"Hey, you got some luck this week. Heard the Steelers are going to be without Willie Parker and Casey Hampton."
I heard that from a friend earlier in the week. And, if we find a way to beat the Steelers at Heinz Field Monday night, there likely will be at least one reporter mentioning our good fortune of not having to face those 2 Pro Bowl players.
Have to admit that this irritates me a little. It always seems that it's more about who is not playing for the other team, rather than who is not playing for us.
For example, when we beat the Bengals in the season opener, we didn't hear from anyone that we won without Willis McGahee and Kelly Gregg. No one mentioned that the main reason we started rookie QB Joe Flacco was that Troy Smith had gotten sick and Kyle Boller had season-ending shoulder surgery.
This week it's a lot about Parker and Hampton. Not much, if anything, has been said about us playing without Kelly Gregg and Dawan Landry, 2 of the best run stoppers in the NFL, and Pro Bowl cornerback Samari Rolle. And guess what Pittsburgh does better than just about any team every year – run the ball.
I mention this because I've noticed a measured difference in the way the Ravens are preparing for the Steelers: It is not about them, it's about us. This clearly reflects the mindset of the coaching staff. Our coaches don't want to hear our players talking with reference or irreverence about the Steelers. It's that old adage that, 'You can't control what somebody else does. You can only control what you do.'
So, while reporters asked our players all week about the importance of playing the Steelers without Parker and Hampton, about the great Hines Ward, or Big Ben, or the noise at Heinz Field, Polamalu or Pittsburgh's outstanding linebackers, we have talked about what we need to do to prepare to win.
That didn't make for great or entertaining quotes. But, it did deliver a clear message, at least for me. What our coaches and players are saying is: "We're coming to play at 8:30 Monday night. You're good. We're good. You're big and physical. We're physical, we're conditioned, and we'll be ready. Doesn't matter what happened last Sunday to either of us. Doesn't matter what happened last season. All that matters is that we'll be ready to play when Monday night comes. See you then."
All NFL games are tough and hard-hitting. None are for the meek. If you don't step up to play without fear, you'll quickly be out of the league. But, there are degrees of physicality. The Ravens/Steelers games are always at the highest levels. There is beauty in the games, but it is all about hand-to-hand combat. My gut tells me this will be a great game. Can't wait.
The Ravens/Steelers game will be broadcast around the world on ESPN-TV and CBS Radio. A number of reporters representing big-time Web sites, newspapers and radio will be at the game. All of the above wanted to interview someone from the Ravens for their "advance-of-the-game" stories. This adds to the heightened attention that comes with a Monday night game. Players see it with the extra media attention.
To give a better idea about this added scrutiny, let's look at some of what ESPN does to get ready for their broadcast. Analyst Ron Jaworski has already talked by phone at length with coordinators Rex Ryan and Cam Cameron. Bart Scott, Todd Heap and Terrell Suggs have been interviewed on ESPN Radio, which, of course, is trying to promote the telecast of the game.
When we arrive in Pittsburgh late Sunday afternoon, Coach John Harbaugh and four players (Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Joe Flacco and Derrick Mason) will each meet separately with the ESPN-TV crew of Mike Tirico, Jaworski and Tony Kornheiser. Michele Tafoya and Suzy Kolber will also attend these meetings, along with the game producer and director. When Ray is finished with this production meeting, he'll then tape the "Sunday Night Conversation." Scott and Reed will also tape video that will be used in the pre-game and in-game programming. Tafoya is assigned to bring viewers additional Ravens news throughout the day and night on Monday, so she'll talk with a number of players before game time.
While I'd like to forget, we did play at Pittsburgh in a Monday nighter a year ago (11/5). Coming off the bye week after having just lost a tough game in Buffalo (19-14), we were 1 game behind the Steelers in the AFC North. We were 4-3 and they were 5-2. We were limping a little, playing without Samari Rolle, Chris McAlister and Todd Heap, but we had some confidence because of the way we had dominated the Steelers in 2006 when we won 27-0 in Baltimore and 31-7 in Pittsburgh.
It was a miserable night with high winds and rain coming down hard – sideways. You all remember: It got very ugly in a hurry. We lost 3 fumbles in our territory in the 1st quarter and an interception in the 2nd. It was 35-0 late in that 2nd period. I remember seeing Kornheiser and Jaworski at the half. Tony said: "Did you hear the clicking of remotes leaving our game in the 1st half?" I was too unhappy to smile back.
When Dawan Landry's helmet hit Jamal Lewis' knee last Sunday, it was scary. Dawan laid face down on the ground with seemingly no movement. There was almost complete silence at M&T Bank Stadium as our team of doctors and trainers worked on Dawan. The good news is that Landry is going to be fine. He has been at our facility in Owings Mills this week receiving treatment on his neck and shoulders. While in good spirits, he does wear a cervical collar as he heals.
For the Ravens' medical team, which includes our trainers and doctors from MedStar Health, this is not the first time they "handled" a situation like this. Annually, the med group rehearses a number of injury situations in the offseason. The one Landry suffered was very similar to an exercise the doctors and trainers ran through last spring. The practice patient was in full game uniform and his face mask was removed just like they did to Dawan last Sunday.
HIGH SCHOOL POWER
Most high schools have not produced an NFL player – ever. Tustin H.S. (Tustin, CA) graduated 6 current NFL players, including Ravens C/G Chris Chester. Tustin is tied with Dillard H.S. of Ft. Lauderdale, FL for the most players from the same school currently playing in the league.
There are 4 high schools with 5 players each in the NFL today. They are Catholic (Baton Rouge, LA), De La Salle (Concord, CA), Evangel Christian (Shreveport, LA) and Cleveland's Glenville H.S. Baltimore's WR Demetrius Williams played at De La Salle, while QB Troy Smith studied at Glenville.
California has produced the most NFL players with 214. Florida is 2nd with 185. The city with the most players? Miami with 34, followed by Houston with 27.
When rookie safety Haruki Nakamura got to his locker on Wednesday, he found a wig with long black hair. "I thought [Justin] Bannan was playing another joke, so I threw it in his locker," Nakamura said. At practice that day, one of the coaches asked Haruki where his wig was. "I figured it out then. I was going to be playing Troy Polamalu at practice."
Nakamura has worn the wig ever since. His picture is attached here. "It was fun to wear, but it did have a purpose. Joe [Flacco] clearly knew where I was lining up as Troy when we were giving our offense the expected Steeler defenses," Nakamura explained.
Did I mention that we're undefeated and in 1st place in the AFC North? How about that? Know it's very early, but it feels good. We're heading in the right direction. We'll get better as our young players get more time, especially Flacco, and our offense learns more of the new offense under Cam Cameron.
Pittsburgh, here we come. As Coach Harbaugh put so succinctly to the media this week: "We're going to Pittsburgh Monday. Game time is 8:30. We'll show up ready."
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.