Okay, I know it shouldn't bother me, and it doesn't mean a thing to what the Ravens do on the field. But, aren't you a little surprised – and perturbed – by how most preseason reports do not predict that we will be an elite team this season?
Didn't we just play in the AFC Championship and lose to the eventual Super Bowl champion at their place? And, didn't we have the ball, trailing by 2 points with under 5 minutes to play? Weren't many of you thinking, like I was, how great this was going to be? We'd move the ball to field goal range, and Matt Stover would kick the winner to send us to the Super Bowl. (Of course, that long-haired safety from Pittsburgh then made the kind of play that makes him one of the best ever at his position, and our title dreams were ended.)
You know we went on the road in the playoffs and manhandled a very good Dolphins team at their place. We then traveled to Tennessee, which produced the NFL's best record (13-3) last season, and we knocked them out of the playoffs. We had to be pretty good to do that.
Didn't our rookie head coach and rookie quarterback set an NFL record for the most wins ever (13) by a team coached by a rookie starting a 1st-year quarterback? Does anyone think these two might be a little better this season after their "rookie" experiences?
I read and hear all the words about how Rex is not here, and Bart and Leonhard are gone; how we lack a big-time receiver. I see very little mention of Kelly Gregg and Dawan Landry's return and even less about the additions of cornerback Domonique Foxworth and center Matt Birk. Do I have to mention the litany of outstanding players here? Ray, Ed, Haloti and Sizzle on a defense that also has Pryce and Jarret Johnson. Those 2 young tackles look pretty good on offense. Don't you think Ray Rice is just a little better in a 2nd season? Will somebody please mention the Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain? Uh, Willis looks pretty good. By the way, don't tell Derrick Mason how bad our receivers are. It might get ugly. Hey Todd, you ready to make a statement? Thought you were.
It shouldn't bother me, I know. You know why? Because it just doesn't matter. What matters is what the Ravens do in the games. Actually, one of the best parts of being a sports fan is the yin and yang discussion that is so much a part of competition. Who's better, the Ravens or the Chiefs? Can the Ravens win the AFC North? Who do you think will be in the Super Bowl? Hell, there's a whole industry based on these conversations – talk radio.
Watch ESPN – every 10 minutes, there's a pro and a con. Someone says the Patriots are the best. Another says, "No way, it's the Giants," or the Colts or the Chargers.
The chatter and writing is fun. It drives more talk and more opinions. But, you know what? It irritates me when the Ravens aren't included in the conversations about the best. And, I privately say things like: "Okay, you don't think we're elite. You don't think we're worth mentioning. Good, because we'll show you. Watch us. You'll see."
So, Coach Harbaugh, assistants and players, back me up on this. Let's start showing these folks what we're about. See you Sunday at 1. It starts then. Our actions will speak louder than my words.
I MADE THE TEAM
Everyone knows someone who has had to go to the bulletin board in the athletic department and check a list of names to see if "you made the cut." Many of you have experienced this. Some have had the elation of seeing your name among the athletes who have made the team. Some of us have had the sadness of a futile search and the reality that someone has told you that "you're not good enough."
It happens in an even bigger way at the pro level. When you don't make the list here, you don't get paid, and your failure – someone saying you're not good enough – is very public. Dreams die, but dreams do come true.
I saw something from Coach Harbaugh this week that I've never seen before: a celebration of making the 53-player Ravens team, along with a salute to the eight young players who were picked for the practice squad. When the 2009 Ravens met last Monday (Labor Day) for the 1st time since the roster was set last Saturday, Harbs saluted the 61 players in the room. He applauded them for making the grade and told them that it's ok to celebrate that with each other and family. Some might have called this "Harry high school," but it wasn't. It was pure, and you could tell the players appreciated it.
The head coach took it one step more on Wednesday. When players got to their lockers, the 53 "varsity" players didn't see their names on a list. But, they did find a nice jacket with these words on the left pocket area: "53 Mighty Men of Baltimore."
When John walked into the 8 a.m. team meeting that day, he saw many of the players in the new jackets. His speech was then about what the "53 Mighty Men of Baltimore" could do this week to make sure the season starts out in a winning way. There was a purity to this simple act of giving a jacket to a person who made the team. Well done, Coach!
Let's get ready for the Chiefs. M&T Bank Stadium will be rocking Sunday. We'll have jets fly over at the end of the National Anthem. We've got the rock band "Nation" playing with Baltimore's Marching Ravens at half…and we'll get it all started when we introduce our defense. Don't be late.
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne is in his 31st NFL season and is the Ravens' senior vice president of 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.