Like the rest of the Raven nation, my initial reaction was confusion when Coach John Harbaugh came to town. I remembered his brother Jim as a quarterback, but was clueless about John. Within days of his hiring, though, I was sold, and it had nothing to do with his football experience.
I was home, watching an O's game, and there he was sitting in the stands with a handful of players. He couldn't have been in Baltimore more than 72 hours, and there he was cheering right along with the home crowd. A couple days later I was at the game and watched a slew of linemen do their best to clean out Boog's Barbeque. Coach wasn't there that I saw, but it was no coincidence. I'm not sure if it was his idea or the PR department's but it was brilliant (and given the lack of fanfare, I'm tempted to wave off the PR idea).
Not only was he wasting no time in winning over the fans, he was apparently already so popular with the players that they would spend the evening at a baseball game. In 12 years, I can count on one hand the number of Ravens I've seen at Orioles games. Clearly, this guy was something special.
Over the past two years, it has become patently obvious why the Ravens will run through walls for Coach. First and foremost, he defends the team. In every press conference, every interview I've watched, Coach always protects his guys and his organization. When they win, he is effusive in his praise, constantly deflecting accolades aimed at him back to the guys on the field. When they screw up (see under the 2nd Pittsburgh game this year), you can tell he's mad, but he doesn't air the team out in public. He acknowledges the mistakes, even takes the blame, but then is quick to turn the focus to the next game.
When he calls out an individual player, he often follows it up with something along the lines of "but that's something all the receivers are working on." That's media savvy of the highest order. The players watch those interviews, especially when they've blown a game. In handling it the way he does, Coach publicly criticizes the player, which appeases the fans, but he's quick to avoid any sense of isolation. Football is a team game, and the more you listen to Coach Harbaugh, the harder it becomes to forget that.
The other thing you realize quickly about Coach is that he is all Baltimore Ravens all the time. Maybe it's because this is first gig as a head coach, but he never talks about his other teams. He was in Philadelphia for 10 years, but you never hear that name pass his lips unless someone else brings it up. There are no stories about "When I was with the Eagles…." When he's talking football, it's always Ravens football. And from that first O's game until now, he seems to have made it his business to get stuck to this city.
That hit home for me the other night watching the most recent episode of the John Harbaugh Show. Host Gerry Sandusky was talking about how excited he got every time lineman Chris Chester came on the field, to which Coach responded "Well, you're Baltimore… probably no town like Baltimore gets as excited when you bring an extra offensive lineman in the game… it speaks well for this city." And he's right! Charm City loves a good lineman! Nothing says Baltimore like huge guys who work their tails off and, more importantly, push other people around. Without question, one of the most popular Ravens ever was Tony Siragusa. It was watching him mow through two and three guys at a time, with one hand, that made me a true believer. That this coach understands that in so short a time makes me admire him all the more.
It's going to be a tough game in New England, no doubt. Win or lose, though, I know one thing for sure. It won't be the last time Coach Harbaugh takes his Baltimore Ravens to a playoff game.