The Ravens who played for Bill Belichick agree on one thing. No one was more driven by, or obsessed with, the idea of winning. No one worked harder to gain a competitive advantage. No one demanded more, physically and mentally, from his players.
Eighteen of the Ravens played for Belichick during his five-year reign (1991-95) as head coach of the Browns. It was a period that featured the franchise's last trip to the playoffs in 1994, which was followed by the 5-11 flop in 1995, which was followed by the turbulent move to Baltimore that included the firing of Belichick.
Not that Belichick's former Browns are crying for him. After spending a year with his old partner, Bill Parcells -- they teamed up to win two Super Bowls with the New York Giants -- on a ride that took him to the Super Bowl with New England last season, Belichick is back at it with Parcells again.
As the assistant head coach and secondary coach with the New York Jets (5-3), Belichick is helping to revive a team that has been a perennial AFC doormat. And when the Ravens take the field for warm-ups at Giants Stadium tomorrow, you can bet a number of them will acknowledge the guy who showed many of them the NFL ropes.
The Ravens talked this week of Belichick in glowing terms as a strategist, motivator, dictator. They marveled at his ingenuity and energy as much as they grew tired of his browbeating. Through it all, Belichick continued to earn their respect.
"He was a master psychologist who covered every facet of the game," center Wally Williams said of Belichick. "Bill would research officiating crews to find out which penalties they called the most. He would do anything to gain an advantage or motivate you."
Back in 1993, when Williams and fellow rookie free agent Orlando Brown signed with the Browns, Belichick used to make Brown -- then not nearly as well-formed as his currently stout, 6-7, 350-pound frame -- get up at 6 a.m. to run several miles. Then, he would steer Brown to an exercise bike. Then came practice.
"Bill was a real tough guy," Brown said. "He never allowed a guy to take a play off. I really look forward to playing against Bill because he took a chance on me. He developed me as a player."
The same goes for eight-year veteran defensive end Rob Burnett. As a fifth-round draft pick in 1990 out of Syracuse, Burnett described himself as a "raw, out-of-college, not-knowing-what-the-hell-was-going-on type of player."
By 1992, Burnett was a starting left end, where he has remained since.
"I'd by lying if I denied that Bill pushed me in the right direction," said Burnett. "He definitely had a positive effect on my career. I probably wouldn't tell him to his face, but I'll always appreciate him."
Those old Browns never got too close to Belichick. He wouldn't allow it. Burnett recalled a time in 1991 when a young defensive lineman named Frank Conover injured his elbow during a drill, screamed out in pain, then limped off the field. Belichick, sensing a soft spot, stopped practice and berated Conover, who later would continue his short career in Green Bay.
"Bill yelled, 'This is the first time I've ever seen someone hurt his elbow and limp off the field,' " Burnett said. "Frank was his whipping boy for the rest of the season."
Then there was the time on draft day 1992, when Belichick, suspicious of just-drafted Baylor defensive lineman Marcus Lowe's physical condition, threatened to make him run until Lowe vomited.
The following weekend, during rookie minicamp, Lowe showed up out of shape, and he paid for it. Belichick lived up to his promise.
"Bill was very demanding, very hard-nosed," said safety Stevon Moore, who joined Belichick in Cleveland in 1992. Over the next three years, the Browns had one of the AFC's better defenses. Moore attributed that primarily to Belichick.
"Even though he gave you a lot of flak during the week -- always pushing you, always testing you -- if you were a physical player who had a nose for the ball, he liked you," Moore said. "His stamp on the defense was his guys played hard and played hurt. We had an identity as a tough defense that did what he wanted. If we wanted to pressure the quarterback, we did."
As gruff and distant as Belichick could be, he has a softer side. Williams saw it last spring, shortly after he tore his Achilles' tendon, knocking him out of commission until last month.
"Bill called me to see how I was doing and to see if my attitude was OK," Williams said. "That's hard to find in a coach these days. That's a different side of Bill, but Bill is still Bill. He's aggressive, drive-oriented."
Said Moore: "Bill did it his way, nobody else's. And I respect that."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: New York Jets
Site: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Jets by 5
Series: First meeting
Pub Date: 11/01/97