When I asked Justin Tucker whether I could hang out with the Wolf Pack for a day, he said no.
"You don't hang with the Wolf Pack," he said. "You RUN with the Wolf Pack."
The Ravens' Wolf Pack, as Tucker has named them based on the movie “The Hangover,” consists of kicker Tucker, punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox.
Yesterday, I spent most of the workday shadowing and chatting with them between meetings and practice. Here are my (abundant) notes:
- Koch and Cox walk into the facility at 7:39 a.m. Cox had been sitting in his truck for the last half hour. He has started a new routine of reading daily religious devotionals before work.
- Cox grabs a big bowl of Lucky Charms (he loves kid cereals), over-easy eggs, a blueberry muffin and oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast. Hearty.
- Koch has egg whites and fruit shakes. Cox makes a comment about how Koch's the healthy one of the trio, then teases him about usually having oatmeal every other breakfast for the past eight years. Creatures of habit.
- The group debates eating lunch nearby in Owings Mills at places like Red Robin, Buffalo Wild Wings or Olive Garden. But it's hard to do that because Tucker has become a fan favorite. "It's tough to go anywhere with Tuck," Koch says. "People think we're just his friends."
- After mingling with some teammates, Tucker strolls in. "Minkski, what's up?" he says. Tucker's munching on a triple-decker peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's like a Big Mac PBJ. His review: "It's bomb diggity."
- Cox's blueberry muffin leads into him telling Koch about the muffin tops “Seinfeld” episode.
- I ask the group whether they've played any Monopoly lately. Tucker, Cox and center Gino Gradkowski got on a kick last season of playing Monopoly after work. They haven't. Cox starts talking about another game, "Carcassonne," that he plays on his phone. They are also addicted to an iPhone game, "Candy Crush."
- ESPN is on the TV next to us and a story about Texas A&M's embattled quarterback, Johnny Manziel, comes on. Tucker chants, "Let him play! Let him play!" Koch and Cox disagree, and are stunned that Tucker (a Texas guy) would be in support of an Aggie. Tucker informs them that Texas and Texas A&M's century-old rivalry has ended because of conference realignment, and, oh yeah, he is the one that capped it with a game-winning kick. "That's only the kick that got me in this league," Tucker says, disgusted that they don't automatically remember. "It's not like it was on Thanksgiving or in front of 70 million people. Not like it was a big deal or anything," Tucker said. Cox and Koch sigh, and plead not to hear the whole story. Tucker: "Let me set the stage for you. It's 2011 …" He spares us, but in summary says, "If I would have missed that, everybody would have thought I was a dirt bag."
- Breakfast concludes with Tucker debating whether he should have coffee or tea. Big dilemma. He got on a tea kick recently when needing a caffeine boost to rip through seven straight episodes of "Breaking Bad." He goes with the tea as he walks to the special teams meeting.
- After special teams meeting, they go into a team meeting at 9 a.m. During the regular season, they would follow that up with another couple hours of study with Kicking Coach Randy Brown, and study their opponents. They are committed to honing everything, all the time.
- Meetings end and the three return to an empty locker room. The rest of the team is in offensive or defensive meetings. The specialists have nearly two hours to kill before a walk-through. Koch: "We find something to do to keep us sane."
- On a usual day, they'll play cornhole, "Candy Crush," bubble hockey or chill in the players' lounge, where there's a pool table, leather couches and a pinball machine. They choose cornhole (or bean bag toss, depending on where you're from).
- I start talking to Koch about how essential it must be to like the other specialists. With so much down time together, what if you didn't like each other? "I can't imagine it," Koch said. "You spend so much time together that you have to become friends."
- Tucker is definitely the goofball of the trio. As Cox said, "He kind of forces everybody to like him. He keeps telling joke after joke after joke." Said Koch: "He's always the first person and last person you hear. You know exactly when he enters a room."
- On cue, Tucker walks in the locker room and yells, "Right here!" Perfect.
- The group is bored and starts asking Siri, their automated iPhone assistant, different questions. Cox read that if you ask it about the new Google Glass, Siri gives a snarky response. That's unsuccessful at first, so Tucker moves on. "Siri, I'm trying to hide a body," he asks. "Siri, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" "Siri, who is Sam Koch?"
- Every once in a while, Tucker will just start yelling out something random. He quotes a line from a Kevin Hart standup routine, "God is good all the time!" Later, Tucker starts singing lines from Styx's "Renegade," except with cornhole-inspired lyrics.
- The rest of the team starts meandering into the locker room as offensive and defensive meetings let out. Torrey Smith says to the Wolf Pack, "Sorry, we had real meetings to go to." Burn. Smith and the specialists immediately start playing cornhole.
- Second-year safety Omar Brown tells me Koch is the Tiger Woods of cornhole.
- All the defensive backs are in a passionate debate about some play, formation or something I can't exactly tell. They're just in a circle yelling at each other. Tucker starts calling over, "Hey, settle down over there!" Is the kicker this bold on every team?
- I start chatting with Cox about how boring this must all get for the specialists. He's playing brain* *training games called "Lumosity" on his iPad. "It does get monotonous, but it's just a part of the job. It correlates to the game. You sit and you sit and you sit, and then, all of a sudden, you have to perform. So that whole time you have to keep mental focus." He believes cornhole and the other things they do during their time off keeps their minds sharp. "We're cerebral about stuff like that," Cox says.
- Koch continues his routine of destroying everybody else on the cornhole boards. He frequently puts all four bags in the hole. Tucker and Cox are really good, and Koch manhandles them. The punter has never lost a meaningful game in the locker room and has thus won the players' official tournament every time. Says Cox: "Sam beats you so bad that it's almost not fun anymore." If it weren't for the playoffs getting in the way of the national tournament every year, Koch seriously might be one of the best players in the country. He and Cox talk to me about obliterating players at a summer festival in Westminster.
- Tucker is growing super frustrated with Koch's continued butt kicking. Tucker's knocking over stools and playfully tossing Koch's bean bags away from the board to make him fetch. You definitely see the competitive fire.
- Tucker starts singing "Renegade" again, this time in falsettos. Now the locker room's other loudest man has entered – Terrell Suggs. Suggs yells at Tucker, "Shut the ---- up!" Cox tells me, "Get both of them in here and you might not hear yourself think." Tucker audibly wonders if he and Suggs are about to throw down.
- Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil challenges Koch to a game of cornhole, talking smack about how he was really good in Denver. Koch, of course, accepts. Dumervil starts getting crushed and blaming it on the distances between the boards, the lighting, the weight of the bags, etc.
- Dumervil takes exception with Tucker's singing while he's trying to play. He turns around to get Tucker's attention: "Hey! JT [Justin Timberlake]!" Tucker responds, "What, you can't focus with me talking in your backswing? Welcome to my life every day."
- As soon as Tucker leaves the locker room, Dumervil's tosses improve. He's relieved.
- Seconds later, Tucker runs back into the locker room rocking the air guitar. He goes to his locker and starts blaring club siren noises. Dumervil: "Is this guy serious?"
- Koch and Tucker get an unexpected and somewhat decent challenge from Dumervil and linebacker D.J. Bryant. When Tucker is close to finishing them off, he starts chanting "Seven Nation Army." When it's all over, he breaks into Ray Lewis' "Squirrel Dance."
And with that, the three specialists started getting dressed and ready for practice. I got looped into a chat with Bryant McKinnie and Ray Rice, but keep my eye on the Wolf Pack. They took on a business-like focus and went out to the practice fields before the others to get in early kicking. For all the joking and lounging around, it's abundantly clear where their focus remains.