The range of emotions that have filled our complex in Owings Mills since we ended the preseason last week is wide.
Importantly, the vibe is very good right now. There's great excitement that continues to build as we get ready for the opener against the Bengals this Sunday. When John Harbaugh first addressed the full team on April 17, he laid out exactly what the players would be going through between that day and the start of the regular season. He talked about what would take place during the offseason camps, what type of work would be done by the players in the weight room and the specifics of training camp.
During his presentation, he told the players that by the time they played their 1st preseason game, "Your legs will be a little tired." He added that by the 4th preseason game, "You'll be fresh." He said: "When we get to the opener, you will be busting out of your skin, ready to play Ravens football."
I see that today. Players are fresh, and there is an "I-can't-wait-until-Sunday" feel racing through the halls. Despite our injuries, we're ready to play the Bengals. I'm still not sure which guys will be healthy enough to get after Cincinnati, but I know the ones we'll have out there will be "busting out of their skin" to play rough, tough and clean football. Whew, Sunday can't come fast enough.
COLD AND FAST MOVING
While we build this crescendo to kickoff, we are dealing with lots of other issues. We reduced our roster by 27 players over the last 2 weeks. Friends have lost friends to this reduction. Roommates have lost roommates. Dreams ended and dreams were fulfilled by the youngsters making the team for the 1st time.
Through this, teammates saw an emaciated Troy Smith come out of the hospital and into the building. Troy looks better every day, but earlier this week he looked weak, skinny and sick. At the same time, they saw Kyle Boller, who like Troy, is very popular with his teammates. Kyle was fighting to show some range of motion with his throwing arm to indicate that he could come back soon, only to be told yesterday that he was going to have to have season-ending surgery.
Players being released, others added. Players lost to sickness and injuries. All of this in the last few days. Through it all, the coaches have to keep the players' eyes focused on the prize: Find a way to beat the Bengals on Sunday. The coaches are winning this fight. You feel the excitement increase by the hour. Beginning yesterday (Wednesday), the shift happened, and we are close to being ready. We're sure there are fans who feel the same way.
As we've mentioned before, we'll split introducing our offense and defense at our games this year and may throw in a special teams intro, too. We're sending out the defense this Sunday. It will be raucous. We'll save Ray Lewis for last, and that always seems to get the crowd a little more juiced.
PLAYERS HAVE FEELINGS TOO
Something that has always surprised me through the years is the belief by some fans and a few reporters that players "deserve" more criticism, and frankly, abuse, because "they make all that money." Many players and coaches, for that matter, are startled by this attitude. When players talk about this, we always advise "that it comes with the territory." That doesn't appease them all the time.
One thing the players do to relieve some of the tension is keep their own bulletin board, which they post in the training room – off limits to most staff, all media and fans. Most of the stuff they put up there is very entertaining because the players make fun of each other, coaches and staff members. For example, one player found a picture of a shirtless Haloti Ngata posing with a few other shirtless members of his college team (Oregon). Evidently, it was for a promotion of some sort. That picture is posted with a sheet under it for his current teammates to write in comments. A couple of the comments would never make a family publication.
The players also put serious material on their board, which is actually a set of doors to cupboards located on one long wall. One piece is the front page of a sports section from last April, the day after Steve McNair announced his retirement. The entire page is a close-up of Steve's head with this bold headline above: "DONE." There's a sheet below where players have added comments. One is very poignant: "13 Years of the Toughest, Bravest Football, and he gets toasted with one word – Done."
Today, there was the front page of a newspaper that had Boller's headshot. Filling the space across this front page above Kyle's head was one word: "FINISHED." The word goes across the whole page. I imagine that will be the next piece up on the players' board.
Boller, who was placed on injured reserve yesterday – which means he can't play for any team in the NFL this season – has received his share of criticism. Quarterbacks and head coaches get more of that than others. I was touched today when offensive coordinator Cam Cameron got a little teary when asked about Boller by reporters. Cam saluted Kyle and noted that Boller was certainly in the mix to be the starter before he hurt his shoulder. "It's kind of emotional for me because you see the sacrifices Kyle made for the team since we've been here," Cameron said this afternoon. Cam also noted that no player had worked harder this offseason and added what a quality person Boller is.
Kyle is on the last year of a contract with us. We made him our No. 1 choice in 2003. He never backed down from a challenge. He was always prepared. He's a competitor, and he's physically tough. He is always willing to take the extra step to help someone in the community. He's a fun, pleasant guy who is an excellent teammate. He's not finished. He's 27, and he's going to play again in the NFL – could be with us. Everybody here hopes he comes back better, stronger and achieving success at the highest level.
Receiver Derrick Mason recently came to Melanie LeGrande, our executive director of the Ravens All Community Team Foundation, and said something like: "I like kids and retired folks, let's do something for somebody." So Mel set up a karaoke event for Derrick at the Charlestown Community for this Tuesday (9/9). We've seen after his touchdowns that Derrick can dance. We'll see next Tuesday how well he sings. One thing for sure: Derrick, as always, will have fun and so will the retirees at Charlestown. Sure hope somebody gets some video of this so we can show that at a team meeting.
Baltimore's Carmelo Anthony, a gold medal winner as a member of USA's men's basketball team, will be an honorary captain at Sunday's game. He'll be saluted just before kickoff. How big of a Ravens' fan is Carmelo? He has the Ravens' logo and the Orioles, too, tattooed on his arm.
Joe Flacco has never played in a "real" NFL game, so no one is really sure what is going to happen this Sunday. I'll be startled if what happens in the game shakes him up too much. I've said before that there is a calm about this guy that is noticeable to all of us who have been in the business for awhile.
We all know how Peyton Manning started as a rookie and his Colts went 3-13. Troy Aikman and his Cowboys, with new coach Jimmy Johnson, staggered to a 1-15 mark with Troy starting most of those games in his rookie season. So, history tells us that even Hall of Famers and their teams fail as rookies.
You can read it in newspapers and magazines. You can see it on TV and hear it on radio. They say: "The Ravens aren't going to win this season. And what's worse is that they are starting a rookie quarterback."
The very best victories in sports are when you win and no one expects you to do so. Like I said, we can't wait until Sunday. Let's all bust out of our skins against the Bengals. See you on game day.
Talk to 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.