VONTA LEACH RETIREMENT PRESS CONFERENCE
Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome, Head Coach John Harbaugh and FB Vonta Leach
Ozzie Newsome opening statement:"Thanks for coming out for Vonta. The history of the franchise has always been our ability to run the football. When we've been successful on offense, we've been able to run the football, and off of that, we could do play-action. With running the football, we always needed a fullback. We can go back to Sam Gash, Le'Ron [McClain] and Vonta, and now we have Patrick Ricard and Nick Boyle playing in that role. But, the thing about Vonta and our ability to sign him is when you have to play against him and compete against him and the problems that he created for us, [it's difficult]. So, when that opportunity came for us to reach out to him to bring him here to be a part of the Ravens, it worked out between us and him.
"Of course, he came here, and again, we were successful running the football, and he went on to become a Pro Bowl player for the Ravens. He reached out to me when Jacoby [Jones] was asking to be retired and said, 'Don't you remember? I want to retire a Raven, too.' To us in the organization, that is special when you have a player who played for another organization, and they come here and they're here less than the time they were with the other organization, and they decide they want to retire with us. That's really special. It's special from Steve [Bisciotti] all the way down in how we try to do things. And with that, I'm turning it over to a guy that has been out on the field for almost three hours coaching today, coach [John] Harbaugh."
John Harbaugh opening statement:"Vonta knows we would be on the field for three hours. (laughter) This is the Ravens, right? Thanks, Ozzie. We talked about it a little bit in the press conference, too. I want to welcome Vonta's family here, Vonta's beautiful family here. Thanks for coming. Just a great day, and I think back to Vonta Leach, and what Ozzie said is right. It goes back probably to 1996, Ozzie, when you came here and set the tone for what Playing Like a Raven was going to be, and what it meant to play Raven football, and that's kind of old-school football. [I've been in] Ozzie's office many times, and you'll see the pictures of Bear Bryant up there and the sayings and all of that, and that's when football was played like it is supposed to be played, and I feel like that is something that has carried us through all these years. Back when we were talking about Vonta Leach … And Vonta, I remember you at East Carolina when you were playing special teams, too, for Ted Daischer.(laughter) We go back father than he even knows.
"This is a football player, and not just a football player, but a Raven, a guy who's going to play the kind of football that Ozzie envisioned when the Ravens came here in 1996. Downhill football, the way it's always been played, and to do that, you have to have a player like Vonta Leach. I believe that we took another step, really, to the next level, to where we could win a championship, when we had the kind of player who could set the tone the way he set the tone. He set the tone on the field. Everybody knew he was on the field. Everybody knew what he was there for on the field. And, he did it when they knew it was coming, open those holes. And then, like Ozzie said, all the play-action stuff just opens up off of that. It's a good idea, but it's a really good idea when you have a great player doing it. He didn't just set the tone on the practice field or on the playing field; he set the tone in the locker room, in the cafeteria, his personality while we were traveling. He was a leader and a fun guy to be around, and that's something you never forget. It's a great honor for the Ravens for Vonta Leach to be retiring a Raven, and as we always say, we walk together forever."
Vonta Leach opening statement:"Wow, all these people here for me. (laughter) First of all, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without Him, a guy like me … Who ever envisioned a guy like me, coming from a small town, Rowland, North Carolina, less than 1,000 people, and I get to play 10 years in the National Football League, and I actually get to be a star.
"I would like to thank the Ravens organization. I would like to thank Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie, coach Harbaugh, my coach from here, [former running backs coach] Wilbert Montgomery. They came, like they said, when I was a free agent, they came down and we talked on the phone, and they got me to come here and be a Raven. I played for some great organizations. I played for the Green Bay Packers. I played for the Texans. But, no organization glorified or embodied the fullback position like the Baltimore Ravens, and that's why I wanted to come here. That's why I wanted to be a part of that, and ultimately, we won a lot of games together, and we won the Super Bowl.
"Not only that, I'd like to thank my teammates that I had with me while I was here. We are bonded for life with that Super Bowl run we had. We are bonded for life. I'd also like to thank the Ravens fans – The Flock. Coming out, when you hear your name at fullback, you don't get a lot of attention. You don't get a lot of praise, unless you really know football. But, when the fans yelled my name, 'Leach!!!' no matter what I did on the field, when my name was called, that did something. That was very special to me. As I was walking out there today, just when they say my name, they're always going to stick with me for the rest of my life.
"Last but not least, I'd like to thank my family: my mom over here, she's been following me ever since I was a little child, since I was a little boy. She still follows me around to the day. I have my girlfriend, Tara, here, my two daughters, Alexandria and Giselle. They have sacrificed a lot for me over the years during my professional career on the field and off the field."
How long did it take before you realized that Baltimore would be the place that fit you best after signing here? (Jeff Zrebiec)"Not long. After we played that first game against the Steelers, my opening game … I always heard about the intense rivalry. When I played that first game here against them, I said, 'Wow, this is the place I want to be at.'"
John Harbaugh said the Ravens' might not have won Super Bowl XLVII without you. Did you realize your impact was that great on that team? (Kirk McEwen) "Well, I won't go that far. (laughter) But we were pretty good. What he was probably talking about … We had a good run game. We were dominant. The run game opened up a lot of stuff with our passing game and in the back end. You had to respect that run on first, second or third down. You had to respect it."
How often do you think about the 2012 season? Is there a specific memory that comes back to you that you remember the most about that run? (Jeff Zrebiec)"No, I just remember it was a good run. We had a lot of ups, we had a lot of downs. Actually, everybody wanted to talk about the 2012 season. I think we were a little bit better in 2011. We had a better team. In 2012, we just put it all together and won it all."
Do you feel like the last of a breed? Now, the NFL is using defensive linemen and tight ends to do what you did. (Kirk McEwen) "Just like anything else, it's evolution. It will come back around. A lot of people, they're paying quarterbacks $100 million. They're not going to pay the quarterback $100 million to hand the ball off 30 times a game. That's just facts.(laughter)And not only that, you have to see what's going on in college. You have a lot of spread offenses, and you don't really have any true fullbacks. In the NFL, you don't have time to teach anybody how to be a fullback. You either have it or you don't. You can't come in here if you don't know how to do it."
Your highlight reel is full of you handing out punishment, and at times, taking hits. How did you physically survive that for 10 years? How are you, physically, right now, having gone through that? (Mark Viviano) "It was just my mentality. I love contact. Me hitting somebody, I got a lot of satisfaction out of punishing somebody. My body held up pretty well. During the season, if we played on a Sunday, it would take me, probably, until Thursday to get readjusted, to get my body back to feeling like normal. Now, I steady work out. I steady try to be active so I can prolong the process. This game is hard. This game is physical. It takes a toll on your body. I try to do stuff and try to stay active to prolong the process."
What is your favorite Ravens training camp memory? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre)"I know the conditioning test is not one of them. (laughter) I always enjoyed practice at M&T Bank Stadium, in front of the fans. When we went there, when we practiced there, I always got a kick out of that."
What are you up to now, personally? (Ryan Mink)"I'm in real estate back home where I live, in Robeson County. I can say I'm a real estate man. Other than that, just taking it day by day and seeing what goes on."