John Harbaugh discusses what Super Bowl means to the city of Baltimore
Amidst all the drama in the Ravens’ season, coach John Harbaugh wants an open locker room.
While they still keep their troubles in-house, they're candid with each other. And in return, so is Harbaugh.
He speaks with a certainty that requires his players to believe him, even if no one from the outside does. It was the message the coach delivered when the defense lost Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb to injuries in the same game in Week 6.
It was the message when they lost four of their last five games to end the regular season as the Ravens struggled to win the AFC North.
It was the same message as they upset the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots on the road to advance to the Super Bowl to face the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.
“It was very natural for us to believe it,” Harbaugh said when asked how he convinced his team to be optimistic about their goal to win the AFC despite the mounting odds. “It was impossible to get you guys to believe it, as evidenced by your question right now. And I think that’s understandable. You've got to be on the inside of a team to get a feel for where a team is at and how they’re thinking.
“We were improving all the way through all of those bouts of adversity that we were facing. Our team was staying together. We've got great leadership, we've got great young guys who are good people and they were working hard. They were fighting like crazy on Sunday, so I saw it as a coach. I could see that we were moving in the right direction.”
To a man, players revere Harbaugh's methods. His ability to listen and adjust are key elements to his success. After they were whipped by 30 points by the Houston Texans, they had a meeting during the bye week that followed and demanded Harbaugh lighten up on practicing in pads.
It became heated. Safety Bernard Pollard told CSNBaltimore.com at the time that they were beating themselves up too much during the week and were flat on Sundays.
Harbaugh listened. His mood never wavered from the criticism.
“He’s the same no matter after a win or a loss,” Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda said. “Sometimes after a tough loss you change. He’s always been consistent about what he wants. If you got a coach that’s sometimes saying different things on different days in different situations, it matters.”
Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach, who has played for the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans before coming to Baltimore, points to Harbaugh being more relaxed as a significant shift in how the team receives him.
“He got his ways but he really opened up to the team a lot more this year,” Leach said. “He changed a couple of things. He is a good motivator and everything. But he can’t tell funny jokes. That’s not his strength.”
Harbaugh motivates with Scriptures, quotes from American Revolution and history, boxing anecdotes and allows his players to express themselves no matter their views on a social or political issue. While a lot of players wear their religious faith on their sleeve, such as Pollard, James Ihedigbo, Matt Birk, Anquan Boldin, Kelechi Osemele, Cary Williams and Ray Lewis, there still is room for Brendon Ayanbadejo to speak up.
It leads to lively debates about same-sex marriage, for instance, something that Ayanbadejo has supported openly. But in the end they all believe the bond in the Ravens’ locker room benefits from the exchanges.
“It’s so important … to be yourself here. To be able to talk about everything, and if you’re able to be yourself and talk about everything and hash things out like families do, like brothers do, then we’re all going to be better,” Ayanbadejo said about Harbaugh's influence. “I have buddies on the team that are opposed to (my) beliefs. We still go to dinners, still hang out with their kids and a lot of people say lawmakers and politicians need to look at how the Ravens handle some of their affairs when they disagree with each other. How we’re cordial, still brothers at the end of the day and how civil we are about our disagreements. It makes us stronger.”
Defensive end Arthur Jones, who grew up with Pentecostal pastor for a father, wouldn't have it any other way.
“Inside this locker room it’s family. We believe in each other, throughout the (organized team activities), the mini-camps. We grew bonds,” Jones said. “I’m proud to call these guys teammates, and my legit friends.”