For Ravens, the Old Guys Are as Important as the New Guys

By John Feinstein
Special to
Monday, January 12, 2009; 1:36 PM

The focus this week, as it should be, is going to be on the rookie coach and the rookie quarterback. A year ago, Joe Flacco was playing quarterback for Delaware. Six months ago, when training camp started, a security guard didn't want to let John Harbaugh into the locker room.

"But I'm the head coach," Harbaugh said.

"Sure you are," the guard answered.

Harbaugh isn't likely to have that problem again anytime soon, even though he still looks a lot younger than 45. And Joe Flacco, the kid quarterback who shrugs off pressure so easily that his teammates call him "Joe Cool," isn't likely to run into any closed doors anytime soon, either.

In an NFL postseason of unlikely stories, the Baltimore Ravens are the most unlikely story of all. Yes, more unlikely than the Arizona Cardinals.

It's true that few expected the Cardinals or the Eagles to play in conference championship games this coming Sunday. But they were teams considered likely to make the playoffs last summer. Meanwhile, Harbaugh was trying to talk his way into his own locker room.

The Ravens were in rebuilding mode, coming off a miserable 5-11 season that had forced team owner Steve Bisciotti to fire Brian Billick, a coach who had won a Super Bowl seven years earlier and had taken the team to the playoffs four times. It wasn't that Bisciotti or anyone else thought that Billick had forgotten how to coach, he just thought the players needed to hear a different voice.

That voice turned out to be Harbaugh, who wasn't even a hot coordinator when he interviewed for the job. He was the Eagles' secondary coach, an up-and-comer, no doubt, but seemingly still a step from being ready to be the boss. But Harbaugh wowed Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass and General Manager Ozzie Newsome with his smarts, his enthusiasm and his look-you-in-the-eye approach.

Hiring a young coach seemed to make sense. Even if he had to learn on the job, the team was going to need to rebuild. Steve McNair was retiring. Oft-injured quarterback Kyle Boller was still unproven going into his fifth year. The Ravens would draft a rookie quarterback and groom him to lead the team when it was ready to seriously compete again.

Except that the rookie coach and the rookie quarterback didn't need too much time to learn on the job. Flacco made mistakes early (seven interceptions the first five games), but he rarely made the same mistake twice. Harbaugh and Cam Cameron, his hand-picked offensive coordinator, built an offensive game plan that played to his strengths as the season wore on.

And then there was the defense.

And there was also the old kicker.

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