The locker room scene in Cleveland last Sunday after we came from 14 points behind to win on the road was memorable. I'm not sure I can translate the feelings of joy and camaraderie felt in there, but I'll try to share as best I can.
It was loud. There were shouts of joy. There was hugging and hands clasping in shakes of congratulations. There were hugs. Lots of hugs. There were shots to the chest and arms as players and coaches expressed the satisfaction of a job well done.
Part of that special celebration came, probably, because the players recognize that we won this important game without key players. Three starters in the secondary – Pro Bowl corners Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, and safety Dawan Landry – didn't play. We won without our Pro Bowl running back Willis McGahee, who was ready and willing to play despite ankle and knee issues. We won with 2 rookies, who 12 months ago were playing for Delaware (Joe Flacco) and Rutgers (Ray Rice), making significant contributions.
There was John Harbaugh moving from player to player and from coach to coach, repeating phrases like: "You were huge today. Thanks for the effort. Coach, you had your guys ready for them. Great work, great work. Hey, this is another step for us – there's more to come. Keep working, keep working. It's paying off."
There was Ray Lewis grabbing Terrell Suggs: "Another touchdown, that was big. You closed the deal for us." And Suggs responding: "Ray, he threw it to me. I looked up, and it was in my hands. I should've jumped into the 'Dog Pound.'"
If there can be pure joy in professional sports, this was it. We were all like kids winning a Little League game, sharing a last-day-of-school giddiness.
When it came time for coach Harbaugh to address the team, he had trouble getting the players' attention over the din: "Everybody up, everybody up," he shouted. "Everybody get in here tight.
"Fourteen down in the second half, in a hostile environment, on the road, and you came back. ON THE ROAD! You overcame adversity. Ray (Lewis), why did we overcome that? What do we have?"
Ray shouted back: "Character."
"That's right," Harbs said. "Because you're men of integrity with character. Was it perfect? Was it pretty? No, but you came back."
You then heard a couple of players shout: "Monday off. Monday off."
Coach Harbaugh pointed over to defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Rex Ryan and shouted: "Rex, Rex, what did we say when we talked Friday? Win or lose, what did we say?" Ryan roared back: "Players get Monday off."
Big cheers from the players. When the din subsided a little, we heard cornerback Corey Ivy shout: "You just couldn't wait, could you, Coach? You just couldn't wait." It was a reference to Harbaugh telling the players earlier in the season that there would not be Mondays off. The comment made John laugh.
"Listen," Harbaugh continued, "We're being smart about this. That's why we made the decision before this game. This would be our bye. We want you off your feet on Monday and Tuesday. There is an optional lift (weights) tomorrow or Tuesday, but no legs, just upper body. Those of you who need to, get in the training room the next two days.
"Now, here's what we'll do Wednesday and Thursday. We'll be smart. We'll have 'walk-throughs.' We'll do everything we have to do in a practice, but we'll do it with intelligence. We will have you ready to go on the road again – to Houston – and find a way to win another game."
Everyone laughed when Lorenzo Neal, recognized as one of the toughest in a world of fearless men, offered from the back of this massive huddle: "Coach, are you feeling all right?"
"I am. We are," Harbaugh said. "Win or lose, this is what we need this week. We will be ready to go to Houston. Now, you know what we're going to do. Everybody up here tighter." The players and coaches all stepped up to the Ravens' head coach, each reaching a hand high to the middle or to a shoulder of the man in front of him.
Harbaugh shouted: "What's my name?"
"What's my name?"
"What's my name?"
A trio of shouts, followed by the "Ravens" refrain 3 times.
Despite the "off" Monday and Tuesday, we still saw lots of players in here those days getting treatment, lifting weights, doing some cardio. Others were in assistant coaches offices trying to get a sneak peek at this week's game plan.
When I saw coach Harbaugh in the weight room, just before his Tuesday night radio/TV show, he looked at me sternly and said: "Wipe that smile off your face. Are you ready for Houston? We don't want anyone to be satisfied with where we are, do we?"
I stood taller. Message received. The same message he has hammered home to his assistants and players since the first meeting on Wednesday morning of this week.
I like the fact that Coach Harbaugh did not reward the players for the victory over the Browns. That he made the decision after discussion with Rex Ryan and other coaches last Friday says a lot about the way John works. He didn't just talk with Rex. He also spoke with the strength coaches and trainers, experts whose jobs are to get players to play to their maximum. He asked Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame player and our general manager. He talked with a couple of key veteran players. Harbs always seems to take the extra step. It's impressive.
YOU SAID WHAT?
Lots of people are excited with Joe Flacco, and they should be. He has shown he can handle being a starting quarterback in the NFL, which many believe is the hardest position to play in all of pro sports. He's unselfish and doesn't call a lot of attention to himself, despite the spotlight he's under. He's pleasant, intelligent, and he has humor. Little by little, those of us who work with him – and the public at large – are getting to know him better.
Joe made me smile after the victory over the Browns.
A couple of minutes after the game ended last Sunday – when most of the coaches and players had already headed to the locker room – the field producer for CBS-TV came running to me and yelled: "We need Flacco. New York says we have to have him."
This is not an uncommon request from the network televising a game, but it usually comes when there's a few minutes left in the 4th quarter.
"Hey, I'm not even sure he's out here. If he's in the locker room, we're not bringing him back out. Coach Harbaugh will want him in there for the post-game message," I told the producer. With that, I turned to the middle of the field and spotted Joe. (Well, he is over 6-6 and does kind of stand out.)
Turning back to the producer, I said: "I'll get him over here, but he has to do it (the interview) right now, and it has to be short. If you're not ready to go, he'll have to go to the locker room."
Now running out to the field to get Joe, I'm yelling: "Joe, Joe!" Nothing, no response. I screamed "Flacco," and his head turned. "Hey, get over here. CBS needs you. You have to do it right now. Let's go."
I guess I was a little demonstrative. Joe jogged over, smiled and said: "Calm down, we just won." He made me chuckle, and I said: "Did you just tell me to 'Calm down?'"
"Yeah, I guess I did," he laughed.
Like the kid's style. Like the kid's style.
THE NEW PRESIDENT
When players came to the facility on Wednesday morning, they were talking like many Americans, buzzing about the election of Barack Obama. You could clearly hear a number of players saying things like: "I didn't expect this in my lifetime." Coach Harbaugh even brought it up in the team meeting that morning, mentioning how historical Tuesday's election had become.
Derrick Mason had this to say: "I can look at my daughter and my son and say, 'You could be president one day.' And this shows where our country and the world are heading. It's a good day. Not just for African Americans, but for everybody in general. It's a good day whether you voted for him or not. You had a woman vice president (Sarah) Palin on one ticket also. Either way it went, we were going to make history. It's a good day, good day."
New era for the United States. Start of the 2nd half of the season for the Ravens. Let's go beat the Texans.
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.