During his remarkable career, Marshal Yanda was shocked by a Taser, once played with frozen shoulder pads in sub-zero temperatures, and was embarrassingly pancaked by Terrell Suggs as a rookie.
Sounds more like a frat party than a Hall of Fame-worthy career. However, Yanda's path to greatness was unique, littered with memorable moments that he overcame.
Nobody expected Yanda to be an eight-time Pro Bowler and dominant offensive lineman when he came to Baltimore in 2007. Unlike Hall of Famers Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, Yanda wasn't a first-round pick. He went to junior college before blossoming into an NFL prospect at the University of Iowa.
Yanda took the road less traveled to become the best guard in Ravens history. As the organization reluctantly adjusts to life without Yanda, who retired Wednesday, here are some moments that helped make him legendary.
A Wakeup Call After High School
Yanda had the talent to be a Division I player out of high school, but he didn't have the grades. His college career began at North Iowa Area Community College. From that experience he learned to handle his business everywhere, not just on the football field.
"When I was in high school I had a chance to play Division I football, but my grades were not in order, Yanda said on the Lounge Podcast #153. "It was me being lazy mentally. You have to show up, pay attention, do your homework and you're going to get grades. It's not that hard. But I didn't do homework, I didn't pay attention in class. That cost me a Division I scholarship. Once I went to JUCO, I went 100 percent into football."
The Summer at Junior College
Yanda said there were 120 players on his junior college team. Only six players remained on campus for summer workouts after his freshman year, and Yanda was one of them. This is where he began separating himself from the crowd. Conditions were not ideal, but the experience made him a better player, tougher than he already was.
"In a dorm room, no air [conditioning], cooking on an electric skillet," Yanda said. "Everyone else wanted to go back home and party.
"When I was at community college, you're not even thinking about the NFL. You're thinking about getting a Division I scholarship. It's the little choices you make. It's the easy choice to eat the right foods or the wrong foods. It's the easy choice to stay up to 12:30 or go to bed at 10 p.m. and get your sleep. All those little choices that you make compound, and they compound into success."
Yanda's junior college success led to Iowa State offering him a full scholarship. Though he was happy to receive a scholarship anywhere, Yanda's first choice was still Iowa, which had still not offered him a full ride. So Yanda waited, hoping to hear from Iowa, but knowing he was likely headed for Iowa State.
"Iowa State had offered me a scholarship like two weeks into my sophomore year," Yanda said on The Lounge Podcast #197. "At this point, you don't know if you're playing in the NFL. I was the only guy (from his junior college) who made it to Division I. I wanted to go to Iowa. But Iowa wanted me to walk on. (So) you got to take the full ride scholarship. I can't turn down a D-1 scholarship."
However, Iowa reminded on Yanda's mind. Two days before he was supposed to sign with Iowa State on a Friday, Yanda made one last call to Iowa, telling them he'd still come if they offered him a scholarship. He didn't hear back Wednesday or Thursday and his mother and sister arrived at his junior college, ready to take him to Iowa State on Friday morning. But, finally, one phone call changed everything.
"We wake up Friday morning and there's a voice mail from Reese Morgan (former Iowa assistant coach) at like four in the morning," Yanda said. "Of course these coaches, they don't sleep. He's like, 'Marshal it's Reece Morgan with the Iowa Hawkeyes. We're offering you (a scholarship), but it's not official, you can't tell anybody, but don't go to Iowa State. We'll figure it out in the next day or so.'"
So instead of driving to Iowa State, the Yandas drove to Iowa and he became a Hawkeye. As he was leaving the athletic office, Yanda's mother and sister were waiting outside to congratulate him, but he couldn't resist teasing them. He told them the scholarship offer from Iowa had fallen through at the last minute.
"It was a terrible joke," Yanda admitted.
Suggs Decks Yanda
Yanda still remembers his first padded practice with the Ravens as a rookie. He was filling in at left tackle for an injured Ogden and across the line of scrimmage was Terrell Suggs, the franchise's all-time sack leader and a world-class trash talker. Suggs was going to see what the rookie offensive lineman from Iowa was made of. It did not go well for Yanda.
"I wish I could tell you that I held my own, and I had an OK first day," Yanda said. "Up until that day in my career, I had never been put on my back playing football. I had watched it happen to a lot of guys, but just thought in the back of my mind, 'That will never happen to me.' Well, 'Sizz' [Suggs] got me that day.
"After my first day, I didn't know if I had what it took to play at this level. I was thinking in my mind at the time after Day 1, I was like, 'Hey, I started off in JUCO, I beat the odds, I made it to Iowa, I got to start at Iowa and was fortunate enough to be drafted, but that might be the end of the road. It could be right here.' I realized I wasn't in college anymore and that these men were on another level."
Yanda was discouraged, but he was not demoralized. Yanda's will to compete was never broken, not that day, not in 13 NFL seasons. His resiliency was a key to his greatness. Eventually, Yanda became a teammate who gained Suggs' utmost respect, along with everyone else's.
"It was a rough start at training camp, but I fell back on my mental toughness," Yanda said. "I continued to approach every day as a new day. Learn from your mistakes and fight your ass off. That's another phrase that rings true in my heart no matter what. This game requires a lot of fight. By the end of my rookie year, I had started 12 games in the NFL. I knew I still had a long way to go, but my mind had shifted from not knowing, to knowing I could play at this level."
Taking the Taser
Yanda has told the story many times, but he still loves it. When he was a rookie, veteran teammates Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle brought a Taser into the locker room and offered $600 to any player who would take a hit.
"They had already got one rookie, and he collapsed on the floor kicking and screaming," Yanda said. "So blood was in the water to find their next contestant."
Yanda volunteered. After all, he had been shocked many times by an electric fence on his parents' dairy farm growing up in Iowa.
When Yanda got zapped, he barely flinched. He even took a second hit, just to make sure he got paid.
"Still to this day I don't think the batteries were fully charged, because it was not any worse than an electric fence on the farm," Yanda said. "Still to this day, that was one of the easiest 600 bucks I've ever made."
If there was any question about Yanda's toughness, the Taser episode answered it.
His First Major Injury
Yanda tore three of the four knee ligaments during his second season (2008), an injury that required two surgeries to repair. He remembers the play vividly, recalling that it happened in a lopsided Week 5 loss to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in their stadium.
"Late in the fourth quarter, I got hit from the side of my leg in my right knee, and it was from planting in the ground stopping a bull rush," Yanda said.
It was the beginning of Yanda's career-long relationship with injuries.
He endured eight surgeries and hated the pain and drudgery of rebab. This first injury forever altered Yanda's outlook, making him realize that even the toughest NFL players are vulnerable. He became more realistic about his football mortality, one of the reasons he retired at age 35 while still a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
"Up until that point, I had never been seriously hurt playing football," Yanda said. "Well, that all changed in one day, and I started down the path of one of the toughest stretches of my career. … I had to fight through injuries my entire career, as many of us have, but my love for the game never wavered."
Yanda returned from his knee injury in 2009, but he didn't start immediately. Chris Chester was the starting right guard and Yanda was miffed that he didn't get his job back right away. It was another hard lesson that playing time is never guaranteed in the NFL. He became even hungrier, and the feeling of riding the bench motivated him the rest of his career.
"The NFL is a very humbling experience, and to quote Mike Tyson, 'Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the mouth,''' Yanda said. "I lost my starting job and rode the bench for 11 weeks. It was a life-changing experience for me and had me at times questioning if I had indeed lost a step and maybe wasn't the same guy.
"I got an opportunity to start against the Steelers at home, and I still think to this day that it was the most nervous I had ever been for a football game. I was reminded that if I didn't play well, I would be benched not after the game but at halftime. This was a huge moment in my career where I persevered, and I never lost my job starting from that game forward."
Advice From Ray Lewis
Yanda's focus on game days was maniacal. Looking into his eyes during pregame warmups was scary. Family members and his teammates knew better than to make small talk with Yanda on gameday. He refused to even take pre-game pictures with his family, so he had no photos of him in uniform with his family until after the final game of his 13-year career.
This angry approach to game days was recommended by Lewis, and Yanda swore by it.
"Ray talked about flipping the switch," Yanda said. "Play this game pissed off. If you want to play consistent for 16-plus games going into the playoffs, you gotta play mad. When Sunday hits, there's got be that hair that goes off on the back of your neck. For four hours, you better be ready to chew on some nails and chew a guy's leg off to get it done.
"When I wake up Sunday morning, there's no smiling no laughing. That is an edge that a lot of players don't take advantage of."
Human Ice Block
Yanda looked the Abominable Snowman by the end of a classic 2012 playoff game in Denver, a double-overtime thriller won by the Ravens on their way to capturing the Super Bowl. Despite the frigid temperature, Yanda maintained his ritual of spraying water in his face and sniffing smelling salts prior to every offensive series.
"That gets me alert," Yanda said of his face spraying-smelling salts ritual. "Gets your sinuses cleared up to breath really heavy. But in Denver we went into overtime and they ran out of fuel on the heaters.
"Once I would spray, it would stick in my facemask. The overspray just started building up. A Denver player was like, 'Hey ref, look what he's doing? He's cheating! He's got ice all over him; that's intentional. I can't get my hands on him.'
"I'm like, 'Ref, I'm just spraying my face with water. It's five below zero. Water's going to freeze.' The ref let it pass. It didn't really matter that much, but he could not lock (me) up. He was slipping off."
That was the coldest game Yanda ever played in. Yet, thinking about winning the Super Bowl that season still gives him a warm feeling.
"It was something that I'll relish and have with me for the rest of my life," Yanda said. "Having that experience with those group of guys was so special, and that team will forever be together in that we did it – World Champs."
New Position, No Problem
One of Yanda's more remarkable feats occurred in 2016 when he switched from right guard to left guard after injuring his left shoulder in the fifth game of the season. After missing three of the next four games, Yanda suggested to Head Coach John Harbaugh that he switch from right guard to left guard to protect his shoulder.
Yanda hadn't played left guard in 10 years. But he made the switch and made the Pro Bowl again, basically playing with one arm.
That move sums up the kind of player Yanda was, willing to sacrifice his body to help his team win, and talented enough to do things that other linemen couldn't. He can leave the game secure that his legacy will live on.
"[It] didn't matter about the contracts and the money," Yanda said. "I was obsessed with this game and being great and wanting to be the best."
Look through Marshal Yanda's legendary career filled with eight Pro Bowls, one Super Bowl and many, many blocks.