Maybe it should have happened sooner. Maybe Brian Billick’s name should already grace the upper-deck facade at M&T Bank Stadium, but the important thing is that it will be there next September.
The first coach to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl certainly deserves to be in the Ring of Honor, and team owner Steve Bisciotti revealed a pair of pending inductions at a news conference Wednesday in which former Ravens great Haloti Ngata officially rejoined the team and announced his retirement as a Raven at the Under Armour Performance Center.
Bisciotti appeared to be simply adding a predictable postscript to the news conference, taking the stage to say a few nice words to Ngata and his family and announce Ngata’s Ring of Honor ceremony, which will be held in 2020.
“There’s only been a couple of guys, a handful of guys that I’ve had the luxury to see in person and be able to tell you that we want you in our Ring of Honor,” Bisciotti told Ngata before turning to Ngata’s three young sons in the front row. “So, boys, prepare to watch your dad, but that being said, you’re going to have to wait a little bit because you [turning to Billick] are our next one.”
The large crowd of family, friends and media probably should have figured something was up when Billick joined Ngata and Ravens executive vice president Ozzie Newsome on stage for a nostalgic look back to the beginning of Ngata’s nine-year career in Baltimore.
Current Ravens coach John Harbaugh had a previously scheduled event, his annual cookout with the rookie class, so there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about putting Ngata between the two men who ushered him into the NFL in 2006.
The Ravens had put out a press release indicating that Bisciotti would be making two announcements, but the speculation on a second Ring of Honor inductee centered more around Newsome, who just stepped down as the team’s general manager.
“This is the first you’re hearing it, but this is not the first for Brian,” Bisciotti said. “I talked to Brian a few months ago and told him how honored we would be and how lucky we are as an organization to have had — I wasn’t here with Ted [Marchibroda], but I was here with you and John. The fact that you stayed in town and became such a great friend of John says so much about you and your family and that you continue to share in this. I’m glad you stayed. It’s meant a lot to us.”
Billick replaced Marchibroda in 1999 and led the Ravens to a Super Bowl title in just his second year as an NFL head coach. His teams would make three more playoff appearances, but he was abruptly fired after the Ravens slumped to a 5-11 finish in 2007.
Though his relationship with the team seemed chilly for a few years, Billick said that his work as a Fox analyst kept him in regular contact with the team, and a bond formed with Harbaugh.
“Over the years, my obligations with the network has brought me back here, and John has been incredibly gracious,” Billick said after the news conference. “I got to know his dad pretty well down at the Super Bowl. He had done some things with the network, so kind of made a connection that way. And it just kind of developed.
“It’s not easy to have a coach hanging around. Not looking over the shoulder, so to speak, but I’m kind of hard to miss.”
The whole event spoke to the peculiar nature of professional team sports, where a former coach whose tenure ended uncomfortably and a star player who was traded because of a contract impasse could be brought together for an affectionate reunion with the team officials who sent them away.
“Steve alluded to that,” Billick said. “There’s a business side to this. One of the most tired statements in the world is ‘nothing personal, just business,’ but that’s what it is at the end of the day. Certainly, my part in players that had to transition, or coaches, and certainly being a part of that myself, that’s certainly a part of it, but that’s belied by the fact that the organization does supersede that, and time allowed you to realize that as well.”
His induction ceremony will take place at halftime during the Ravens’ Sept. 29 game against the Cleveland Browns, and Billick said it “means a great deal to me” to be reattached to the organization in such a permanent way.
“It really is the nature of the way this organization treats people,” he said. “When I was doing games for Fox for six years, I had the ability to sit in basically every facility in the NFL, and when you walk in, there’s a sense of ‘Okay, this is a sense of what this organization is about.’ I’m obviously biased, but I don’t think there’s another organization that has that sense of this. Incredibly gracious of Steve and [Bisciotti’s wife] Renée to do that and [for me] to be recognized. It means a lot to me.”
Billick never left Maryland, of course. He spent his formative years on the West Coast, but built a home on the Eastern Shore after signing a big contract extension in 2007 and kept that as his base throughout a travel-heavy post-coaching career as a game analyst and in-studio commentator.
“I had no idea about this area, but just absolutely fell in love with the Chesapeake Bay,” he said. "Love the boating. That’s why we live over on the Wye River now. When things were transitioning and my kids were done, we had bought some property over there with the idea this might be a good place. I’ve absolutely loved it.”