When John Harbaugh was hired as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens in 2008, he immediately implemented a philosophy that has served as the team's core principle over the past several seasons.
*"At the heart of football are three foundations. First is the TEAM, second is the TEAM, and third is the TEAM. We'll stick with that from beginning to end."
Ray Rice enters his fifth NFL season in 2012 after being drafted in the second round by the Ravens in 2008. A two-time Pro Bowler, Rice recorded a career-best and NFL-high 2,068 yards from scrimmage in 2011, also adding a franchise-record 15 total touchdowns (12 rushing, three receiving). It was the second time Rice eclipsed the 2,000 scrimmage yards mark during his career (2009: 2,041). His 1,364 rushing yards were also the league's second best last season.
What will make the 2012 Ravens a special TEAM?
"It's the group of guys that we have. And for me, I'm going into my fifth season, all with coach Harbaugh, and I've really gotten to know him as a coach, know him as a guy. He's got his way around here, and he knows what he wants as a team. I think we all want to share in that same common goal and philosophy with him, and that's to be the best team that we can be."
What is the best TEAM you've ever been a part of?
"It has to be my high school state championship team during my junior year at New Rochelle in 2003. Not only was it winning the state title, but it was the guys on the team. I can remember that we weren't the biggest team, but we had more heart than anyone. In one of our playoff games, the other team looked at us and literally started laughing, because they were so much bigger than us. But you know what, we ended up banging those guys around pretty bad. It was like David versus Goliath, because that team was massive, and they just looked at us and laughed, like, 'We're going to stomp this team.' It was pretty special for us."
Who is the best TEAMmate you've ever had?
"It's a no brainer here; obviously the best teammate I've ever had is Ray Lewis. And it's for bigger reasons than just football. You know, he's a great football player, probably the best linebacker to ever play the game, but he's an even better person when it comes to sharing knowledge, wisdom and showing you how to be a pro. I've learned everything about being a better professional from him."
How does the TEAM feel about playing a home game on Monday Night Football?
"It's Monday Night Football. There's really nothing more to say about it. Some of the greatest moments in football history happen on Monday night. The whole world is watching, and it just so happens to be in Baltimore in front of our fans this year. It's going to be a great feeling, and when we run out of that tunnel Monday night, that's a feeling that you can never take away."
What are some of your favorite TEAM building activities off the field?
"We like to do dinners, or sometimes it's just going over to a guy's house to play video games. The great thing about our team is we're not separated. There isn't one guy who would say he couldn't hang out with someone else in this locker room. I hang out with the defense, I hang out with the offense, I hang out with everybody. It doesn't matter. If you're a Raven, you're a Raven. We're all in it together."
What has John Harbaugh done to build a successful Ravens TEAM?
"Coach Harbaugh brought a winning mentality here. He built a physical team, and with him being a tough coach, that makes us a tough team, and that's one thing that's great about him. He's got his beliefs and his ways, but we all believe in him. He's our head coach. And if you believe in your head coach, you believe in his vision and chase what he sees. It eventually becomes the whole team's vision. Now we've just got to turn this team's vision into a reality."
Linebacker Ray Lewis
Can you talk about the first time you met Ray and what you remember about that day?
"The first time I met him, I think the first thing I ever told him was, 'Ray Rice, nice to meet you. Pull up your pants.' And I just told him that I watched his whole college career, which I did, and I respected the way that he plays the game and the way he loves the game, and that it'd be an honor to play with him."
Why do you and Ray have such a special relationship?
"One of the main reasons is because of those first interactions we had with each other. From that first meeting, and then just talking and getting to know one another, up until we started competing against each other … I just started teaching him things – a few little things, because he was already gifted to have it – and then from there, it just kind of blossomed. Our relationship went from football stuff to life stuff to real man stuff and things like that. So, for him to be as young as he is, I just kind of took on that big brother role, and it's just been blossoming ever since."
Besides his skills as a running back, what does Ray bring to the TEAM?
"Energy. It's a totally different kind of peace when Ray is around. He makes everybody feel good. He makes coaches feel good, he makes players feel good, he just makes everyone that's around him want to be a team, want to be a part of it. If anyone's in a bad mood, he always tries to pick them back up. It's those kinds of things that really make him a great, special teammate."
Center Matt Birk Besides his skills as a running back, what does Ray bring to the team?
"He lightens the mood. Whether it's in meetings or the locker room, he's always smiling and likes to play jokes on people. It's good, because you have to have fun while you're at work. On the field when it's time to work, Ray is all business, but he certainly makes a lot of people laugh and keeps things light off the field."
What is one of the best off-field memories you have of Ray?
"Ray came to a fundraiser that I had for my charity this past spring. He wasn't in town, drove down from New York just to come to the event, and for as big of a star as he is, he's just so approachable, so laid back. Everybody came up to him and asked for an autograph or a picture, and he obliged with open arms. There were some kids there too, and I think Ray has a very special gift to be able to really connect with young people, to make them feel comfortable, and I think he really enjoys that. But it's certainly a gift that he has, because I've seen it on display multiple times. When he's around kids, Ray's personality just shines and connects with them, and that's great for a player like that to be a role model for so many young people. It's really a great thing."
Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron
What qualities make him a special running back?
"I think he's smart, and he's got great vision. All great backs have that. We ask a lot of our running backs, not only in running the ball, but the passing game and pass protection, so you've got to be smart. But Ray's physical ability, everyone can see that. He's got great strength, great quickness, flawless technique in ball security; so all the little things that you want a back to do, he can do. But from my view, it all starts with him being a guy that really knows what he's doing out there and what he wants to accomplish."
What play or game sticks out the most when you think of Ray?
"He's had so many, he really has, but I always go to the playoff games first. I think the first play at New England in 2010 is something very special in my mind, because I think a lot of people thought that he might not be able to go the distance there, that he might get caught, and he ran away from people. That's the first one that comes to mind, but I think he's got a lot more in him."
What is one of the best off-field memories you have of Ray?
"There have been a couple of times when I've needed a favor from him, whether we have a free agent in town, or maybe something for a charity event, and every time I've asked he's delivered. I remember calling him late one night when a free agent came to town and said, 'Hey, could you meet us for dinner?' And he said, 'Sure, I'll be right there.' And you'd like to think that most guys would do that, but obviously they don't. I think the one thing you know is that he's got everybody's back in this organization, and you can be darn sure that we all have his, too."