The Ravens 2005 season was frustrating on so many levels. The team spiraled out of control and it is a near miracle that Brian Billick kept his job. To their credit, they mended their ways during the offseason to post the franchise’s best regular season record in Ravens history in 2006.
But the despair of 2005 made for a very long season and on November 3, 2005 I decided to write this public letter to Steve Bisciotti.
We once met socially prior to you becoming the 99% owner of the Baltimore Ravens. I was impressed with your candor and how unpretentious you were given a man of your success and stature. Actually, I think that’s what I liked best about you. I trust that hasn’t changed.
Self-made billionaires aren’t very common. Generally speaking, such people are overachievers. They are driven be a passion and a vision and they enjoy the journey while pursuing their goals. Sometimes for overachievers achieving the goal is actually less riveting than the pursuit.
It is my understanding that the company we all know today as the Allegis Group – your company, had its origins in your basement. You were driven so much that I’m told you would put a suit on just to go into your basement to work – an obvious attempt to simulate a professional work environment. In some ways, it was like a football player putting on the pads and buckling up the chinstrap.
Your approach worked!
Recently, while reading John Feinstein’s book Next Man Up, I was moved by your recollections of your childhood, your fond memories of your Dad despite losing him at the very young age of 8. Somehow, your Dad already knew you well. He knew that the letter he left behind to you and your siblings would make an impact and hit its intended mark. I’m sure you have this memorized but your Dad wrote:
“I know how good you all are – I truthfully never met children I was ever more impressed with than you. Of course I’m terribly prejudiced and filled with love for you. As a selfish man, I hope you will remember me with love and I hope that in some way I have been important in helping form your character and outlook on life. The love and affection you have given me is beyond my ability to describe, but somehow I’m sure you’ll find out what I mean.”
Somewhere your Dad Bernie is smiling. You’ve likely accomplished more than even he could have imagined in his wildest of dreams. You are the quintessential overachiever.
How ironic is it that after reaching the pinnacle of your profession, that you now own a NFL franchise that is characterized as underachieving? Given the character your Dad described and that which you’ve developed, that can’t sit well with you. You are handsomely paying 13 players with Pro Bowl on their resumes and another 2 who were once Pro Bowl alternates and yet your team sits at the bottom of the AFC North at 2-5. That has to be gnawing at the fabric of your soul.
What will you do? Can you change the mindset of underachievers? What buttons will you push to inspire them? Do such buttons exist? How would your Dad feel about the city finding solace in a loss? How far have our expectations tumbled to be satisfied in losing a close game?
Being a native of the area, you should know what makes a Baltimorean tick. We love an underdog because we can relate to them. We are all underdogs with a collective inferiority complex brought about by Philadelphia to the north, DC to the south and the Colts to Indianapolis. We don’t relate to the fat cats, the Daniel Snyders and the New York Yankees of the world. We’re about the Michael McCrarys, the Artie Donovans, the Tony Siragusas, the Kelly Greggs and the Steve Bisciottis.
We gravitate to people and athletes that seem real to us.
What is happening to our football team is unreal.
Our expectations and probably yours haven’t been met. There was never a question as to whether the Ravens would make the playoffs. The question was how far could they advance into the playoffs? Along with your staff, you seemingly made the necessary adjustments to correct the woes of 2004. Brian Billick sold it – we bought it!
And now some fans are wondering what your return policy is.
Let’s face it Steve, the Ravens are hanging by a thread. The fans know it, the media knows it, Ozzie knows it, Brian knows it, Ray knows and so do you. We’re all wondering how it happened – how such a talented collection of athletes with so much promise on paper could never deliver on the field of play. We scratch our heads wondering how a Titans team with 17 rookies on their 53 man roster and a total of 37 players with 2 years or less of NFL experience can beat a team like the Ravens. How could a team with such impressive resumes suffer a meltdown in Detroit and rack up 43 penalties over a span of three games?
This can’t be what you bargained for – such an undisciplined team, is it? That’s not how you are built. Overachievers are abundantly disciplined.
So where do we go from here? When do we concede and say there’s no chance for a playoff berth?
I would understand it if Brian Billick approaches each game as though a berth is attainable until the Ravens are mathematically eliminated. From where I stand, seven losses should knock you out. Then what do you do? Is it time to quit? No. Is it time to change the approach?
Oh, you better believe it!
The new approach should include no less than the following:
1. Let Brian Billick know that his job is secure for 2006 regardless of the team’s final record. Otherwise, he will manage the team with a win today approach and that would be very shortsighted. We need to see what the young guys have got.
2. Get Kyle Boller back on the field in 2005 so we can all see if he’s a legitimate NFL starter or just an injury prone No. 2. He has been the team’s No. 1 QB since the start of the 2003 season, yet out of the 40 games the Ravens have played since then, Boller has only started 26 (65%). That’s not good enough. Your team can’t afford to go into the 2006 season still wondering if Kyle Boller is the answer at QB. Clearly Anthony Wright isn’t.
3. Don’t give the ball to Jamal. When healthy, we all know what he can do. But is that even good enough and how much longer can he do it with those knees and the wear and tear? It’s time to see if Chester Taylor can absorb the punishment associated with being a No. 1 back so you can determine which one if any is worth keeping for the dollars they will command.
4. Work harder. When you were building your business and your employees weren’t getting it done the right way, did you give them a few extra paid holidays? No, you rolled up your sleeves, stayed a little longer and worked through the problems. Your team and your coach need to do the same.
5. Break up the cliques and the segregation in that locker room. Special privileges only serve to divide the team. You above all people are aware that there is no “I” in team. After all, didn’t you go above and beyond the call of duty to make the Modell/Bisciotti transition painless for the Modells?
The best franchise in the league places the team over the individual. They foster an atmosphere that prioritizes the greatest good for the greatest number. As a whole they are stronger than the sum of their parts. As a team, the New England Patriots have achieved what a collection of under achieving fat cats can’t because the fat cats think it’s just a business and they ask, “What’s in it for me?”
Steve when you sought out to build your business, I’m sure that financial reward was part of what motivated you. But there was more than that. There had to be. There always is for quintessential overachievers.
This team has to frustrate you.
As I write, I’m reminded of Al Pacino’s speech in Any Given Sunday. Here’s an excerpt from it:
“You gotta look at the guy next to you. Look into his eyes. Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You are going to see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows when it comes down to it, you are gonna do the same thing for him.
That’s a team, gentlemen and either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That’s football guys. That’s all it is. Now, whattaya gonna do?”
Your Dad helped to form your character Steve. Even 37 years after his passing, he continues to shape it each time you read his parting letter. It’s time that that character manifests itself in the team we know and love as the Baltimore Ravens.
Make it YOUR team – a team with character, not a team of characters.