John Harbaugh had the room's attention Wednesday evening at the first full-team meeting for the 2016 Ravens.
He cited Muhammad Ali, quoted Martin Luther King Jr., Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Davis and his brother Jim, the head coach at Michigan.
Harbs told stories of Hernán Cortés and impalas. (I won't share everything from the meeting. Some conversation should remain for the team only.)
There was some team building and fun to start the session.
At precisely 7 p.m., Coach Harbaugh faced the filled meeting room, smiling at first-round draft choice Ronnie Stanley: "You don't look that happy."
Stanley grinned and said: "No, I'm good." Stanley, all 6-foot-6, 320 pounds of him, was wearing a bright yellow chicken suit meant for someone much shorter.
The slow clap then began. Stanley recognized he was up. He stood in front of the room, and one of his new teammates asked loudly, "Who are you?"
"Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame, and I'm from Las Vegas."
Terrell Suggs: "Signing bonus, how much?"
Suggs: "Fourteen what?"
Suggs, loudly: "Isn't America great? What a country!"
Stanley then, in a reasonable singing voice, began singing an R Kelly song. Soon teammates joined the chorus and sang along. By the end, the room clapped enthusiastically.
"That's a good start," Harbaugh said as Stanley returned to his seat. "How long does he have to wear that?" No one replied until Stanley said, "'Til the end of the team meeting." John agreed: "Good rule."
(There is truth to the rumor that there are 23 different costumes for rookie performances this camp, and that a certain longtime veteran arranged for these to be shipped to our Under Armour Performance Center. Currently, that feisty vet wishes to remain anonymous despite the fact that Stanley told reporters that Steve Smith Sr. asked him to wear the outfit.)
A couple of thoughts about Harbs' presentation: the room basically has a tiered stage at the front of the room, and I have never seen John address the team from any of the platforms. He always stands at floor level. While he has a commanding presence, his body language is humble. He leans into the players. He bends, he moves, he contorts. Oftentimes, when he makes a strong and powerful point, he'll end with a question. "Don't you think that's worthwhile?" "Is there anyone who would disagree with this?" "Does anyone else have something they want to say about this?"
In some ways, his speeches are endearing. I have never seen the group not pay attention, whether it's at the end of a practice, before or after a game or the opening night of training camp.
The messages he shared Wednesday were simple, and twice he told the team: "We don't pretend to have all the answers. If you don't like the way something is done, speak up. Let's talk about it. You have something that you think can help us win, let us know. We all want to win. We all want to get better."
Martin Luther King Jr. Cited
In quoting Martin Luther King Jr., he touched on both the essence of team and the current crisis in cities throughout the United States. Showing a picture of the great civil rights leader, John read the quotes on the giant screen located at the front of the room: "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now. … We must live together as brothers, or perish as fools. … Faith is the first step when we cannot see the whole staircase."
He talked of impalas, a type of antelope common in Africa. He showed a video of impalas jumping high. "The impala can leap 10 feet high, but are kept in compounds surrounded by fences that are much shorter," Harbaugh said. "The impalas won't jump unless they can see where they would land."
The 2016 Ravens will be leaping as high as we can, reaching as far. Our fear will not hold us back. We will get the most out of what abilities we have. "Greatness will not back down. We will not confront anybody, but we will confront everything," the head coach told the team.
He quoted his brother Jim from last week's Big Ten press event: "Hard pressed to think of anything better than to go to another team's stadium to compete against their team and their fans – and throw in some elements, too. Cold, rain or some kind of weather, you had to beat as well and come out the victor. There's nothing better."
Harbs talked of the importance of being "all in," about "faith in each other" and "building a brotherhood." He talked of winning and the signs we see around the building: "W.I.N." (You win by taking care of What's Important Now.)
He didn't talk about being better than last season. He didn't talk about returning to the playoffs. He talked about winning and doing all the things necessary to win – to win it all.
Let's talk about crabgrass. Coach Harbaugh clearly believes in attention to detail. On Monday, he roamed our practice fields to check that they were in good, safe condition for our players. He found some crabgrass. He pulled it out and showed it to one of our field workers.
The next morning, a group of groundkeepers were diligently pulling crabgrass from the fields. Harbs saw this … and joined the group for an hour. That's teamwork!
Talk with you next week,
P.S. Walking with Coach Harbaugh on Wednesday afternoon, we passed a sweaty Marshal Yanda who was coming from the weight room. After the five-time Pro Bowler passed by us, I asked John, "Did he pass the conditioning test?" Harbs' response said it all: "You're kidding me, right?"
P.P.S. At team meetings, players and coaches who are celebrating birthdays are saluted. After the shoutouts for summer birthdays were given on Wednesday night, John asked Eric Weddle, "How old are you?" Weddle, with enthusiasm, announced to the room, "Thirty-one, and I haven't hit my prime yet."