Love where the Ravens are right now.
Hungry and driven.
You can see it and feel it in our facility.
Last Sunday (7/21), I was having lunch with John Harbaugh. Training camp started later that day when rookies, quarterbacks and players who were injured at the end of last season reported. Terrell Suggs did not have to be here.
But, in walked "Sizzle," the 2011 NFL Defensive player of the year, who suffered two injuries (Achilles tear and biceps tear) last season – and still was out there helping us win the Super Bowl in the end. Suggs looked powerful and slim in his sleeveless shirt and gym shorts.
"Hey Coach, can I work out here today? Can I take my conditioning test?" Suggs asked. John told him that he wasn't sure but would find out and suggested to Terrell that he call the NFL Players Union to make sure. (There are strict rules about when players can be in your facility and how long they can stay once they are there. I know, I know – that's a little nuts.)
Before "Sizzle" walked in, Harbs was talking about what the team needed to do to succeed this season. "The message is the same as always. We have to be hungry, pay attention to what's important now, do the work and remain humble. And, if we don't show up with everything we have, we'll be the one humbled," Harbaugh explained.
"It will all be about what we do, starting today. Nothing changes. Let's be hungry and humble. Let's continue to be relentless."
When Suggs officially reported on Wednesday, his message to reporters reverberated through our corridors and echoed Coach Harbaugh's sentiments. "I've been watching, listening and reading what people say about us. I know critics are supposed to have their opinions, but I'm getting pumped to prove them wrong. This isn't just on me, but the entire team. This is going to be a good year, not for myself, but for this team and for this city.
"We can't be concerned about what happened last year. It's time to start playing football again," Suggs told the large media group. "In February, there will be another Super Bowl played, and our purpose is to get there. I love this new group, and there is opportunity to do amazing things."
Our man Terrell, way to set a tone.
Look, we all know the obvious. Super Bowl winners don't win back to back. In fact, it has been eight years since a Super Bowl winner won a playoff game the following season.
So, it's easy for reporters and some fans to say "no chance" to the Ravens. We're a long shot not only to win the title again, but to even make the playoffs. The Ravens? You kidding me? No Ray Lewis, no Ed Reed. Anquan's in San Fran. Kruger will be chasing Joe Flacco as a Brown. Dannell Ellerbe is viewed as a savior in Miami. We're the Super Bowl team without nine of our starters from the year before.
We have them just where we want them. Go ahead and underestimate us. Say it, write it. Proclaim it on ESPN and the NFL Network. Let it rain on us.
(How about a reminder about John Harbaugh-coached teams assembled by the great Ozzie Newsome and his staff? We have a lot resolve. We work hard every play. We battle every play. Let's see what comes to mind immediately: How about Ray Rice and fourth-and-29 at San Diego? What about the playoff game at Denver? Heck, we gave up two kick returns for touchdowns against a home team with Peyton Manning at quarterback that was on an 11-game winning streak. There was a minus 2-degree wind chill – and we won. Flacco threw the mile high rainbow to that dancer Jacoby Jones with 30 seconds left to tie the game. Corey Graham then intercepted Manning for a second time in the contest to set up Justin Tucker's winning field.
RESOLVE: we'll have it again. That's what the Ravens do.)
Opening Team Meeting
Which takes us to the 2013 Ravens' opening full-team meeting Wednesday night. After some administrative information was covered, Harbs called on Senior Advisor to Player Development O.J. Brigance to speak. Brigance, who is afflicted with ALS, was wheeled to the front of the room. O.J. is all there, but can't move his extremities or speak with his mouth. He uses his eyes to spell out words on a computer and his voice comes through that device.
It took "Juice" a full minute to start his speech. There was complete silence in the room during those 60 seconds. As usual, O.J. was terrific, delivering a message about resiliency and the strong roots that a team forms in training camp.
It was now time for the head coach to deliver an inspirational start-of-the-season message. First thing John did is read from The Baltimore Sun. He read aloud the quotes from Suggs from the Wednesday press conference.
"I don't have to say any more. Suggs said it all, didn't he? We do have a chance to do something amazing. Only one team in the NFL has earned the right to win two Super Bowls in a row…"
John didn't have to finish the sentence. All 90 players and the coaching staff nodded in agreement.
"How do we do that? By taking care of what's important now."
I think the rest of what Harbs told the team should belong to them. Maybe at the end of the season we can come back to this speech and see how it set the tone. The basic theme of the message was that doing little things right every day leads to big things done right in the end.
It was simple, yet stirring, and players were shouting in unison a number of times during the give-and-take-John Harbaugh-style of communicating.
You probably heard that John took the rookies, injured vets and QBs to Gettysburg on Wednesday, rather than practice. The rookies had to go. The others didn't have to, but they all did.
If you haven't, go to Gettysburg, start at the visitors center and watch the 22-minute film narrated by Morgan Freeman. It is a remarkable and memorable mini-movie. It gives a sophisticated look at slavery and how that started the Civil War and eventually led to the devastating battle on the fields of Gettysburg.
My sense is that the players who made this trip, even if they are released in the next five weeks, will remember sitting in that theater, shoulder-to-shoulder as a member of the 2013 Ravens.
I heard Flacco, who was clearly fascinated by the strategy used by the leaders in the battle, say to Harbs: "Is there going to be a (motivational) T-shirt for us from this?" John laughed and said: "Maybe more than one."
That evening, every player on the team had a t-shirt with his number on it in his locker. Blazed across the front is "Fix Bayonets," a reference to the courageous battle at Gettysburg's Little Round Top where Union soldiers, nearly out of bullets, charged courageously down the hill while Confederates shot at them. Harbs had made reference to that skirmish in his presentation to the team that night.
Talk with you next week,