who taught Bill how to watch film when he was 10 years old.
Belichick got his first job with Ted Marchibroda’s Baltimore Colts in 1975 for $25 a week, driving up Ritchie Highway to work every day. Marchibroda wound up replacing Belichick as Modell’s coach in 1996 when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. As a massive lacrosse fan, Belichick comes to Baltimore often to support his friend Dave Pietramala, who is the head coach of the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. Belichick’s background goes back to the Bill Parcells tree and his work with the New York Giants and Lawrence Taylor in the 1980s. He spent 12 seasons at the Meadowlands after getting hired in 1979 by Ray Perkins to be the special teams coach.
And perhaps that’s where his admiration for John Harbaugh begins.
When Bisciotti was struggling with the notion of hiring a special teams coach back in January 2008, he received a late-night call from Belichick, who told him that Harbaugh was the right man for the job. Harbaugh is still blown away by the gesture because they had never worked together and really weren’t super close. Just ball coaches who talked ball once in a while.
“I was really amazed by that – blown away, really,” said Harbaugh, who remembers the first time he met Belichick when he was at the University of Cincinnati and Bill was the Browns head coach. Harbaugh was the pro liaison for the Bearcats and in the spring he’d get visits from NFL coaches and scouts regarding draft-eligible players from the school.
“We had a bunch of good players and he came into my office for an hour wearing cowboy boots and a hip leather jacket,” Harbaugh said. By the early 1990s, Scott O’Brien, who Harbaugh worked with at Pitt in 1987 as a graduate assistant under Mike Gottfried, had moved up the coaching ladder and was Belichick’s special teams coach in Cleveland. So they had a mutual friend.
“He had a good pre-disposition toward me because I knew Scott,” Harbaugh said. “I was in awe of him because he was an NFL head coach wanting to talk to me about players. I figured he was a good guy to get to know.”
When Harbaugh took the Eagles job in 1998 they began to cross paths at the combine and coaching symposiums and they talked more about players. They had the language of football in common and Belichick always managed to say something nice about Harbaugh to the press. At the 2005 Super Bowl, Belichick complimented the Eagles’ special teams prior to the game and singled out Harbaugh as a “great special teams coach.”
“I thought he was just buttering me up before the big game,” Harbaugh laughs.
At heart, Belichick is a scout and a football man. He recognizes talent and saw coaching talent in Harbaugh. And they were both part of that special fraternity of “coaches kids,” which buys instant credibility from everyone who is a member.
“We have a good relationship and a nice chat before a game,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes it’s football or his son or real life. He talks about his mom. I appreciate the relationship.
“For him to respect you as a coach, that really means something.”
But on Sunday, it’d be business as usual.
Belichick and the New England Patriots were in the way.
o o o
Baltimore fans wanted this game. And by 2012, no NFL team wanted to come to Baltimore to play the Ravens, who had won 11 consecutive games and 19-of-20 at M&T Bank Stadium. Since John Harbaugh took over in 2008, they were 28-5 at home, exactly the same as the Patriots record at Gillette Stadium in New England. Former Pats linebacker Tedi Bruschi, who was an ESPN analyst, said, “It was five years ago [in 2007], and I can remember everything – it made that much of an impression. Sometimes when you play in certain venues, you feel the audience. The electricity they have, the energy they’re giving the team – you feel that in Baltimore. It’s like the fans and the defense are in perfect sync together.”
Even though the fans enjoy it when the Ravens play primetime games, it’s not nearly as popular within the organization. Football players and football teams are creatures of habit. If they could vote, they’d all play every Sunday at 1 p.m. because it keeps their body clocks on schedule.
This particular Sunday against the Patriots would feel even longer. At 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, Harbaugh received a call from team security saying that wide receiver Torrey Smith had just left the team hotel in Baltimore to be with his family. Smith’s 19-year old brother, Tevin Chris Jones, was killed in a motorcycle accident