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Rookies Get Hall Call


In a new program implemented this year by the NFL, the Ravens sent their crop of 2008 rookies to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last weekend.

Even though the players can recount the history of Baltimore football simply by walking around Ravens headquarters, which features a timeline ranging from the Baltimore Colts to the current franchise, Saturday's visit to Canton was a chance to delve even deeper into the league.

Focusing on the heritage and achievements of NFL greats who paved the way for today's incoming class, the tour is part of several rookie orientation initiatives designed to ease a transition to the professional ranks.

At first, the assignment seemed like homework for many of Baltimore's rookies. But after a day of watching the evolution of their game unfold through a variety of displays, the experience ended up being one they'll never forget.

"I never even thought about the experience of going," said running back Ray Rice, the 55th-overall pick in April's draft. "I think it's something that any rookie, anybody that loves the game, can go back and see what we're really playing for.

"We're playing for something bigger than us when we're playing football. It's almost weird to think about it like that."

Seeing the jerseys and busts of many of their childhood heroes left some players inspired.

For linebacker Tavares Gooden, a Miami alumnus, it was watching film of Dallas Cowboys great Michael Irvin, a 2007 inductee. Irvin and Gooden not only share the same college, but also the same St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Irvin, incidentally, was the one who suggested the trip in a conversation with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Gooden also pointed out Kellen Winslow, Sr. and Walter Payton, the fathers of Kellen Winslow, Jr. (Cleveland Browns) and Jarrett Payton, his former Hurricanes teammates.

"I thought it was good to take a look and see what they'd actually done," Gooden explained. "I played on a team with a bunch of greats, and with a lot of sons of greats, and I got to learn about them.

"Something that really caught my eye was seeing actual faces inside the Hall of Fame. I think that was special, just seeing those statues and monuments up in that room."

Safety Haruki Nakamura, who grew up in the Cleveland area at Lakewood St. Edward High School, noted former Browns stalwart Jim Brown. He also was quick to recognize Ronnie Lott, regarded as one of the best safeties of all time.

"There are a ton of guys in the Hall of Fame that growing up, you only hear about," he said. "You barely see them play, if at all. We got to see the old school clips and uniforms and really learn about their accomplishments."

One Hall of Famer that the Ravens are quite close to is general manager Ozzie Newsome. When Newsome retired from his playing career in Cleveland in 1990, he was the fourth-leading receiver in NFL history, as well as the top receiving tight end ever.

Now, he leads Baltimore's personnel department and is regarded as one of the best team architects in the league.

Newsome spoke to the entire group about personal responsibility to maintain football's strong traditions.

"You see what hard work and dedication to a sport that you love can show," Nakamura said. "I think it made it even better that Ozzie was there, because you get a guy that speaks the truth. He's been there and done that, so it makes a huge difference."

Rice ageed.

"Having a Hall of Famer in this building is something that really opens your eyes," he stated.

Coming back to Charm City, the rookies realize they currently share a locker room with solid candidates for the Hall.

And, as 11-time Pro Bowler Jonathan Ogden remains at his residence in Las Vegas deciding his future with the team, one of those candidates could be inducted soon enough.

Whether it is playing with Ogden or Ray Lewis, Ed Reed or Chris McAlister, the Ravens' rookies are definitely aware that they are now a part of history.

A trip to football's most hallowed ground in Ohio was all that it took to realize that their journey has only begun.

"There is a lot of history about the Baltimore Colts," said Nakamura. "There is a lot of history to this league. And now, we are hopefully part of a great history for the Baltimore Ravens. It's just one era to another."

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