Ravens discover ways to stay in the moment on gameday

September 18, 2013|Peter Schmuck

One of these Sunday's the Ravens will get to play a football game that's just a football game, but they haven't yet and they won't this week.

The first three weeks of the season have featured one emotion-bending subplot after another and this week the nostalgia will be coming from two directions when they face the Houston Texans. The Ravens will induct Ray Lewis into the Ring of Honor at halftime and no-doubt Hall of Famer Ed Reed is expected to start his first game at M&T Bank Stadium as an opposing player.

This all comes on the heels of a major roster shakeup, a crazy opening night in Denver and last Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns in which quarterback Joe Flacco was behind center less than two hours after his wife gave birth to their second child.

That's why they get paid the big bucks, but it still has to be a tremendous challenge to keep the focus on the field when there is so much happening off of it.

"I think probably all of us have that in life," coach John Harbaugh said. "To me, you try to put it in its proper perspective and channel it in a way that's positive for you. Whether you're happy or you're excited or you're mad, or grief sets in or whatever, you have to take those emotions as human beings and channel them in ways that are productive. And I think in football you really have a chance to do that, because every Sunday you've got such a big challenge in front of such a huge audience and it's an emotional game, so it kind of shows up in our sport quite a bit."

There are all sorts of examples, from the good to the bad to the tragic. Wide receiver Torrey Smith played one of his best games as a pro on the day after his younger brother died last September in a motorcycle accident.

It's fair to wonder how he got through that nationally televised game against the New England Patriots, much less being the catalytic player who caught six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-30 victory. He explained on Wednesday that — whether the off-field situation is happy or heart-shattering — the intensity of the game makes it almost impossible to think about anything else.

"I think it's pretty simple," he said. "One, you're there for a reason. You're there to win a game. You can't be out there focusing about other things beyond that. It's a dangerous game, so if your mind is somewhere else, it probably isn't the best place for you to be on the field…

"I can speak from some personal experience myself. It's also a sanctuary when you're around the guys and your teammates and you can go out there and just play the same old game you've been playing since you were a little boy."

Flacco learned early Sunday morning that his wife had gone into labor. His second son, Daniel, was born at 11:30 a.m. The game started about 90 minutes later. Though the Ravens offense didn't put up a point in the first half, Flacco completed 67 percent of his passes and did not turn the ball over in the team's first victory of the season.

Certainly, the Lewis Ring of Honor ceremony and Reed's homecoming don't belong in the same emotional category as the life-altering events that Smith and Flacco have chosen to play through on both ends of the emotional spectrum, but the return of two franchise legends so soon after the Ravens reformulated their team chemistry would be hard for anyone to ignore.

"Football is an emotional game," Flacco said. "It's tough to keep out every single emotion. Sometimes you have to channel that and focus it into good energy. I think we do a good job of that. We prepare all week. You prepare so long for that three-hour window that, when you do that, no matter what you're dealing with emotionally I think you're able to kind of channel that and use it for the good. Obviously, it doesn't always work that way, but the more you prepare and the better you prepare, the better chance you leave yourself with the ability to do that."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at 9 a.m. on Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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