It has not exactly been slaps to the back of heads, but John Harbaugh and his assistants have certainly reminded the players often since the season-opening victory that that was just one game, "Get over it, and move on."
The message has been: "You prepared well for Cincinnati, and played with great passion and intelligence. Now sustain that. This is a new week, a new opponent. Don't listen to anyone telling how well you played, or how good you might be. You beat Cincinnati by focusing on the task at hand. Do the same thing in your preparation for the Texans."
Harbaugh believes that the biggest jump a team makes is from the first week to the second. "You can show your biggest improvement from the first game to the second. And, you can also have the largest fall," Harbaugh said. "No matter how hard we try in practices, training camp and the preseason games, you can't simulate the reality of that first real game that counts in the standings. It's another level up.
"Our players responded to that challenge last Sunday, but we were a long way from perfect," Harbaugh added. "The first thing we did on Monday was go over the mistakes we made. We looked at them on film, and then we went on the field and corrected the mistakes. We think that can go a long way to becoming better for the Houston game."
Once that critical review was completed, the focus in the building is seen in the "W.I.N." signs the players see. John and the other coaches preach constantly, "What's Important Now." These "W.I.N." signs are placed at the players' entrance to our complex, on the exits of the team meeting room and on the walls of the indoor field.
And, of course, what's important now is focusing on what you can do right now to beat the Texans. The back slapping stopped Sunday night. You could witness this mindset Wednesday when players were asked by the media questions relating to the win over the Bengals. All of them basically said, "That's in the past. We've moved past that." Ray Lewis said: "We have a 24-hour rule after a game. There's no looking back after 24 hours. What's important now is the game Sunday at Houston." You know Coach Harbaugh had to love that answer.
That said, it sure was fun on the sideline in the last two minutes of the season opener and in the locker room after. We like to say that our games are great reality-show-TV. They are unscripted and we certainly don't know the outcomes. This is even more true in first games of seasons. And this is multiplied many times beyond the norm when you have a new head coach, plus a rookie quarterback.
In essence, we weren't sure what was going to happen last Sunday. There was confidence that we had done the right things to get to the kickoff. It was then thrilling when it worked, and players and coaches looked at each other with joy and satisfaction.
(I loved Coach Harbaugh's reaction to having buckets of Gatorade and ice water poured over his head by key veteran players with about a minute left in the game. "That had to be a proud moment for you, Coach," I said. He responded: "Yes, but you don't think about this until it happens to you. It was really cold, I mean really cold. Corey Ivy set me up. He was so nice to me and then I saw him looking over my head and, man, it was cold.")
When John spoke to the joyous team after the game, he pointed to the hard work completed in the offseason: "Guys, you know when we won this game. It was in February and March. It was in training camp. It was the work we did this week," Harbaugh said.
John, being the old school guy he is, then asked the group: "Should we do that 'Hip, Hip Hooray?'" The players instantly shot that down. Immediately, Harbaugh shouted out: "What's my name?" The players yelled back, "RAVENS!" John and the players repeated that two more times. Gives me shivers thinking about it. It was thunderous.
The whole, "What's my name?" refrain came from a speech Jack Harbaugh, John's father, gave to the team last Monday (Sept. 1). Jack, who was a highly successful college coach for 41 years, talked to the team about Muhammad Ali. The speech was excellent and well received by the players. Jack's emphasis was about how Ali earned his name by what he did in the ring. He told the story of how Ali, who had just changed his name from Cassius Clay, beat former world champion Floyd Patterson, who refused to call Ali by his new name.
"Ali earned the acknowledgment of his name when he pummeled Patterson," Jack said. "Every time he hit Patterson, Ali would shout at him, 'What's my name? What's my name?' When Ali won, everyone knew his name. Now, it's time for you guys to earn your name, Ravens. What's your name?" And, of course, the players responded by saying "Ravens."
Our business is strange. Except for the entertainment business – movies, TV, music – you don't have employees making more money than the boss. We have that in professional sports. We have players who make more money than the head coach. Every team does. So, players don't just accept everything the head coach says as "the truth." Questions abound. Challenges are common, especially early in a head coach's tenure.
Coach Harbaugh has faced these challenges. He basically has told the players: "This is what I know we have to do to win. I'll listen to what you have to say. I want feedback. I want dialog. But, my beliefs are firm."
What a victory like we had Sunday does is reaffirm what John and his assistants have been doing. It worked. Players, who may have been skeptical about schemes, how we practice, the type of training camp we had and on and on, "buy in" when the results produce wins. You can sense that a number of players leaped onto the Harbaugh wagon Sunday. It's great to see the team come together like this.
The Texans are in their third year under head coach Gary Kubiak. In his first season in Houston, the team tripled the win total (two to six). A year ago, they took the step to 8-8, which included victories in their last four games at their home, Reliant Stadium. They are expected to be serious playoff contenders in 2008, and many reporters predict they'll be a playoff team.
So, when Houston got ripped 38-17 in its opener last Sunday at Pittsburgh, an increased sense of urgency for the Texans was placed on Sunday's game against the Ravens. Reporters have called the team out. One Houston Chronicle reporter wrote that the Houston/Baltimore game is the "most important in Gary Kubiak's and maybe in franchise history."
Beating the Texans will be difficult. Twice in Kubiak's tenure with the Texans, they have lost by 20 or more points. They won the following week.
Nothing is easy in the NFL.
Prior to last Sunday, there had been 21 quarterbacks drafted in the first round during the 2000's. Only one of those – Houston's David Carr in 2002 – started and won his team's season opener as a rookie. Of course, last Sunday, two rookie first-rounders – Joe Flacco and the Falcons' Matt Ryan – won. Don't know what that all means. But, I do hope it means that Joe and Matt are pretty good.
It's going to be very loud at Reliant Stadium. Fans feel the same sense of urgency about this game as do the reporters covering the Texans. Those fans will do everything they can to rattle Joe. When Baltimore reporters asked Flacco about it yesterday, Joe's calm answer was: "Noise is noise. We expect a lot of it. We're preparing for it. I won't be the first quarterback to deal with noise on the road."
You gotta love Joe's matter-of-fact style.
Many of you are aware that O.J. Brigance, our director of player development, is dealing with Lou Gehrig's (ALS) disease. The courage from O.J. we see every day inspires us all. Brigance's ability to walk has been slowed considerably, so he is cruising the hallways and entering rooms for meetings in a motorized chair.
Talk about "locker room" humor… Someone has posted signs throughout the building with speed limits for O.J. and his chair. Here they are:
1.9 MPH Long Hallways
1.5 MPH Shorter Hallways
1.2 MPH Leaving the Building
1.0 MPH Kitchen
O.J., whose daily disposition can be described as bright, laughed hard when he saw the signs. He also knows who posted them, Coach (Wilbert) Montgomery.
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.