A day after the most deflating loss in Ravens history and one of the most painful stomach-punch moments in Baltimore sports lore, John Harbaugh held court with a handful of local reporters and explained with a straight face and with little emotion how he was at peace with his team's loss in last year's AFC championship game. It seemed crazy at the time, but you could tell that he meant it. Eerily calm, he said with pride that his Ravens did everything they could to put themselves in position to beat the New England Patriots that frosty night last January (we can agree that recapping the events of that night is no longer necessary). And while he didn't verbalize it, Harbaugh had the quiet confidence of a man who believed it wouldn't be long until his Ravens finally stormed over the hump and won the Super Bowl. Harbaugh must have known something that we didn't. On Sunday night in New Orleans, his fifth season as coach of the Ravens ended with owner Steve Bisciotti handing him the Lombardi Trophy, something that his teams were in contention for in each of his seasons in Baltimore. It was a bittersweet victory for Harbaugh, as he beat his brother's San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, but it's one that he will savor. Harbaugh deserves a ton of credit for what he has done over the past 12 and a half months. After that crushing loss in Foxborough, he kept this team from crumbling. He did not let the foundation cave in when Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon in late April, an injury that appeared to have ended his season before it started. Harbaugh, a religious man who isn't shy about expressing about his faith, continued to get his message across, even as tragedy and injury and controversy shook the walls around him during a turbulent regular season. A contentious midseason meeting could have led to a collapse, but the Ravens and their coach found common ground, something that might not have happened a few seasons ago. Because he is the coach, Harbaugh is understandably scrutinized for decisions he makes every Sunday -- for the record, I liked the gutsy decision to attack the 49ers with that fake field goal in the Super Bowl -- but he does not get enough credit for the work he does between Sundays. Overhauling the culture of an organization can be a thankless task, and many national analysts feel Harbaugh inherited an ideal situation when he replaced Brian Billick in 2008. But the locker room was fractured and some players felt entitled, and it was up to Harbaugh to make the Ravens a team again. Now we see the cornhole games in the locker room and Ed Reed wearing a "Punters are People, too" shirt in support of Sam Koch and Torrey Smith Tweeting photos of everyone, but it took a lot of hard work for Harbaugh to get the Ravens back to the top. That's why it was touching to see Harbaugh and Bisciotti share a long embrace after the final whistle. Bisciotti raised eyebrows around the NFL when he hired Harbaugh, who coached special teams and defensive backs with the Philadelphia Eagles, instead of going with a more traditional hire. But in Harbaugh, Bisciotti got a CEO-type to be the face of football operations, a smart football man who isn't afraid to take risks, and a coach who is more than willing to stick up for his players. It took five years for the decision to fully pay off, but the Ravens are Super Bowl champions again, thanks in large part to Harbaugh.
Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun