Advertisement
Baltimore Ravens

Ravens great Haloti Ngata will continue a proud legacy when he watches his family’s name unveiled in team’s Ring of Honor

Haloti Ngata expects his mind to drift back.

Not to his first days of training camp in 2006, when he fit right in with a Ravens defense that featured Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and his buddy-to-be, Terrell Suggs. But earlier, to his father, Solomone, who bequeathed to him an understated work ethic and a capacity for bear hugs that spoke a thousand words; to his mother, Olga, who shrouded him in warmth and taught him to care for his community.

Advertisement

When the Ravens induct him into their Ring of Honor on Monday night, he’ll see the name Ngata, his parents’ name, emblazoned on the facade at M&T Bank Stadium. They did not live to see him don the purple and black or toss around 300-pound professional blockers like they were flimsy teenagers. But it’s their legacy that will go up in permanent ink. This means more to Haloti Ngata than any of the bone-crushing hits he unleashed, the Super Bowl he helped win or the five Pro Bowls he made.

“It makes me so proud,” he said. “It’s emotional too because they never got to see me play an NFL football game. But to me, they’ve always lived with me and through me.”

Advertisement

He’s reminded every day when he wakes up to tend to his four boys, ages 12, 9, 7 and 10 months. They never met his father, who died at age 45 after his truck slid off an icy on-ramp in Utah, or his mother, who died of cardiac arrest at age 44 while she was in treatment for kidney failure. But Ngata, who resides in Park City, Utah, sees his parents in their grandchildren.

“My oldest is very disciplined, like my father,” he said. “My second one is more emotional, like my mother was. Then the athleticism with my third boy. And I find myself parenting like my parents. That stuff just keeps coming around.’

Ngata, 37, does not miss playing in the NFL. He does not miss the competitive rage that awoke in him every summer as he prepared for another season of hurling his 340-pound body into those of other angry giants. He does not miss the knowledge that his muscles, bones and joints would hurt a little more every day from August until January. He does not miss the days when he couldn’t help his wife, Christina, with their boys, because he had to practice or rest up for Sunday battle.

“I feel awesome,” he said. “People ask me all the time how my body is, and it feels awesome because I’m not banging against two 300-pounders all the time, feeling like I’ve been in a car wreck. … Toward the end of the season, you’re just holding on, all bandaged up and just trying to stay together.”

If he feels any sense of loss three years into retirement, it’s over the camaraderie he shared with teammates such as Suggs, Paul Kruger and Jarret Johnson. But he keeps up with those guys.

“I guess they would be old-man conversations now,” he said, laughing. “We definitely don’t talk about the stuff we used to. It’s all about our kids and their future.”

As he prepared to travel to Baltimore for the ceremony, he looked forward to catching up with Sam Koch, who was drafted the same year he was and is still dropping punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

The Ravens’ locker room has turned over almost entirely since Ngata was traded to the Detroit Lions after the 2014 season. That’s how fast life moves in the NFL.

Advertisement

Unlike many of the former Ravens he will join in the Ring of Honor (he’ll be the 10th player inducted along with eight former Baltimore Colts), Ngata was not a player whose impact was easily captured by statistics. He was never going to lead the league in tackles like Lewis or rack up eight interceptions in a six-game stretch like Reed.

The story of his career is one of visual impressions and awed testimonials from those who lined up with and against him.

He was such an overwhelming force in college that coaches pulled him from drills “because he’d ruin our ability to get good work in,” former Oregon tackle Geoff Schwartz recalled in a Twitter tribute.

Former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome usually watched three or four games worth of film before rendering his verdict on a draft prospect. He took in 20 plays of Ngata at Oregon and thought, “Oh my goodness!” He never believed such a game wrecker would make it to the middle of the first round, where the Ravens were picking. When Ngata fell within range, Newsome traded up to make sure he’d get him.

During Ngata’s first summer practice with the Ravens, teammates could not believe the sight of a 6-foot-4, 340-pound man negotiating footwork drills like a cornerback.

There was the play against Tampa Bay, when he reversed his momentum to intercept a tipped pass and nearly ran 70 yards for a touchdown, and the one against Houston, when he tipped a pass to himself for an interception in the end zone. These were surreal feats of agility for a man who could also occupy two blockers or bury a poor running back beneath his mass.

Advertisement

Then, there was the video they’d always show on national broadcasts of a teenage Ngata on the rugby field, plowing through clusters of four and five opponents.

“He was one of the most athletic big men I’ve ever been around,” said Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, who overlapped with Ngata for three seasons in Baltimore. “He could’ve played linebacker.”

“I was with him and against him,” said Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who had to game plan against Ngata once upon a time. “I really liked being with him. He was really something. … When you talk about eating two guys up and growing roots on the D-line; he was just really hard to move and he could free up linebackers. He could take on two [blockers] all day and not even blink.”

Ngata cherished joining a defense that carried a fearsome reputation when he showed up, that unleashed “organized chaos” in the words of his former teammate, Bart Scott.

“Coming into that team, I was just like, ‘I can’t ruin the legacy of Baltimore, the way they play defense,’” he remembered.

That was never a concern; he started all 16 games as a 22-year-old rookie and began his string of five straight Pro Bowls in Year 4 of his nine-season run in Baltimore.

Advertisement

Ravens coach John Harbaugh grinned last week, recalling the first practices he ran in 2008 when he realized he’d have this dancing grizzly in the middle of his defense.

“Just a dominant player,” he said.

At the same time, he was struck by the contrast between Ngata in the locker room and the guy who broke Ben Roethlisberger’s nose on the field. “His personality, I thought, was interesting,” Harbaugh said. “Just a soft-spoken, very classy person, a very humble guy.”

“That’s what I always tried to show, something my dad taught me,” Ngata said. “Always be respectful and humble. Never get full of yourself. That’s who my father and mother were, and just being able to have their legacy live on through me, it’s something I took a lot of pride in. I wanted to show my parents through me.”

Ngata has talked about coaching his sons once they get to high school, but for now, he’s content to be their after-school driver, shuttling them to a dizzying assortment of games and other activities.

“I kind of don’t want to get in the way as they’re trying to develop into whatever they want to be,” he said. “I don’t want them to feel like they have to be an O-lineman or a D-lineman because that’s what I played.”

Advertisement
Baltimore Ravens Insider

Baltimore Ravens Insider

Weekly

Want the inside scoop on the Ravens? Become a Ravens Insider and you'll have access to news, notes and analysis from The Sun.

For the time being, they’re tall and slender, not thick like he was. His oldest, Solomon, is a tight end and outside linebacker. Ngata still works out three or four times a week so he can keep up with them, but he’s content with a simple life, enjoying the freedom he earned through all those years of combat.

“My only goal,” he said, “is to make sure I raise awesome boys.”

Week 5

COLTS@RAVENS

Monday, 8:15 p.m.

TV: ESPN Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Advertisement

Line: Ravens by 7


Advertisement