Are you ready for some real NFL football? It’s that time of year again. Which only raises another question, are you ready for some more haunted ESPN features about mysterious behaviors in the lives of religious people who happen to be coaches and athletes in the National Football League?
If you read GetReligion — and a handful or two of you care about sports — you know that there are almost too many of these stories for GetReligion to handle them, year after year. I tend to notice stories about the Baltimore Ravens containing God-shaped holes (click here for a sample) because that team commanded my loyalties during my D.C.-Baltimore years (and they still do, to be honest about it).
So ESPN recently served up a new story about the head coach of the Ravens with this headline: “John Harbaugh's T-shirt game is strong and motivating the Ravens.” Fans will recognize that this is the latest episode in the ongoing tale of journalists trying to grasp Harbaugh’s love of “mighty men” images. Here’s the overture:
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh loves a good T-shirt. So much so that he's got a guy on staff making custom designs for him.
At training camp last year, Harbaugh showed up with three words printed on a T-shirt.
Trying to set the tone after the 2017 season ended with a last-minute loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Harbaugh wanted to move past one of the most gut-wrenching moments in team history and put his players in the right mindset.
At a team meeting, Harbaugh told the story of the biblical figure Benaiah chasing a lion into a snowy pit and killing it.
"If you want to do great things, you have to have courage,” said Harbaugh. "You got to know your moment.” And boom ... not long after that, Harbaugh later appeared at practice wearing a shirt reading, “Chase the Lion.”
ESPN noted that Harbaugh is the NFL’s fourth-longest-tenured coach at that he has a unique ability to find symbolic ways to motivate his troops. The coach explains that this is part of “culture-building” and establishing a “world view” for his team. The t-shirts — and the words on them — are part of all that.
Now, with the word “biblical” included in that overture, I thought that we were about to read an ESPN story that finally dug into the details of Harbaugh’s unique blend of Catholic faith and a muscular-Christianity style that is popular with modern evangelicals.
I mean, that Benaiah reference is pretty hardcore material — not your normal vague Bible talk. Here’s a key passage in 1 Chronicles, chapter 11:
Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And he struck down an Egyptian who was five cubits tall. Although the Egyptian had a spear like a weaver’s rod in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. Such were the exploits of Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he too was as famous as the three mighty warriors.
So, is this a sign of Harbaugh’s faith? Is this part of the coach’s life and world view worth a paragraph or two? Will words like “Christian” and “Catholic” come into play?
Check this out:
Harbaugh loves reading. If he comes across a meaningful life lesson, he picks up his phone and types it into his notes. There are easily a thousand talking points on his phone right now.
Many of those get made into shirts. Harbaugh doesn't know the number of T-shirts he has made in his 12 seasons in Baltimore. The older ones are stored in a couple of drawers in his office. If he wants a new message placed on a shirt, he informs Ravens equipment manager William Sheridan, who promptly gets it done.
That’s that. Moving on.
However, I will give credit to the ESPN team for discussing some of the other famous Harbaugh t-shirt slogans from the past. This requires mentioning the coach’s unique love of — “reading” and whatever else it is that he’s doing that continues to bring him into contact with these bites of, well, literature.
Here’s the most famous one:
From Proverbs 27:17: "Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another."
"How does Iron sharpen iron?" Harbaugh said. "In order for that to happen, both pieces of iron have to be at the right attitude. If they don’t, if they’re at the wrong angle, they’ll chip each other and eventually break each other."
This rang true during the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl season, when Harbaugh was looking to fix the culture of the team.
Then there was the “One cord” slogan:
This comes from Ecclesiastes 4:12: Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken
"It’s the whole story of sticking together," Harbaugh said. "You twist the cord the right way, under adversity, it only gets stronger. You twist it the wrong way, individually and become individual strands within the cord, that’s how you take a rope or cord apart. If you turn things the wrong way, it’s how you fall apart. If you turn things the right way, together, you hold onto each other. That’s how you become one cord."
What else did Harbaugh say in that discussion?
I guess that it’s not important, in terms of understanding this man, his work and his relationships with his players.