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Chapter 20: Sup-Harb Bowl – A Crescent City Crowning for Ravens

Posted on 31 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

“We want to win Super Bowls. We want to make history. We want to do things that have never been done in the NFL before. Don’t we all want that in life? Don’t we all have dreams?”

John Harbaugh on WNST.net (March 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

THE NFL ALLOWS THE TWO TEAMS that win their conference championship game an extra week to prepare for the Super Bowl. For the Baltimore Ravens, it was just what the commissioner ordered – a few days to rest and enjoy their monumental accomplishment. Despite the need to prepare to beat the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens were in dire need of a little time to breathe after what had been a physical and emotional roller coaster over the previous 21 days.

The Ray Lewis Last Ride. Beating the Colts. A new offensive coordinator. New personnel on both sides of the ball over three games. The brutal cold in Denver. The drama in Denver. The miracle in Denver. The emotions of Denver. And then the exorcising of some old demons in Foxborough, beating Tom Brady and overcoming the role of being a huge, road underdog two weeks in a row in the biggest games of their lives. It was indeed time to rest.

Sure, the Ravens were lucky to win in Denver. But statistically, and if not for shoddy coverage on the two Trindon Holliday returns for touchdowns, the Ravens played extremely well on offense and defense at Mile High. But it was in New England, where they fell behind early and took no mercy after halftime, that they showed true championship mettle. The Ravens beat the snot out of the Patriots in the second half on both sides of the ball. Flacco ran the offense up and down the field, and the Ravens defense held Brady scoreless in the second half. “When is the last time that happened at Foxboro?” said center Matt Birk. “Like, never? It’s unbelievable!”

But it was Flacco and the offense that put the pedal down and attacked the banged-up and depleted Patriots defense. “We realized that we just needed to put some pressure on them in that way,” Flacco said after the game in the Gillette Stadium locker room. “In the first half we were probably a little bit run-heavy, and they did a good job of stopping it, and we came out in the second half and decided to go with what we went with. We didn’t come all the way here to play it safe and hope to win. We came here to win the AFC Championship Game, and you have to play to win and you have to do some of those things, and our guys made plays – Anquan [Boldin] came up huge – all of our receivers [and] all of our tight ends, our linemen, everyone came up big when they needed to. We’ve definitely overcome a lot, but I think that – if you look at the Super Bowl winners over the past few years – I’d probably say that we’d have a lot in common with that. It’s about who can get ready and who can become their best at the right time and hit the ground running and that’s what we’re doing.”

The Ravens wouldn’t need to run to New Orleans. Like Fats Domino sang, they could’ve walked or floated with the emotional high they were on after New England.

The Big Easy would be waiting in seven days, and even though the strategy on the field would take a backseat to the Super Bowl media madness and storylines, the Ravens knew they had their hands full with upstart quarterback sensation Colin Kaepernick and his hard-to-mark “Pistol” offense. San Francisco also prided itself on a stingy defense led by a head coach that Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh knew all too well.

And as much as John Harbaugh begged the media to not delve to deeply into this unique story of brother vs. brother, he knew there was no stopping that train.

Let’s just cut that right out,” Harbaugh joked with the media from the podium immediately following the win in Foxborough. “Can we all agree? Just forget about that stuff. We did that last year, OK? It was fine. It got old last year. Did it not? My dad is definitely on board with that. [My parents] don’t take any interviews anyway. He’s in the basement down in Mequon [Wisconsin], and I hope he’s on his fourth or fifth beer

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Chapter 16: I love you – and I mean it!

Posted on 27 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“If you ask me to give you three words to describe this team, I’ll use three that Ray Lewis used a few weeks ago: faith, hope and love. Those are biblical words, but those are probably the three most important words in the English language. Faith in each other and in whatever greater thing you believe. Always hopeful. You can be discouraged, but there is no such thing as being disheartened. Love is what holds the universe together. It’s a selflessness that you put others before yourself. That’s the ultimate team quality. We’ll need a lot of all three to get us where we want to go.”

– John Harbaugh (December 2012)

 

 

 

 

AFTER A THIRD CONSECUTIVE LOSS in the NFL, if there’s not some palpable tension in the air then you’ve probably got a football team that’s far too comfortable.

Head coach John Harbaugh’s tireless optimism and foundational principles would be tested with the New York Giants coming to town in Week 16 and the home crowd coming back to the stadium after booing and exiting early in the shellacking by the Denver Broncos.

Harbaugh’s core, old-fashioned philosophies about faith, hope and love were drilled into the team in this time of adversity. For the most part, the media didn’t believe. The fans were restless, and the team was that had been 9-2 with dreams of a bye and an AFC Championship home game was a mere shadow of its former self. Now they were just trying to make the playoffs at 9-5 while staring down the defending champs on Christmas weekend, knowing that Cincinnati would be playing to get into the playoffs the following weekend. The losing streak would’ve been four games had it not been for a 4th & 29 miracle in San Diego.

Make no mistake about it, the Ravens were not playing well, and they weren’t healthy.

Sure, Harbaugh used the “us vs. them” mentality and also said that people outside the building didn’t believe. But that only goes so far if the core philosophy isn’t grounded in self-belief and integrity in the work ethic that backs it up.

Harbaugh’s enthusiasm is tireless, and his optimism never ceases. In the first year, many players found it almost hokey, corny in many ways. But it’s what John Harbaugh believes and what his family has preached for his half century on the planet.

Let’s be honest: “Who’s got it better than us?” is implicit in its optimism, right?

His father’s famous refrain, which his brother Jim had adopted with the San Francisco 49ers, and made famous – “Who’s got it better than us?” – with the retort, “Nobody!” had almost become part of the NFL vernacular.

It assumes happiness and steadfastly conveys success and gratitude. And if you woke up and said it every morning – and more importantly, really believed it – you would also be eternally optimistic.

That’s the faith and hope part of the equation.

The love was probably the easiest sell on his players. It’s hard to find a John Harbaugh speech or press conference where he doesn’t convey the value of “team” and “sticking together” as core values. The friendships that had sprung from battling together

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Chapter 11: Fall forward and the story of Torrey Smith

Posted on 21 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“If the regular refs are here, we know how those calls will be made. That should be the case but it’s not the way it is right now.”

– Ray Lewis (September 16, 2012)

 

 

ONLY A FOOL WOULD PUT any stock into what their eyes see in preseason results, but everyone on the Ravens’ coaching staff loved what they saw when the team’s first unit annihilated the Jacksonville Jaguars first unit in Baltimore during the third preseason game on August 23, 2012, a 48-17 whipping. Keep in mind that the Ravens were humiliated by the Jags nine months earlier in a game that counted, a 12-7 loss widely remembered as the night that a healthy Ray Rice touched the ball just 13 times and Flacco looked lost along with the rest of the offense. It was one of four hideous road defeats for a 2011 team that played out Jekyll & Hyde for all to see. Jekyll at home. Hyde on the road for long stretches of the first years of the Harbaugh-Flacco era.

But on this hot, sticky Baltimore evening it was a purple demolition act as Flacco carved up the overmatched Jaguars defense, ending the night 27-of-36 for 266 yards and two TD throws to Anquan Boldin and Vonta Leach. The defense forced five punts in the first half, and it was a night where the starters inspired the backups, who came on in the third quarter and continued the domination.

Throughout the lead up to the season opener vs. Cincinnati, the feeling inside The Castle was: if we can play like that every week, this team could be really good.

And despite the death of Art Modell just four days before the opener and the weekend of memories and tributes for the Ravens’ founder, the team was focused on the task at hand – beating the Cincinnati Bengals on the season opener of Monday Night Football.

After an emotional tribute to Modell, the Ravens came out flying against the Bengals. Flacco threw a bomb to Torrey Smith down the middle of the field and the opening drive resulted in a Justin Tucker 46-yard field goal. On the next drive, Smith took an end-around handoff and blew by the Bengals with some trickery. On a 4th and 1 from the 20, Flacco threw a pass to Ray Rice at the sticks and the drive ended with Rice scoring on a 6-yard run. New addition Jacoby Jones caught his first pass on the next drive for a 25-yard pickup. Two plays later, Flacco split the seam down the middle of the defense and dropped a perfect pass into the arms of Boldin in the end zone.

Despite dominating much of the first half, the Ravens’ defense allowed Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to drive down the field in a two-minute offense behind a big catch and run by Andrew Hawkins. On a 3rd and 1 from the 7 with 30 seconds remaining, Ed Reed knocked down a Tucker pass in the end zone and the Bengals had a tough decision on fourth down. Down 17-3, head coach Marvin Lewis sensed a chance to get back in the game and BenJarvus Green got the first down and pushed across a TD on the next play to make it a 17-10 lead at the half.

The Bengals got the ball in the second half and

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Chapter 2: High Standards, Low Profile of Steve Bisciotti

Posted on 13 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“Steve (Bisciotti) is straightforward and that makes it easy. He’s not a prima donna. He’s direct. He’s upfront. If there’s something he doesn’t like, he tells you. If he feels strongly about something, he tells you. There’s no secret agenda. There’s nothing you have to discover. Steve is a great believer in direct communication and he runs the business that way.”

— Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass (March 2013)

 

IN MANY CITIES IN AMERICA the owners of sports franchises can still somehow stay or hide in the shadow of their local investment and create nary a stir when they enter a room. Being anonymous has its privileges and benefits, a thought Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti would certainly echo. But in Baltimore, where the owners of the local professional teams have been true newsmakers and iconoclasts for the better part of a half a century, owning the NFL franchise that a community treats like family or a personal treasure can be like carrying the collective weight of the civic mood on your shoulders.

Bisciotti did his best to remain a private citizen after taking over the Ravens from Arthur B. Modell in early 2004, but you can’t be invested in the most significant sports soap opera in the community and stand at the top of the pyramid making the most important decisions for the fan base without becoming a public figure of the highest order.

If you are a sports fan from Baltimore, Maryland, you have endured your fair share of abuse. In the 1970’s, the Baltimore Bullets were dragged down I-95 to the Washington suburbs by owner Abe Pollin, professional hockey went into hibernation with the Clippers and there were strong whispers of the Orioles going to D.C. to replace the departed Washington Senators. It got no better in the 1980’s. There was always the ominous and omnipresent shadow of Robert Irsay, the man who acquired the Baltimore Colts from Carroll Rosenbloom in a swap for the Los Angeles Rams in 1972 and later moved them to Indianapolis in a convoy of Mayflower moving trucks in the middle of a snowy, teary night for the Charm City on March 28, 1984 after a decade of tyranny and threats to the community of the inevitable move.

Since the turn of the century, both the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles fan bases’ have been tormented and tortured by disastrous moves on the field and big moves downward in the standings since the involvement of Daniel Snyder and Peter G. Angelos have fallen upon the I-95 corridor. These two have shined a bright light on what can go wrong when poor decisions are consistently being made from the top of the organization and how quickly decades of support for enduring brands can erode and deteriorate when fans and customers smell the stench of poor ownership.

The reality in the 21st century is that with the scarcity of teams available and the cost of buying a sports franchise for hundreds of millions of dollars, no one wants to pony up the kind of money to be an owner without having a strong desire to be heavily involved in strategy and a strong desire to win – whether it’s on the field or at the cash register. Many of these thrill seekers have lacked proper training, background and the feel for sports ownership especially with such a public light illuminating every decision that is made in real time on the internet. What sounds like fun in the beginning becomes an albatross and a public nuisance once it becomes apparent how specialized each league, sport and business is from an ownership standpoint.

It was no secret that Art Modell was struggling financially in Cleveland and those ghosts of burgeoning debt followed him east to Baltimore in 1996. By 1999, the NFL and his debtors with the banks demanded that he find a partner to buy the team and help him find the exit door with the class and dignity that his departure from Cleveland clearly lacked.

The same man who found Modell in Cleveland and brokered the deal for the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore in the Fall of 1995 was the same man who found a buyer four years later: local attorney and sports franchise expert John Moag. After Modell made the move to Baltimore, Moag became a trusted confidant and had all of the institutional knowledge that would be necessary to assist in finding a new owner for the Baltimore Ravens.

Moag knew Bisciotti and was privy to most of Modell’s financial struggles. The rest is history.

By any account, Steve Bisciotti is a sports nut. He’s long been a fiercely loyal University of Maryland supporter, close confidant of legendary Terps basketball head coach Gary Williams and a Ravens and Orioles season ticket holder at the time. At worst, he would’ve been a very educated sports radio talk show caller before he got involved in the purchase the Baltimore Ravens in 1999.

Bisciotti, born April 10, 1960 in Philadelphia, came to the Severna Park area of Anne Arundel County in 1961 when Bernard and Patricia Bisciotti moved from Philadelphia for Bernard’s new sales executive job. He was 8 years old when the Colts lost Super Bowl III to Joe Namath and the New York Jets. He was a huge Paul Blair fan during the heyday of the Earl Weaver-led Orioles in his adolescence. He journeyed with his friends up Richie Highway to Memorial Stadium in the 1970’s and loved the Bert Jones-era of the “Shake and Bake” Colts.

Bisciotti’s father died of leukemia when he was in elementary school leaving his sports-crazed widowed mother, who raised him by preaching faith, hard work, determination and manners. Nicknamed “Shots” by his college pals at Salisbury State, where he earned a Liberal Arts degree, Bisciotti became obsessed with making enough money by the age of 35 so that his wife and kids wouldn’t have to work if his father’s fate befell him. He had the early jobs of a kid who worked hard and learned the world: pumping gas, mowing lawns, and building piers in Anne Arundel County, where he graduated from Severna Park High School. He founded a staffing firm called Aerotek in his basement with $3,500 of seed money at age 23 during the Colts final season in Baltimore. He now owns a massive stake in Allegis

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Chapter 1: Meet the new boss, not the same as the old boss

Posted on 12 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

Proverbs 29:18 says: ‘Where there is no vision the people perish.’ I guess that’s why I feel like we stuck to the vision and the team grew into it.”

— John Harbaugh (March 2013)

 

IT WASN’T EXACTLY A RESTFUL sleep for Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick on the night of Dec. 30, 2007, but the 27-21 home victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier that evening snapped a dismal nine-game losing streak to end the season on some semblance of a bright note and his agenda for beginning 2008 was clear after a disastrous 5-11 finish in a season that was steeped in promise with a 4-2 start.

Earlier that week, Billick sat for hours with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and General Manager Ozzie Newsome, as he frequently had, reviewing and evaluating the state of the Baltimore Ravens roster and future. After the final game with Pittsburgh, he visited emeritus owner and founder Art Modell in his box at the stadium feeling good about defeating the Ravens’ arch rival and snapping a nine-game losing streak to finish 2007 with a modicum of success and a hint of some future achievement.

The long, exhausting season was over, but while December 31, 2007 wasn’t officially 2008 just yet, Billick’s sleep deprivation had to do more with future planning than a future canning. He had repeatedly been told his job was safe during the agonizing losing streak and the team’s public relations machine moved earlier in the month to announce publicly that Billick wasn’t going to be fired. He was “safe.” Plus, he was only concluding the first of a four-year, $24 million contract he signed after the 2006 Ravens went 13-3, but suffered a tough loss to the Indianapolis Colts during the playoffs.

Yet, on what is always known around the NFL as “Black Monday” for its many coaching staff firings, many sports media outlets were still speculating about the state of Billick’s job security.

At 8:40 a.m., during a 25-minute phone call, he was insistent that his job security was, well, secure. Billick was always candid, always painfully honest and up-until-this-point, always “in the know” when it came to the state of the Ravens. Over the previous nine years, his integrity, honesty and information had been in his words “unfiltered” — meaning the unvarnished truth.

At 10:10 a.m. the internet and local sports world exploded with multiple reports that Brian Billick was out as the coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

The shots heard round Owings Mills were not only unexpected by Billick, but by most of the media, many members of his coaching staff, and everyone else in the organization who reasoned that the three years left on his contract — still damp with just 11 months of tread on it and $18 million more of Baltimore Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti’s money guaranteed — made him amongst the safest coaches on the continent.

Sure, the Ravens had a bad year amidst a sea of injuries and another season of dreadful quarterback play with a broken down Steve McNair, an overmatched former Heisman Trophy winner in Troy Smith and the unfulfilled potential of 2003 first-round draft pick Kyle Boller, but firing a decorated coach was certainly a major risk (and expense) for Bisciotti.

Newsome was powerless and only became aware of Bisciotti’s intentions hours before. This was Steve’s decision and Steve’s alone.

The head coach who had led the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs in four of his nine seasons and a 2001 Super Bowl title was unceremoniously fired and suddenly an NFL head coaching job was now available, where only moments before there was a franchise with a clear leader and a clear direction that had

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Nasty and David Modell with Lombardi Trophy, Jan. 2001 copy

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My life and times and memories with David Modell

Posted on 16 January 2017 by Nestor Aparicio

I’ve written many times about the miracle of the Baltimore Ravens in my life. In November 1995, a football team landed here and I was in the third year of post-newspaper work doing sports radio and conversation in a town starved of NFL football for a decade in the absence of the once-beloved Colts.

Baltimore was a jilted football metropolis, thrown on the scrapheap by the big money of the NFL in 1984 and local fans had learned to fully adopt the Orioles and newly-minted Camden Yards as the only game in town by the mid 1990s.

It’s no secret how David Modell came into my life or how the Baltimore Ravens were birthed in our city. The Modells never minced words about the deal – it was about money. They were broke in Cleveland. I chronicled all of that and wrote at length about it after the first Super Bowl championship in 2001 here in Purple Reign – Diary of a Raven Maniac.

In Chapter 4, I wrote about the contributions of David Modell in the early years and how he was a major player in helping to build that incredible night in Tampa when his father, Arthur B. Modell, lifted the Lombardi Trophy to the Florida sky in a most-unlikely story.

It’s been 21 years since David Modell walked into my WLG studios for the first time. I unearthed the tape and played it on WNST-AM 1570 this week and you can listen here via our BuyAToyota Audio Vault.

You can also listen to a lengthy chat from two years ago (before his illness) and watch this video from last May at “A Night of Heroes” when he opened our event along with Gov. Larry Hogan.

 

His death this week was not sudden, but it has suddenly rocked me.

Like the kind of jolt a 48-year old guy would feel when he loses his 55-year old friend with a wife and twin babies, I must say that this one has hit me hard on many levels.

David Modell was a true iconoclast. From afar as a Houston Oilers fan in Dundalk for first quarter century of my life, I’d always seen him as the bespectacled young kid next to Art Modell with the pocket square and a quality tailor. Then he came into my studio – and my life for real – in 1996 with his family’s name being dragged through the mud throughout …

(NEXT)

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