At my end of the business, for years I've heard from fans complaining about having to pay full price for preseason games. Since the games do not count in the chase to make the playoffs, I can understand some of the clamoring. But, I do believe that preseason games are greatly under appreciated, and I think the NFL, its teams and media share some of the blame for that. These games have not been promoted or presented in the right way.
Some of the most passionate play you will see in the NFL comes in the preseason for one reason: players are performing for their business lives. If they don't perform, they don't make the team and they don't get paid. There are the veteran players trying to show the coaches they still belong. There are the young players doing everything they can to make the team. There is no lack of effort or passion in the play on the field. No player can afford that. There is a "prove it to me now" existence in the NFL. It is never relaxed.
We have 80 players on our roster today. By the end of the month, we will cut that group to 53 men. That means 27 current Ravens will see their football dream end before we reach September. With that type of pressure, you get great efforts in the preseason. However, the focus from the complainers is that the players they know well – Ray Lewis, Todd Heap, etc. – aren't out there very long, especially in the first and fourth preseason games. However, there are the new Bart Scotts, Will Demps, Mike Flynns, Priest Holmes, Dawan Landrys, et al trying to prove they belong. And, yes, the Rays and Todds have to show they still have it.
You want to witness exciting, dramatic efforts in the preseason? Focus on players like Ray Rice, the second-round running back from Rutgers. Watch #39 as he tries to show he can produce at this level like he did in college. Keep your eye on #43 Haruki Nakamura, a sixth-rounder trying to stick as one of our safeties. These are talented, young players doing everything they can to show they deserve NFL money – and they don't get their annual salaries unless they make the Ravens. Talk about pressure. Talk about having to lay it on the line. Passionate, important performances. You'll see those on every single play of the preseason.
The voices of the Ravens – Gerry Sandusky, Stan White and Rob Burnett – are going to try and broadcast preseason games differently this August. Instead of focusing on the score of the games and the routine down and distance, they will attempt to tell the story of veterans fighting to stay on the team and young players proving they belong. Should be interesting viewing and listening. This broadcast team will simulcast their views this preseason on both radio (WBAL/98 Rock) and TV (WBAL-TV/MASN).
GAME DAY FOR "HARBS"
It's just not about coaching for John Harbaugh. As the head coach, "Harbs" has other responsibilities beyond the x's and o's. Since John has not been a head coach before, I gave him the following list of duties he'll have to handle. Thought you'd enjoy seeing some of what the head coach deals with:
- TV Production Meeting: Takes place in a meeting room at road hotel and starts as soon as we arrive. Players go first and we will get you after players (and sometimes Cam and/or Rex) finish meeting with TV crew, which will include the talent, producer and director. It's likely that you will be called to the meeting approximately 1 hour after we arrive at the hotel. (For home games, this meeting usually takes place after the Saturday practice. But, sometimes the TV talent is there on Friday and we do it then.)
- Pre-Game Radio and TV: For every game, you will record a pre-game radio show with WBAL/98 Rock's Gerry Sandusky. This is done at the stadium, after you have received an injury update from doctors/trainers. While you can tape this up to 2 hours before kickoff, the piece will not air until a few minutes prior to kickoff. This will take 3 to 4 minutes, and I suggest you do these approximately 2 hours before kickoff. We can do this in your office, outside the locker room or on the field (the best place).
In the preseason, you will also tape a 3-minute TV piece for our pre-game TV show that airs 30 minutes before kickoff. Pete Gilbert of WBAL-TV will conduct the interviews before the Patriots and Falcons' games. Scott Garceau will do these before the Vikings and Rams' contests. We will do these immediately after you tape the radio pre-game.
- Officials Meeting: You will meet with 2 NFL game officials 1 and ½ hours before kickoff. This meeting takes place in your office. (I will bring the officials to you after a meeting with the game referee.) The officials will ask you if we have any unusual plays that we plan to run in that game. You will also need to inform them who our game captains are and which players will represent the team on the field during the games – one each for offense, defense and special teams. (This is also your opportunity to "lobby" with the officials. For example, "Their long snapper bobs his head before he snaps, trying to draw us offsides. Please watch that. That's a penalty.") You'll also be asked which coach will be wearing the referee's challenge buzzer. (Some head coaches wear the device themselves; others designate another coach.)
- Inactive Players: For regular season games, I have to present the list of inactive players to the referee and my counterpart from the other team. This is done at the referee's meeting 1 and ½ hours before kickoff. Once the list is given, you cannot change the names. We need at least 15 minutes prior to the deadline to fill out the paperwork and make the copies.
- Halftime Interview(s): When you leave the bench area at halftime, WBAL/98 Rock's Stan White will interview you for 1 minute (maximum of 2 questions). In the preseason, this interview will also be on TV as part of the Ravens' radio/TV simulcast. THIS IS LIVE.
- Halftime Quotes: During preseason, we (Chad and I) gather halftime quotes for the print media, who are on severe time deadlines. Quotes are only obtained from players who will not be returning to the game. These quotes are usually gathered as a player (and sometimes a coordinator) walks back to the field at the end of the half. For example, if Kyle Boller throws a TD pass to Derrick Mason, we would get a quote from each of those 2 players about the play.
- Post-Game: All teams must open their locker rooms to the media 10 minutes after the end of the game. The NFL calls this the "cooling" period. Once you have addressed the team, and we have taken you to the post-game interview room, we open our locker room, where Chad and Patrick stay to help and monitor. Very few reporters go directly to the locker room after a game. Most will come hear you and any player we bring to the interview room. Your post-game interviews are carried live on radio.
- Special Interviews: There are times we will ask you to do a separate interview for our radio partner if we believe something needs extra clarification, explanation – and even celebration (1st game, 1st win, message to fans/team after a big win or tough loss, etc.).
After John read the list, he laughed and said, "Somebody will be reminding me of all this, right?"
Some reporters have been asking John what he will wear on the sidelines in his new position. Well, he's not going to wear a suit. He'll don traditional coaching garb. His big decision – hat or no hat. "I'll wear a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes. I'm not a sunglasses guy on game day. For night games – no hat. Rain? The hat comes back on," Harbaugh said.
FLACCO SINGS – BARELY
The veteran players make each rookie perform at dinner during training camp. Here's first-round choice Joe Flacco talking about it:
"I really don't get very nervous or overly excited about playing football. I think I have pretty good focus, and I'm comfortable out there. Singing in front of people? That's something different. I'm not comfortable doing that and was not looking forward to singing in front of the players. The first night we did this, the vets didn't call on me first. I tried to sink into my seat as low as I could, hoping they wouldn't notice I was in the room. That didn't work.
"When they called me, I stood next to my chair, but they made me come up front and stand on a chair. I had to say my name, what college I attended and announce my signing bonus. They were all over me when I said the number. Then they demanded I sing. I sang a song called "I Kissed a Girl." They booed me almost as soon as I started. That helped because I really didn't know very many words of the song," Flacco explained.
We were all flattered last week when Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps said that he planned to move back to his hometown Baltimore after the current games. One of the reasons he cited was that he would be able to watch and stay close to his favorite team – the Ravens.
When Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti read that he suggested we get a jersey signed by the team and find a way to wish Michael "good luck" from all of us. We got a jersey made with Phelps name on the back with the number 08. All the players signed it, and we were able to get it to his Mom, Debbie, who will give it to Michael before his first swim in Beijing.
One more week of training camp at McDaniel College. If you haven't made it out there, you should try. You get very close to the action out there – even closer than you do at M&T Bank Stadium.
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.