It is nearly impossible overstate what Kevin Byrne has meant to the Baltimore Ravens.
On April 3, the team announced that the executive vice president of public and community relations would be retiring in May. Almost every person who has ever interacted with the Baltimore Ravens in any way has come in contact with Byrne since the franchise moved from Cleveland following the 1995 season. The list of more impactful figures is small, including owners Art Modell and Steve Bisciotti, former general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coaches Brian Billick and John Harbaugh and perhaps a handful of players. He has been that significant within the organization and community.
My initial reaction to Byrne’s retirement was a genuine thought that perhaps Byrne’s impact on the Ravens has been so meaningful he belongs in the team’s Ring of Honor. It would be totally unprecedented, of course. To this point, all inductees have had at least some direct football impact in Baltimore. (Modell didn’t play or coach, but there literally isn’t a franchise without him.)
But there’s an argument that Byrne’s impact has been so unique, it is worth breaking precedent. Or there’s an argument that it’s time the Ravens consider a new way to honor impactful members of their organization. (Ironically, whenever I’ve had a question about a Ring of Honor topic in the past, Byrne has been the person I’ve called. This one is probably a little too close to home for that.)
If you’re looking for an argument AGAINST inducting Byrne to the Ring of Honor, I’ll start with this. There’s a major ROH logjam at the moment that isn’t likely to ease any time soon. If there is a 2020 season, the team has already announced former defensive tackle Haloti Ngata will be inducted (and rightly so). That means former offensive lineman Marshal Yanda would have to wait until 2021. By 2022, we have to assume former pass rusher Terrell Suggs will have retired (if not earlier) and will be waiting in line. By 2023 or 2024 (and presumably sooner), former quarterback Joe Flacco and punter Sam Koch will likely have hung up the cleats. And with Newsome no longer running the day-to-day operations of the team, you’d have to imagine the team would like to recognize him in the same way in the next few years.
So that’s AT LEAST one “slam dunk” Ring of Honor candidate per year through 2026. And let’s remember that as we move toward the late part of the 2020s. And while it’s possible John Harbaugh’s tenure ends up lasting as long as Bill Belichick’s in New England, his name might also end up in the mix during that span. (Kicker Justin Tucker is a slam dunk at some point too, obviously.)
Sure, the team could simply choose to put more than one candidate in during the course of the same year to ease this. Part of the purpose of induction is to have an annual event to sell to sponsors and the unique nature of there being just one player per season at most, but they may well be forced to break tradition in the coming years, particularly if they would want to additionally honor someone like Byrne.
But it might also be time for the Ravens to consider another method of recognition.
The Baltimore Orioles have already done this. They’ve established two different types of honors within their franchise. The first group is for Baseball Hall of Fame-caliber players (unless your name is Mike Mussina for some stupid reason). Those players/managers have their numbers retired and are recognized with statues in center field IN ADDITION to being inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.
Yet the Hall of Fame still exists for the next tier of impactful members of the organization both on and off the field. There is a Hall of Fame plaque at Camden Yards recognizing those people and the team celebrates nearly annual Hall of Fame weekends to honor inductees publicly.
As we approach the Ravens’ 25th season of existence, it might well be time for them to consider something similar. The standard might not be the exact same; they have already inducted a number of players into their Ring of Honor who will never be recognized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But the Ring of Honor could still be their loftiest honor while allowing another way to recognize others who have meant a lot to the franchise. (In hindsight, an inductee like Michael McCrary might have been better suited in a Ravens Hall of Fame than Ravens Ring of Honor, but there’s no reason to kick him out).
Not only would Byrne be a perfect choice for a new team recognition, but figures like former receptionist Toni Lekas, former public relations assistant and archivist Francine Lubera, former equipment manager Ed Carroll and former head trainer Bill Tessendorf (just to name a few) would be wonderful honorees from the “behind the scenes” capacity. Former play-by-play voice Scott Garceau or analysts like Tom Matte and Stan White would fit the bill. It would also mark a unique way to honor noteworthy assistant coaches like Jerry Rosburg or Amari Cooper enthusiast Rex Ryan.
And there is an entire group of players who are worthy of some form honor but aren’t quite “Ring of Honor” worthy. The team has tried to recognize many of them in recent years with (sometimes rather bizarre years later) retirement ceremonies, but the likes of Steve Smith Sr., Anquan Boldin, Lardarius Webb, Kelly Gregg, Dennis Pitta, Adalius Thomas, Qadry Ismail and more who have meant a great deal to the city and team for various reasons but either didn’t play in Baltimore quite long enough or weren’t quite truly GREAT players who could be more eternally thanked for their contributions.
And is there any possible candidate more deserving than the great O.J. Brigance? I’m still of the opinion his impact is Ring of Honor worthy, but I understand there’s a lot of gray area there.
A team Hall of Fame (or perhaps call it a “Wall of Achievement” and erect it near the practice fields at the team’s Owings Mills practice facility to give fans something else to see and do while they visit in future summers) would be a perfect way to permanently honor not only Byrne but countless others who have made major contributions to the Ravens during their history without watering down the lofty standards of the Ring of Honor.
But again, if they thought Byrne in particular was worth of having his name permanently displayed among those legends at M&T Bank Stadium, I wouldn’t argue.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens