Former Ravens coach Brian Billick, who led the team to its first Super Bowl championship, and star defensive tackle Haloti Ngata will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor, owner Steve Bisciotti announced Wednesday afternoon.
Billick and Ngata, who will be inducted during the Ravens’ Week 4 game against the Cleveland Browns this September and next season, respectively, are the 19th and 20th individuals honored as noteworthy contributors to the franchise. Safety Ed Reed was the most recent inductee before Wednesday, his name added to the display that encircles the M&T Bank Stadium field in November 2015.
Billick, 65, was hired as the Ravens coach in 1999 and took the team to Super Bowl XXXV in his second season in Baltimore. In his nine years with the team, he finished with an 80-64 record and led the team to the playoffs three more times after the Super Bowl victory. He was fired after the 2007 season, when the team went 5-11. Bisciotti called it at the time the “toughest decision I've ever had to make.”
“It really is the nature of the way this organization treats people,” Billick said of the honor. “When I was doing games for Fox for six years [as an analyst], I’ve had the ability to sit in basically every facility in the NFL, and when you walk in, there’s a sense of, ‘OK, 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 [like the Ravens].”
Billick thanked coach John Harbaugh for allowing him “to kind of hang around” the team in his various roles, including as a broadcaster. “That’s not an easy thing to do.” He recalled afterward Wednesday how he had recommended to then-general manager Ozzie Newsome that he consider Harbaugh as his replacement because of his special teams background.
“One of the most tired statements in the world is ‘Nothing personal, just business,’ but it is at the end of the day,” Billick said. “Certainly, my part in players that had to transition, or coaches, and certainly being a part of it 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 do that as well. The fans have been incredibly gracious.”
Ngata, 35, who officially announced his retirement as a Raven on Wednesday at the team's facility, was drafted by the franchise with the No. 12 overall pick in 2006. During his nine seasons in Baltimore, he had 25½ sacks and 445 tackles and was selected to the Pro Bowl five times and the All-Pro first team twice. He helped anchor a defensive line key to the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII title.
Coach John Harbaugh once said the soft-spoken, 6-foot-4, 340-pound Ngata “kind of sets the personality" of the team’s defense, which was headlined by bolder personalities such as Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. He left the Ravens in 2015, traded to the Detroit Lions during the offseason, and finished his career last year with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“When I got traded, at first, I was kind of shocked a little bit, but to me, I understood that this is a business,” Ngata said. “They needed to do a business decision. I was against the [salary] cap a lot at that time. And so I wasn’t moving; they weren’t budging. ... I told Ozzie, and even John Harbaugh, ‘I know it’s a business decision. I love you guys. You guys have done so much for me, and we’ll just kind of move on.’ I told them, ‘I definitely want to come back and be a Raven when I’m done.’ ”
An audience of family members, friends, and current and former Ravens teammates turned out to see Ngata off into the next phase of his life. He wiped tears from his eyes as he recalled the lessons his parents had passed down to him and smiled wide as he mapped out his post-NFL life — camping and fishing, more time with his wife and sons. More football, too, most likely as a high school coach.
Ngata had more than enough happy memories of his days in Baltimore. Like how, in his first meeting with Lewis, he called the linebacker “Mr. Lewis” as he apologized for not calling him back. (Lewis just laughed. “Don’t call me that. Call me Ray.”) Or how he broke Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's nose during a 2010 game, one of his favorite plays from his Ravens career. (“I didn’t do it on purpose,” he said of the hit. “It just kind of happened.”)
Newsome recalled needing to see just 20 plays of Ngata’s film at Oregon to know that he was special. Special enough to be the fourth defensive lineman in the Ravens' Ring of Honor, after Baltimore Colts standouts Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti and former Raven Michael McCrary. Special enough to one day warrant consideration for a bust in Canton, Ohio.
“When I, in my mind, think about a Hall of Famer: No. 1, did he play on a winning ball club? He did. Was he part of a Super Bowl? He did. Was he a dominant player in his era at his position? He did,” Newsome said. “So he's checked all of those boxes, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not a voter. But when those guys, when his time comes up, those are the things that they'll be looking at. ... And then the other thing that'll happen, they'll talk to some of the players that played against him, and I'm sure they'll be saying, 'Yeah, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.' ”
Note: Free-agent defensive tackle Gerald McCoy attended the Ravens’ news conference Wednesday but will reportedly visit the Carolina Panthers later this week. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star met with the Browns last week and spent parts of Tuesday and Wednesday with the Ravens.