is really good. We can run the ball, and our passing game is on pace to break all of our team records. You know, our defense isn't too shabby. We're 1st in the NFL against the run, and we dominated Cleveland after giving up some big pass plays in San Diego. Both the Ravens and Patriots are good and well coached on special teams.
We're certainly not intimidated by the Patriots. We won't be tentative. As Coach Harbs says: "We can't wait to play them." (Of course, John says that every week.)
I can't wait either. Games like this – showdown games between 2 good teams – are the NFL at its best. Can't wait for Sunday.
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne is in his 31st NFL season and is the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.