Sports Spectrum Weekly

Baltimore Ravens' coach John Harbaugh inspires team with custom-made T-shirts

John Harbaugh had no prior experience as a head coach when he expressed interest in that very position with the Baltimore Ravens, left vacant by the departure of Brian Billick. Members of the Ravens’ front office were impressed enough by Harbaugh they decided to take a chance on him anyway.

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They’re glad they did.

Harbaugh has delivered 114 victories (10 of them in the playoffs) since his hiring in 2008, an average of 10.4 per year. One of those came in Super Bowl XLVII at the end of the 2012 season, a 34-31 win over San Francisco in one of the most memorable Super Bowls in recent history.

Coaches are always on the lookout for whatever they can find to give their players an edge on game days. Harbaugh is no different. He recently shared with ESPN one of his personal favorites: custom-made motivational T-shirts.

“If I wear it out there, I’m trying to say something to (the players and coaches) that day,” Harbaugh told ESPN “It’s all part of culture-building. It’s our world view. It’s what we believe. It’s what we’re based on.”

When Harbaugh finds a powerful quote, he’ll jot it down. Later, he’ll pass it along to an equipment manager to get shirts custom-made with the new slogan.

Not all of Harbaugh’s T-shirt designs originate from Biblical stories, but many do.

Harbaugh’s shirt last year read “Chase the Lion,” a reference to a Biblical warrior named Benaiah who followed and killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day, as described in 2 Samuel 23:20. Harbaugh wanted his team to have that same type of courage.

Another came directly from Proverbs 27:17 : “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The phrase “iron sharpens iron” became a rallying cry of sorts for Baltimore’s 2012 Super Bowl team and, according to Harbaugh, is still one of Hall-of-Fame safety Ed Reed’s favorites.

“One Cord” is another of Harbaugh’s T-shirt slogans that resonated with his team, and it too has Biblical foundations. Harbaugh latched onto the idea of sticking together like three strands that make one cord, as described in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

Sports Spectrum went in-depth with Harbaugh about his Christian faith in a magazine story from 2012. In it, Harbaugh called to mind the overwhelming peace he felt when he first came to Christ in 1980 as a college defensive back at Miami (Ohio) University.

“I remember walking home and thinking, ‘If I fall on the ground and die right now, I’m right with God,'” Harbaugh said. “I felt a real freedom.”

Now 39 years later, the 2019 NFL season will be Harbaugh’s 12th with Baltimore, making him the fourth-longest-tenured head coach in the NFL. In that time he’s created a winning culture, established himself as one of the best to don a headset on Sunday afternoons, and printed an untold number of his specialty shirts.

Harbaugh has no plans to slow down his ever-growing wardrobe this upcoming season. He does, however, have plans to transform it.

“I’m going to make all of them into a quilt some day,” Harbaugh said to ESPN with a smile. “I just have to find time to learn how to sew.”

Harbaugh’s Ravens open the season on the road against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

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