OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Offensive linemen usually thrive in anonymity. They have virtually no individual statistics, ever, and usually the only time they are recognized is when they commit a penalty.
But Ravens guard Marshal Yanda had the spotlight squarely and deservedly on him March 11, as an overflow crowd gathered in the auditorium at the team’s facility to watch Yanda announce his retirement after a remarkable 13-year NFL career.
Yanda, 35, leaves as one of the most decorated players in franchise history, with eight Pro Bowl appearances, including this past year; seven Associated Press All-Pro honors, including first-team awards in 2014 and 2015; one Super Bowl ring, and the admiration of teammates as well as opponents.
Head coach John Harbaugh said Yanda is “a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” and said, “As a coach, you can never ask beyond what Marshal did and gave.”
After recounting how the Ravens waited until the third round to draft Yanda — which drew a chuckle from Yanda — general manager Eric DeCosta announced that Yanda would be inducted in the team’s Ring of Honor at a date to be determined.
Reading first from prepared remarks and then taking questions from the media, a slimmed-down Yanda thanked the Ravens’ organization, staff, teammates, former teammates and his family, with his wife and three children sitting in the front row.
Yanda recounted painful setbacks including injuries, grueling rehabilitations, an early-career benching and heartbreaking losses such as the AFC championship game in New England after the 2011 season, which he called “the worst loss I ever had to deal with in my career.”
But Yanda also pointed to countless highlights, including a Super Bowl title a year after that loss to the Patriots, this past season’s franchise-record 14-2 season, and the camaraderie of the Ravens locker room and organization.
“Matt Birk once said, ‘You won’t remember all the games,’ — and I definitely don’t remember them all — ‘but you will remember celebrating in the locker room with your teammates and coaches after those huge victories.'”
“To finally get to the Super Bowl, and watch that confetti fall, was one of the best times of my career and my life,” Yanda said.
Former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was in attendance, as were punter Sam Koch and kicker Justin Tucker, all members of the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl title team. Other current Ravens in attendance included center Matt Skura, tight end Nick Boyle, offensive lineman Ben Powers and defensive lineman Chris Wormley.
Tributes also poured in from opponents via Twitter and statements released by the Ravens, a tribute to how highly regarded Yanda was leaguewide.
“Happy retirement!” Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “After a decade, I am looking forward to not having to look out for you!”
Considered one of the most consistent and toughest players in Ravens history, Yanda recounted his long-shot path to stardom that began as a junior-college player in Iowa, and he said took to heart a saying he first saw in the University of Iowa locker room: “Embrace the grind.”
It became his mantra throughout his career.
“If I could some up my entire football career in three words,” he said, “those would be it: Embrace the grind.”
Grind he did, throughout 13 NFL seasons, overcoming multiple surgeries to play in 177 career games, tied for the most in franchise history among offensive linemen.
“To me, the number one thing is his steadiness,” Harbaugh said, “steadiness and effort. … You just put on the tape and watch him in games. It’s the same way in practice. Every step is right. Every hand placement is right. Every drill, every technique … it’s just done to perfection.”
Yanda returned the praise to Harbaugh, noting that the duo had essentially grown up in the NFL together. (Yanda played for Brian Billick as a rookie, and Harbaugh arrived in 2008.)
“We basically came in together, and it has been a consistent body of work the entire time,” Yanda said. In Yanda’s 13 seasons, the Ravens reached the playoffs eight times, won a Super Bowl, played in three AFC championship games and won four AFC North titles.
“We had a winning culture my entire time as a Raven,” Yanda said, “and that’s a credit to what John has done.”
Yanda said he has been considering retirement for the past couple of years, and had pretty much made the decision to retire by the time the Ravens’ 2019 season ended. Even after a 14-2 year that he called “the most fun I’ve ever had in football,” Yanda was determined to go out healthy, on his terms, still playing at a high level.
He said he had seen plenty of players during his career compete beyond their prime until they were “a liability” for their teams. “In my mind, I said I never wanted to be like that. I wanted to train as long as I could and find ways to slow down the aging process by doing everything right so I could be playing at a high level at the end of my career.
“I did try to control every single factor I could control to be great at the end of my career.”
Yanda said his future plans are uncertain, other than that he and his family will be moving back to Iowa at the end of the school year, but he recognized Baltimore and its fans.
“I can’t think of a better place to spend my entire career,” Yanda said. “This team is a reflection of this city: hard-working, passionate, blue-collar and committed. It was an honor to play in this great city, Charm City.”
Former general manager Ozzie Newsome, who drafted Yanda in the third round in 2007, was also on hand at the news conference and said, “There’s a phrase in this organization: ‘Play like a Raven.’ If I had a billboard … and put players on there that I felt played like a Raven, Marshal Yanda would be one of the first to go on that list.”
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox