Ozzie Newsome wrapped up his press conference Friday by admitting that the Ravens' run to the Super Bowl has been somewhat surreal for him.
"I've got to pinch myself to see if I'm still dreaming," Newsome joked.
When the Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers Feb. 3 in New Orleans, it will be the second Super Bowl trip for the Ravens general manager.
And the circumstances couldn't be any more perfect for Newsome.
Jonathan Ogden, the first player he drafted, is likely to get selected for the Hall of Fame the day before the game. Art Modell, who hired Newsome to be the NFL's first African American general manager, is also one of the 15 Hall of Fame finalists. Ray Lewis, the second player Newsome drafted, will play in his final NFL game. The game will be played in New Orleans, which Newsome called the "greatest venue" for a Super Bowl.
It's a storybook season for Newsome.
"When we all were kids, you probably always have a dream of something, when you were growing up," Newsome said. "And for the past 15 months, my dream has been having the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl in [New Orleans]."
Then Newsome pointed to the assembled media.
"We got a lot of great writers here," he said, "but I don't think any of you guys could have written that script."
The trip to the Super Bowl comes after years of falling just short. The Ravens had previously made the AFC championship twice under Head Coach John Harbaugh, and Newsome has developed over time an appreciation for the challenge of simply making the Super Bowl.
"You just don't know how hard it is to get to the Super Bowl," Newsome said. "It's even harder, now you have to go and win it. But 12 years since we did this, and we got knocked out in the AFC Championship twice; it's hard. You've got to manage injuries, so many different things that you have to manage just to get this opportunity, and the other 31 teams don't care for you. It's hard to do."
Ozzie, Bisciotti Didn't Push Cameron Firing
When Harbaugh decided earlier this season to part ways with longtime Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron, he talked through that decision with Newsome. In fact, the two had a number of conversations about it leading up to the Week 15 decision.
"He did not just walk in my office that Monday morning and say, 'I want to make that move,'" Newsome said. "As a matter of fact, when we got off the bus downtown and we both were driving home from the Redskins game, John and I talked about it that night. He said, 'I think I might have to make a decision' and was telling me all the reasons why. So, there's a process in place. What we try to do is we try to minimize the downsides and maximize the upside."
While Newsome said he talked with Harbaugh about the move, he was emphatic in saying that he and Owner Steve Bisciotti did not push the decision on Harbaugh.
"No, no, no, no, no," Newsome said. "That wouldn't be fair to John. John has to stand before his coaching staff and his players, and if at any one point do they ever think that he's overly influenced by Steve or I, then he loses his staff and his players. It has to be him."
Ed Reed Could Stay In Organization
Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed is in the final year of his contract and his future in Baltimore is somewhat up in the air.
Reed plans to play beyond this season, but Newsome said he is open to the idea of Reed staying in the organization in some sort of capacity whenever he does decide to finish off his playing career. Newsome confirmed that Reed wants to one day be a coach.
"That'll be up to Ed Reed," Newsome said. "That'll be something that Steve [Bisciotti] and I can talk about. But, Ed's still got a lot of football left to play. I think we'll cross that hurdle."
Newsome pointed to the significant role that Director of Player Development Harry Swayne plays within the organization. The former player and three-time Super Bowl champion is instrumental in getting rookies acclimated to life in the NFL and is also a mentor to players throughout their career.
Newsome could see a similar role for Reed.
"It's important for us to keep players around, but Ed's got a lot of football, and if he decides he wants to do that, I think we can find a way," Newsome said.
Team Responds To Harbaugh
As the Ravens head to Super Bowl XLVII, there have been comparisons drawn to the 2000 team that won Super Bowl XXXV.
The biggest similarity to that team, Newsome said, is the way the players have responded to their head coach. Newsome referenced a conversation with former Head Coach Brian Billick, who said that in the final month of the season, "anything I asked that team to do, they would do."
"I think John would say the same thing," Newsome said. "The way the team has responded to John and his coaches' leadership of how he's asked them to practice, the different things like that, how he wants them to prepare, I think that has been very similar as to the way it was in 2000."
Newsome also described Harbaugh's biggest strengths as a head coach, which is work ethic, willingness to learn and ability to connect with player individually.
"He's eager to learn, and he's willing to talk about things," Newsome said. "One thing about John, he lets you know right away he's not the smartest guy in the room. I've been around people that say every time you see them they think they're the smartest guy in the room – John doesn't carry himself that way.
"But, I don't know if anybody works as hard as John, and you know what? John has a unique talent about him. I don't know how great he is in front of a group, but in a one-on-one setting, there's none better. To watch John operate here in the cafeteria, walking out on the field with a player, in the weight room with a player, and to see him spend five or 10 minutes with a guy, and how important that is, I don't think you can put a measure on it."
Newsome On Minority Hiring
One of the hot topics around the NFL recently has been the lack of minority hirings for open head coach and general manager positions. The NFL had eight open coaching positions this offseason and all of them went to white candidates.
Newsome, who was the first African American GM in NFL history, is on the league's diversity committee and said he would like to see minority hiring improve in the league.
"Are we going to work to get it better? Yes," Newsome said. "But all we can do is to put people in front of people. [Steelers Head Coach] Mike Tomlin got in front of the Rooneys and got that job. I can remember way back 18, 19 years ago and all we were asking for from the commissioner is to just give us the chance to get in front of you. I think that opportunity is there. I like for the other African Americans to get an opportunity, but John Harbaugh is a good football coach, and Jim Harbaugh is a good football coach and Rod Chudzinski is a good football coach. They aren't making bad decisions. It's just a good pool of candidates out there that people have to choose from."