O.J.'s POWERFUL SPEECH
Most of you know about the condition of O.J. Brigance, our senior advisor to player development. O.J. has battled ALS ("Lou Gehrig's Disease") for over two years. He has lost most of his physical abilities and uses a wheelchair to move around.
But, he is here regularly and is a significant force among our team. While O.J. can move his mouth, he cannot project sound. So, it was rather surprising when John Harbaugh told the players and coaches at the first full-team meeting of training camp (July 28) that O.J. wanted to address the team. My eyes immediately turned to O.J., who was sitting in his mobilized chair in the middle of the room.
Talk about hearing a pin drop. How was O.J. going to do this?
Cam Cameron, our offensive coordinator, stood and walked to the front of the room. Cam then said: "I'm honored to read the message O.J. is giving you tonight." For seven minutes, Cam read from type-written sheets. The message was powerful. All of us in the room were captivated. In fact, we were privileged to be there.
The basic message is that we have many accomplished people on the Ravens, but it is only when we become one as a team that we can accomplish our highest goals. In O.J.'s words, this is what Cam read:
*"When we take the field, know that a trial is coming to derail our purpose and steal our vision. The great thing about our team is that the sum of experiences of overcoming as a family will far outweigh any adversity that attacks us individually."
*The applause was so strong after Cam finished, and all eyes turned to O.J., who gave his trademark smile.
While I was captured by these memorable moments, I also felt for Coach Harbaugh, who had to follow this. John did not disappoint. Here's what he told the team:
"I love O.J. Brigance, and who said he couldn't speak? We are honored to be with you, O.J. Let me say this. We all know it's more difficult to communicate with O.J. It's hard to read his lips. He takes long to use his device to communicate. But, let's not forget O.J. is there – all of O.J. His mind is 100 percent. His body is just not working the same now.
"And he communicates without his machine. He does it with his eyes, with his lips. Most of us have seen that in working with O.J. And, I've talked with O.J. It's okay to walk by and say 'Hey.' He doesn't expect you to always stop and wait for a reply. And, when you have time, do stop. As you can see by his speech tonight, he'll help make you better. Thank you O.J. Thank you."
Poignant, powerful and so special.
I also marvel at how long it must have taken for O.J. to write his speech. He communicates by using his eyes to find letters on his specialized computer. Composing his thoughtful speech was no small feat.
HALOTI'S NAME DROPPINGFirst, how about NFL Network and FOX-TV's Brian Baldinger declaring that Haloti Ngata is one of the five best players in the NFL – not just defensive players or D-linemen – five best, period. And Baldinger, who played 12 NFL seasons on the O-line, knows and studies the game as much as any commentator covering the NFL.
Back to Ngata, who walked into my training camp office carrying a table. Yes, a table – folded and in a case. A table most human beings would find heavy to carry. "What's that?" I asked Haloti. "My treatment table. I have someone coming to give me a treatment," he replied. "Don't know many people who carry around their own tables," I said. His reply: "I'm a big man. Need a big table. This one is mine." Got it.
Haloti, who is so humble about being a star football player, then says: "I just got a text from Matthew McConaughey." I asked him: "Like the actor who always takes his shirts off in the movies. The big-time star?"
"Yeah, that's the one. Pretty neat, huh?"
Here's the story. Ngata did one of those mini-pop-culture question and answer spotlights for Sports Illustrated. In it, Haloti was asked what music he listens to when he relaxes. His answer was "Mishka," who is a popular reggae singer/songwriter. Turns out McConaughey has a company that produces Mishka's music and texted Ngata to thank him for mentioning the reggae performer. The actor also said he loves the way the Ravens play.
So do we, don't we? Let's watch the Ravens play tomorrow night against the Giants, who will provide a good preseason test.
Talk to 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.