As the Ravens prepare for their playoff showdown with the Miami Dolphins, many players have been seen around Baltimore's locker room sporting a jet-black T-shirt with the words "What's Our Name?" emblazoned across the front.
No, the shirts are not requesting everyone around team headquarters to wear a name tag.
"What's Our Name?" is the slogan the Ravens' marketing arm has adopted heading into the postseason hunt.
But for a group that many outsiders wrote off after finishing last year 5-11 and started this one with a rookie quarterback and head coach, perhaps demanding recognition is fitting.
The slogan's background comes from a story coach John Harbaugh's father, Jack, gave to the entire team before the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The elder Harbaugh recalled legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, who was to face Ernie Terrell, soon after he changed his name from Cassius Clay,
Terrell refused to call Ali by his new name, which infuriated the fighter and sparked a deep rage.
"Ali earned the acknowledgment of his name when he pummeled [Terrell]," said Jack Harbaugh, a former coach at Western Kentucky and Western Michigan. "Every time he hit [Terrell], Ali would shout at him, 'What's my name? What's my name?' When Ali won, everyone knew his name."
Harbaugh then posed the question to the players, saying, "Now, it's time for you guys to earn your name, Ravens. What's your name?"
Of course, they responded with an appropriate "Ravens!" bark.
The anecdote's message has resonated with many of the players. Baltimore knew it had to earn respect outside the walls of its pristine Owings Mills, Md., training facility, which is why the team would have to remain strong and trust in each other.
"[Ali] just showed he won't knock the guy out until he shows him some respect," linebacker Terrell Suggs stated. "I liked it. It fit for us at that moment in time, and it kind of carried on with us the whole season."
There have been multiple occasions where the Ravens (11-5) have had to believe in each other to grit out victories. Baltimore won its first two games out of the gate, but dropped the next three, a streak that ended with a 31-3 dismantling at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
The Ravens responded by soundly defeating their next four opponents by an average of 17.7 points.
A small setback occurred in Week 11, when the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants throttled Baltimore 30-10, but the Ravens remained together and embarked on another three-game win streak.
And, when the Ravens were coming off a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15 to play one of the year's biggest matchups in Dallas, not one of them batted an eye in a 33-24 victory over the Cowboys in Texas Stadium's final game.
After a few of those wins that shaped Baltimore's tough character, Harbaugh posed Ali's question to his players, referring back to his father's story.
"He just spoke about guys staying together and working hard, having a goal and sticking to that goal," explained wideout Derrick Mason. "That's the thing that Coach Harbaugh has been preaching - and he just didn't preach it on Day One. He's been preaching it each and every week as we step in there as a team - the goal, the mission, what we have in front of us - before the playoff season started, before we even knew we had an opportunity to go to the playoffs."
So while Ravens fans may see the T-shirts, posters and television ads asking fans "What's Our Name?" the theme is much more than a slogan to the actual players and coaches.
Following an 11-5 season that not many thought was possible at its outset, the Ravens definitely know their identity.
Note: The original version of this story credited boxer Floyd Patterson as Ali's opponent, not Terrell. BR.com apologizes for the error.
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