Time To Move On, But Why We Were Special
Like the fans, the 2012 Ravens – the Super Bowl XLVII Champion Ravens – are still basking in the glow of the gleaming trophy we won.
But, it's time to move on. We are well into the 2013 planning, and that Ravens' team will certainly look and be different than the championship group of players and coaches that just a few weeks ago had the confetti drop on their heads.
One More Look
Last season's Ravens were special in many ways. Starting linebacker Jameel McClain, who was forced to watch that exhilarating playoff run from the sidelines after being placed on Injured Reserve midway through the season, described that team:
"Hard work, hard work, hard work and being an underdog – that's what I think the team represents, and that's what Baltimore represents. It's a blue-collar city that understands what a hard day's work is. And that's what the Baltimore Ravens are: a blue-collar team that knows what a hard day's work is. And is always the underdog."
We were an underdog with a chip on our shoulder that kept working...and winning. We surprised many along the way. That's what we do. That's what we understand. Hard work, humility and lifting a teammate.
Birk Represents All We Are
Matt Birk won't be a Raven next season. He has retired. But, even the way he stepped away from the game is "like a Raven."
Whenever retirement talk came up with the Harvard graduate, he would point to the front doors of our Under Armour Performance Center and, with a smile, proclaim: "Someday I'll walk out of those doors quietly and never come back. That's how you'll know I'm retired. No speeches or press conference. Just quietly walk away, just like the way I came into Minnesota 15 years ago."
So I wasn't surprised when I got a call from public relations manager Patrick Gleason late last Thursday night. Pat said Matt Birk had called to inform us that he was going to announce his retirement the next day at Battle Grove Elementary School in Dundalk (MD).
"What do you mean he's retiring? Who's he going to tell? The students? He can't do that. He's Matt Birk, a Super Bowl champion, a six-time Pro Bowler. We're not starting the offseason by irritating the reporters. This is a big story," I complained to Gleason.
"What do you want me to do?" Gleason asked.
"Tell Matt we have to let some reporters know. He can do it at the school. I know he doesn't want a press conference. But, what's he thinking? Tell him he's giving Ivy League grads a bad name," I said.
Birk let us invite reporters to the school for his 11:30 a.m. meeting with a group of fifth graders. And, he was kind enough to call me first thing in the morning. "Sorry to cause a little stir," Matt said, "but I don't want the fanfare, you know that."
We told Birk that we didn't know how many reporters would show up with such late notice – we sent a media advisory out around 1:00 that morning. A lot showed up. Matt had told me that some would be moved by what they saw. I know I was.
Through his H.I.K.E. Foundation, Birk donated a "Reading Oasis" to the school. He named it the "Larry Bryant Reading Room." Larry is a fifth grader at Battle Grove with whom Birk connected. He has dealt with significant medical issues that have left him permanently smaller than his classmates. Bryant has a big personality and handled the honor with the class and dignity that few adults could muster.
And wearing a shirt he stole from Michael Oher's locker that read: "Finish Everything" on the front, Birk closed the door on his football career. He grabbed the shirt that morning – after doing a weight-lifting workout at our facility. Like the 2012 Ravens, Matt Birk is special.
So Is Joe Flacco
More than any time during his first five seasons – all playoff years – you recently witnessed what we see in Joe Flacco every day. He's refreshingly humble, an outstanding quarterback and now a Super Bowl MVP.
If you haven't seen the video of Joe on the trophy stand after the championship, it's priceless. Michael North, the NFL's director of broadcast planning, points to a new red Corvette Stingray that was placed near the podium. North said: "That's your car." Joe reacted: "I get a car? Do I really get a car?" When Michael assured him, Joe looked down to his teammates and family, smiled and said: "Hey, I get a car. Pretty cool."
I had to review the "mikings" from NFL Films from the Super Bowl. In our last scoring drive, which really made the difference in the game, we were faced with a third-and-1 at our own 45-yard line. A quarterback sneak was called, but Joe also had the option of changing the play, which he did. When Joe called out the change, John Harbaugh said to those standing next to him: "He's throwing the ball, wow!" After Anquan Boldin caught it for 15 yards and the first down, Harbs yelled: "Way to go, 'Q'!" and then smiled at Joe. A calm Ray Lewis sitting on the bench watched the play on the big screen and said to no one: "That's a bold statement, Joe."
Indeed it was. Joe was special at that moment – and throughout our playoff run.
Harbs In The Blackout
Loved when Harbs called a huddle near the end of the power outage at the Super Bowl. He quoted Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross when he told the team: "Ain't no mountain high enough and ain't no river wide enough to keep us from winning this game. We are going to be Super Bowl champs." How cool is that! "That's why we love him," said LB Brendon Ayanbadejo after the game.
Found it interesting that Harbs selected Marshal Yanda to speak to the team after our last full practice on the Friday before the Super Bowl. You might remember that John had Marshal address the team after a tough training camp practice in sweltering conditions in August. At that time, Marshal told his teammates to "embrace the grind," and we'll win. This time, Yanda said: "Just do your job on Sunday. I'm going to do my job as the right guard the best way I can on every single play. If we all do that with our jobs, we'll win."
Simple, yet special message.
Steve Bisciotti Special Too
This is from someone with owner Steve Bisciotti on Super Bowl Sunday. When Steve left the hotel, a group of fans recognized him. They surrounded him, and he started talking to them about going to the game. "Everybody going to the game?" Steve asked, and the crowd cheered. Seeing a young boy in a Ravens' jersey, Steve asked him if he was going to the game, too. The young man said "No, we don't have enough tickets."
Steve then asked, "If you had a ticket, who would you take?" The young man replied "My dad." With that, Steve reached into his sports coat and took out a pair of tickets and handed those to the young man. "You're going now. Where's your dad?" The child pointed to his father, and the crowd applauded loudly.
Special and classy. Turns out the father and son had come from Baltimore in a big RV to celebrate the Ravens – and obviously, not everyone from the RV had tickets for the game.
The President's Call
President Obama called John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome the day of our Super Bowl parade in Baltimore. After the President offered congratulations to the Ravens, Coach Harbaugh said: "I know you know this as much as anybody, sir, but the greatest accomplishments are born of the greatest tribulations and adversity. Our guys, they kind of proved that."
Then, after the call, as the two walked out of the room, Oz said, "Hard to top that."
The next morning, Ozzie started a 10-hour meeting where every player on the roster was reviewed by all the coaches, scouts and medical staff. "Congratulations to all of us for the championship," Newsome said to start the session. "That's over, and now it's time to head back to the first tee."
Welcome to the 2013 Ravens.
Talk with you soon,