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Ted Marchibroda: Helping the Ravens Take Flight

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Ravens are mentioned throughout history and mythology. In the Bible, Noah “sent out a raven, to see if the waters had lessened on the earth” (Genesis 8:7) after the flood. For Edgar Allan Poe, the raven rapping on his window served as a reminder of the loss of his love. Some believe that a single raven is the bearer of bad news. Ravens are sometimes, however, considered to be good fortune. Such was the case in 1995, when an entire team of Ravens descended upon Baltimore, signifying the return of professional football to the city.

Who better to lead the newly established Ravens than Ted Marchibroda, who in 1974 began his head coaching career in Baltimore? So, 21 years to the day after he became head coach of the Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts), Marchibroda accepted the head coaching job of the Ravens (formerly the Cleveland Browns). This May, Marchibroda sat down with St. Anthony Messenger at the Ravens’ training complex in Owings Mills, Maryland, to talk about football, his Catholic faith and what the future holds for him.

The Ravens are a new team in one sense, but the team includes a number of veteran NFL players. According to Marchibroda, coaching a new team is no different than any of his other coaching experiences. “It’s the same wherever you go,” he says.

The Ravens, currently playing their preseason games, will face the Jacksonville Jaguars in their first regular season game on August 31. The Ravens finished their inaugural season last year with a record of four wins and 12 losses. Marchibroda says that his goal as a coach, though, goes much deeper than just wins and losses. “I think the number one thing that you look for as a coach is at the end of the year to ask yourself, ‘Did I get everything out of the players that I possibly could?’ That’s your criterion, I think, to judging whether your season’s been a successful season or not, rather than wins and losses.”

Prior to each of their games, the Ravens gather in the locker room, just before kickoff, for a team prayer. Marchibroda gathers the players, then Father Christopher Whatley, the team’s chaplain, offers a prayer. “We never pray for victory,” Whatley says. “Marchibroda stipulates that. We pray that we play fairly, that we never intend to hurt anyone, and that we give all praise and glory to God for the gifts and the athletic ability we have.” The team then concludes with the Lord’s Prayer. The ritual is repeated after the game—win or lose. Father Whatley says that, if anyone has been injured on either team, “we entrust him to God’s care.” The team also prays “to keep working as a team and not to be judgmental or critical of others.”

The year before Marchibroda became head coach of the Ravens, he led the Indianapolis Colts to within one game of Super Bowl XXX. The game ended with a dropped “Hail Mary” pass by the Colts in the end zone. They lost 20-16. Marchibroda says the loss was “as big a disappointment as I’ve had in sports.”

But, of course, losing is part of the game. So, how does he help his team deal with defeat? “I think the biggest thing that I’ve found is just to be honest with the players,” says Marchibroda. “Football’s a tough game and it’s a hard game. It takes a lot of work. If they win, you tell them how they played and you’re certainly happy for their success. If they lose, by the same token, you have to be truthful and honest as to why you felt they lost.” He also points out, though, that “the first thing you do really is to look at yourself and ask, ‘What did I do wrong?’”

The Importance of Faith

Ted Marchibroda was born March 15, 1931, in the small town of Franklin, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest child of Joseph and Elizabeth Marchibroda, who had immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1913.

Marchibroda says his Catholic faith was formed at a very early age by his parents, especially through his mother’s example. “To this day I can remember her saying her prayers at night. She was so focused, so deep into it. At times now I wish I could be that totally involved myself.”

He also remembers “when she was in the hospital and didn’t have too much longer to live, I remember the priest told me that when he gave her Communion he wouldn’t let go of her. He would hold her hand until she was through saying her prayers following Communion.” He recalls incidents such as these as “an indication of her deep involvement” with her faith.

As for his own personal faith, Marchibroda says that prayer plays “a very big part” in his life. “I try to pray as much as I possibly can. I think maybe I feel that some things that have been accomplished [in my life] I attribute to prayer. My wife tells me sometimes, ‘Don’t ever think it’s you.’”

Football Wins Out

During grade school at Third Ward School, Marchibroda says he encountered a lifelong influence. “One of the people who helped me early in life was the junior high school [basketball] coach in my hometown,” recalls Marchibroda. “He brought me in when I was in sixth grade to work with the junior high team. I felt like I didn’t want to let the guy down, and I think that motivates you a little bit.”

When he entered Franklin High School, Marchibroda played football, basketball and baseball. He was an all-state selection for basketball, but says that somewhere along the way he “just realized that I enjoyed football much more. I enjoyed the others [sports] also, but there was a dividing line somewhere. I don’t know how it took place, but I just said, ‘I’m going into football.’”

Marchibroda continued playing football as quarterback in college. He attended St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan university in upstate New York, from 1950 to 1951. He returned to St. Bonaventure to graduate in 1953 after attending the Jesuit-run University of Detroit for a year. During his year at the University of Detroit, Marchibroda led the nation in total offense. While at St. Bonaventure, Marchibroda led the team in 1951 to its best season in the history of the university’s football team.

Marchibroda told Catholic News Service during a 1996 interview that attending St. Bonaventure “set me on the right road as far as life was concerned. It put me on the right path. I had the values in place when I got there, but they reinforced and perpetuated them. I can tell you, if you went sour in that environment, you’d go sour anywhere.” Father Whatley says he has heard Marchibroda, when paid a compliment, thank the Franciscans for straightening him out. In May 1996, Marchibroda received an honorary degree from St. Bonaventure during the university’s commencement ceremonies.

Football and Family

Ted and Ann have four children: Jodi, Teddy, Jr., Lonni and Robert. Jodi, the oldest, is a stay-at-home mom with three children. Teddy is a football agent, Lonni is an attorney and mother of one child, and Robert is in business and also has one child. Marchibroda says he enjoys spending his time off with his family and grandchildren, whatever little time that is. Football’s “become almost a year-round job,” he says. “I really have no hobbies whatsoever. I basically get the month of June off, and I’ll spend that with my family and with my grandkids. In my life it really has been football and family.”

Looking back now that his kids are grown and parents themselves, Marchibroda says he would advise parents “to lead by example with your children and spend time with your children. I think the greatest asset that I’ve found, which my parents gave me, is total love. I think that’s what you have to give your children.”

From Team Player to Team Leader

Marchibroda’s coaching years began when his playing career ended following the 1956 season with the Chicago Cardinals (who later moved to St. Louis and then to Phoenix). “Bill McPeak was a former teammate with the Pittsburgh Steelers and he became the head coach of the Washington Redskins in 1961, and he asked that I join him,” Marchibroda recalls.

Marchibroda went on to coach for the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Colts, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts.

His first year as head coach of the Baltimore Colts (1975-1979), Marchibroda led the team from a 2 and 12 record in 1974 to a 10 and 4 record and a divisional championship. It was for him the greatest achievement of his career. Because of that dramatic turnaround, he was named Coach of the Year (1975) by the National Football League (NFL) and became part of the legacy of Baltimore Colts football.

But to understand that legacy, one must know the history. Since 1947, when the Colts were established as part of the All-American Football Conference, Baltimore and the Colts had a special relationship. By the late 1950’s the Colts were a championship team under the leadership of legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas. The winning tradition continued under Marchibroda’s coaching.

Then, on the night of March 28, 1984, the Baltimore Colts packed up and moved to Indianapolis, leaving Baltimore fans stranded. As one Baltimore Colts fan said in a 1996 Sports Illustrated interview, “Do I remember the day they left? Do I remember Pearl Harbor? Do I remember my wedding day?” For 12 years Colts fans dreamed of football returning to Baltimore.

In the meantime, Marchibroda continued coaching, eventually ending up with his old team, the Colts, now in Indianapolis. After three years of coaching the Colts, Marchibroda was replaced by Lindy Infante following the 1995 season.

Marchibroda came back to Baltimore in 1995 when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell moved his team to Baltimore. He chose Marchibroda, the winningest coach in Colts history, to lead the new Baltimore team, now called the Ravens.

In 1998, the Ravens will move into a new stadium next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards in downtown Baltimore. They are currently playing in historic Memorial Stadium.

Looking Toward the Future

Marchibroda says one of the positive trends he sees in sports today is that people are now looking at more than just the talent of a player. “At one time in sports the dominating factor was the talent of the individual,” he points out. “But I think we’re seeing now in sports where the character of the individual is catching up to the talent. Talent will still be first, but I think we’re finding out in all sports that the individuals who have the character, who have the heart, the drive to succeed are becoming more important” than ever before.

So while the personalities of players are being highlighted, Marchibroda says he would “just as soon people not know” about him, so he can “live a quiet, simple life. I’m more comfortable living that type of life than I am being out in the forefront.”

Father Whatley describes Ted Marchibroda as being “like your nice, lovable next-door neighbor: grandfather type, good community man, very unassuming. But I’ll tell you one thing: When that man stands in the center of that [locker] room with those gigantic players, they know who’s coach. And they know who’s boss….The guys love to play for him.”

Marchibroda says he is not involved a great deal in the personal lives of his players. “Let me say this, though. You are concerned with their lives and you hope that by what you are doing you can help them in their lives.”

Motivation is a big aspect of coaching. “The motivational factor is a full-time job every day of the week,” Marchibroda says. But he points out that “there’s not any one particular way you can motivate your football team. You do everything that you can every day to motivate your club. And you attempt to motivate every individual also.”

But if anyone knows how to motivate his players and turn a team around, it’s Marchibroda. Twice in his career he’s turned Colts teams around, improving their records by a margin of eight wins. If he can achieve the same thing with the Ravens, they truly will be flying high.