ARE WE SPENT? ARE WE TOO BEAT UP?
How often have you heard those questions this week? In fact, how much have we heard national observers talk about these subjects?
We've heard it in Owings Mills. "The Ravens are too injured to play with the very healthy Steelers right now." "Baltimore didn't have a bye this season. This will be their 18th straight weekend with a game. They have to be tired. They can't have live legs." "This is where the Ravens' dream ends?"
John Harbaugh has heard these comments this week. And, I love his answer. "Out of gas? Too hurt? We'll show up. We'll be there for kickoff Sunday night. That much we know."
For those who think the Ravens are done, did they watch Derrick Mason this season? Did they see him play with a dislocated shoulder, barely missing a play? Did they see the replay of his touchdown against the Cowboys? You know the one – he ran down the field with one arm dangling, with his other arm and legs pumping furiously.
Anyone think Derrick isn't ready and chomping at the bit to play in the AFC Championship?
What about left tackle Jared Gaither, who will get to tangle with NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, and other Steelers Sunday? Did these observers see him basically play 2 games with one arm? You know, he feels a lot better now – and he played pretty well when he was hurting.
Can big Jared go 60 more hard minutes at Heinz Field? Does he have it in him? Go ask the 6-9, 350-pounder. I'll wait here.
Le'Ron McClain, bad ankle and all, he'll be there. He was the team captain at Alabama for a reason. He's a man of character and toughness with the enthusiasm of a young man with a huge opportunity.
Oh, and if McClain is slowed, what about Willis McGahee? We know his story. He basically dislocated his entire knee in his last college game. Many said his pro career was done that night. Some of those people watched him in the Pro Bowl last February. How much does Willis want the opportunity to be a hero in Pittsburgh? Plus, he's healthier than he has been for most of the season.
Think Willis and Le'Ron lack energy for this game?
What about those old guys Ozzie Newsome signed last August? Willie Anderson? Lorenzo Neal? The 13- and 16-year veterans brought in to give leadership, top-notch play and toughness…you think they're wilting now? Please! You can almost hear Willie telling the trainers: "Strap it up. I've got to get back out there."
And, let's remember, our defense is playing without Kelly Gregg, Dawan Landry and Pro Bowler Chris McAlister. Yeah, and we've been doing that for a long time. What were we going to do without Kelly, one of the best defensive tackles in the league? You know what we did. We put "Iron Man" in there – Justin Bannan. Justin, have you heard how tired and beat up you are?
Where would we be without Justin? What about that little guy lining up about 10 yards behind Bannan – that safety who looks like a Calvert Hall High School student? That's Jim Leonhard. He's the one who almost knocked himself out when he hurtled his body into Titans TE Alge Crumpler last Saturday. Oh, by the way, Jim's hit caused a fumble that Fabian Washington recovered at our 2-yard line. Does Leonhard have 60 minutes of hard play in him for Sunday night? My guess is yes.
Terrell Suggs has been in the trainer's room 5 times a day since last Sunday. He's doing this to find a way to play in this dramatic showdown. Who's going to tell him he can't play in the game? And, if that's not the right thing to do for this valiant defender, I don't want to be there when he's told.
Come on! Spent and out of gas? Are you kidding me?
"Hey Ray, you spent and out of gas?"
Lewis' real answer to me was: "You're kidding me, right?"
As the head coach says: "We'll be there."
We're allowed to have honorary captains at Sunday's game, and we've chosen O.J. Brigance and Tony Siragusa. Many of you know O.J.'s story, and we're so proud that he will be at midfield just before kickoff.
The team gave O.J. the game ball after we beat the Titans last Saturday. O.J., who has great difficulty standing, stood in the middle of the team huddle in the locker room. Coach Harbaugh brought up Ed Reed* *to present the ball to O.J. (Ed had suggested to John that the team give the ball to Brigance.) When Ed gave the ball, he said: "O.J., I love you. We love you." A loud cheer followed.
We then all leaned in closer to hear O.J., who struggles to project his voice and articulate. "Don't celebrate too much," Brigance said. "The mission is not complete. We have more to do."
Yes we do, O.J.
Besides beating the Titans and being with the team in the post-game locker room and on the plane ride back to Baltimore, the very best event of the week was our arrival at BWI Airport after the victory.
We came into the International Wing, and we could hear some slight rumblings of people once we left the jet way. As we got closer to the ticketing area near the front of the airport, the rumble had become a roar, and we could feel the heat being thrown off by the many fans who had come to welcome the team.
How cool was that?
You've probably heard that we won't be coming through the terminal after this Sunday's game. And Baltimore County Police are not going to allow fans to come to our facility at Owings Mills. It's for safety reasons, and it's the right call at both places.
We will have our buses go through Owings Mills Mall, and that will be the place to see us when we get back. (There's a possibility those plans could change, and we would alert folks at Owings Mills before we land.)
YOU'RE A FOOTBALL PLAYER?
Safety Jim Leonhard went to a downtown restaurant last Monday to do an appearance hosted by a local radio station. WJZ-TV's Mark Viviano hosted the show and told me that Leonhard was carded when he tried to enter the place. How good is that?
Leonhard told the people at the door that he was the guest that night. "You're the Ravens' player?" Jim was asked. After Jim confirmed it, the doorman said: "Okay, but I have to check your ID for your age."
It is impossible for all of us at the Ravens not to hear and see the incredible support you have given us in this playoff run. It is seen in a lot of different ways, even for coaches who never leave the building, read newspapers, listen to radio or watch TV. We hear it from each other. Our families tell us about it. It's wonderful to know that you're enjoying this and pushing us on.
Wish we could do more to acknowledge you in some important way, but the best we can do now is say: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
Maybe when this season is all said and done, we can get John Harbaugh somewhere and shout out "What's our name?" and you can all shout: RAVENS!
Let's get this done Sunday night. Beat those Steelers!
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne is the Ravens' Senior Vice President – Public and Community Relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.