Ravens have a class act on and off field in Swayne

August 06, 1999|By John Eisenberg

What does Harry Swayne add to the Ravens? Here's the long version: He adds a firm grasp of what it takes to win, as evidenced by his two Super Bowl rings, three trips to the big game and nine career playoff starts.

He adds a calming, ultra-professional influence, the result of a dozen solid years in the NFL.

Lastly, he adds the grace of an athlete who speaks out for literacy and cared enough to finish up his college degree some two years into his pro career.

Another word for all those assets?

Class.

It's a commodity the Ravens often have lacked in their three seasons since moving from Cleveland, and it's what Swayne has, on and off the field.

The Ravens can't add enough to their mix, which is why coach Brian Billick labeled Swayne a "very, very important" acquisition on the day Swayne signed a four-year, $13.2 million contract in February, less than a month after he'd started for the Broncos in their Super Bowl win over the Falcons.

Swayne, 34, won't make the Pro Bowl at right offensive tackle; as solid as he is, the Broncos let him go to make way for a younger player. And other new Ravens such as quarterback Scott Mitchell and cornerback Chris McAlister surely will make more headlines.

But Swayne will lead the fight against the losing culture that has festered in the Ravens' locker room -- a fight as critical as any the team faces.

"I understand the role and I'm comfortable with it," Swayne said yesterday at Western Maryland College. "I think there are things I can bring to the table."

Stability, for starters. That's what the Ravens didn't get from last year's right tackle, Orlando Brown, who spent all season in a funk after his friend, Wally Williams, held out of training camp in protest after signing a one-year contract instead of a long-term deal. Distracted, Brown lost his poise, let his performance slip and left town for the Browns.

Going from Brown to Swayne isn't any ordinary personnel change; it's a drastic switch in approach, personality, you name it. And while Brown certainly could rebound and become a star, Billick is clear in his assessment of the change. "We're better" with Swayne, he said in the spring.

Ten days into training camp, the opinion is even stronger.

"Harry has brought to us just what we'd hoped in terms of having veteran experience, two Super Bowl rings and a certain class we needed an infusion of," Billick said. "Guys respect him and look up to him as a leader. He's having to learn a new offense at the same time, which is a burden, but he's a big man and he can handle it."

Actually, Billick's offense comes from the same, Bill Walsh-seeded tree as Denver coach Mike Shanahan's, so Swayne already knows a lot of the plays.

"It's all pretty familiar, actually," he said, "and that's part of the reason I came to the Ravens. The system has won a lot of playoff games. I liked the idea of starting over with it in a new place."

But doesn't he miss Denver, which, let's face it, is about five rungs up the NFL ladder from Baltimore?

"Believe it or not, it hasn't been hard to forget about playing in the past two Super Bowls," he said. "It was great, obviously. But regardless of where you're playing, to get to the next Super Bowl, you have to forget about the last one. I'm here now, and I'm excited about it."

That might raise some eyebrows, but it makes sense when Swayne explains it. He's got a bigger role here opposite Pro Bowler Jonathan Ogden. He's playing for a team that has invested big money in him. And as a Philadelphia native with family throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, he views this move a homecoming.

"I've waited 12 years to get back to the East Coast," he said. "It's like everything has finally fallen into place."

But the real reason he's here?

"Billick has a lot to do with it," he said. "I did my homework before I signed. I talked to a lot of people around the league. I heard a lot of good things. [Billick] is a smart guy. He uses as many syllables as [Shanahan] did. And he wins. Veterans want to play for coaches who can take them where they want to go."

Drafted by the Bucs as a defensive lineman from Rutgers in 1987, Swayne was a backup until he moved to the Chargers and the offensive line in 1991. He became a mainstay, starting for the Chargers when they reached the Super Bowl in 1995. Two years later, he joined the Broncos in time to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

Early on, he kept hitting his textbooks after turning pro and finished up his degree in sports management. That level of dedication has continued throughout his career; he has been extremely involved in community activities, funding scholarships and programs and speaking to students. He's already involved here, helping Baltimore County's Literacy Works program. He's a big reader.

"Colin Powell's autobiography is on my night stand now," Swayne said. "I read when I can keep my eyes open."

He has a veteran's outlook, wise and patient, and Super Bowl rings on two fingers.

For the Ravens, who have spent three seasons findings a way to lose, he's a welcomed addition.

A guy who knows what it takes. A winner.

Can they clone him?

Pub Date: 8/06/99

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