Today, UW reader and guest author Mako Mameli has a very special deep dive — a Uni Watch specialty — into the Baltimore Ravens’ tradition of rewarding players with patches on their practice jerseys. This will be one of several articles featuring contributions from the Uni Watch readership, and it’s a doozy!
Here’s Mako — enjoy!
by Mako Mameli
The patches on the Baltimore Ravens practice jerseys
There’s no doubt that the Uni Watch community is well aware of the Ravens’ tradition of adding patches to their practice jerseys, but I thought it would be interesting to take a deep dive on how the tradition started and how it evolved over the years.
John Harbaugh was appointed as the the third head coach in Baltimore Ravens history in 2008, after more than twenty years as an assistant coach both in the NCAA and NFL. Harbaugh replaced Brian Billick, who was fired after a disappointing 5-11 2007 campaign in which the Ravens lost nine games in a row before closing the season with a win at home against the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
The arm and hammer patch
When Harbaugh took over, he introduced the tradition to celebrate the players for their commitment and hard work during the offseason workouts. When the players convened at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland, for Training Camp, forty of them had a patch featuring a strong arm clenching a hammer in its fist sewn on their practice jerseys. Only those who attended at least 85 percent of the offseason workouts could sport the badge of honor.
The coach wanted to instill the “blue-collar” mindset from the start, and the patch was meant as a token for the players who stayed at the team headquarters during the spring and summer, lifting weights and running through the Ravens’ strength and conditioning program, and as a way to inspire others to do the same in the future. In the coach’s mind, those patches would accumulate over the years as the players continue to show their commitment to the Ravens’ conditioning plan.
“Like a decoration on an army uniform, that decoration will stay on there for as long as they’re a Raven,” Harbaugh told the press.
The Ravens closed the 2008 season with a 11-5 record, finishing in second place behind the Steelers in the AFC North and obtaining a playoff berth as a wildcard. After wins against the Dolphins and Titans, their playoff run was interrupted when they were defeated by their division rivals, and eventual Super Bowl winners, Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship.
The shovel and sword patch
During the 2009 season the Baltimore Ravens went into a momentary slump, losing three straight games and entering the bye week with a modest 3-3 record. Harbaugh tried to motivate his players by telling them the Biblical story of Nehemiah. In the 5th century B.C. Nehemiah, an officer of high rank in the Persian court, asked the king Artaxerxes I permission to go to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls. Despite the threat of Israel’s enemies, he was able to lead the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the walls in just 52 days.
“The load carriers, too, were armed; each worked with one hand and held a weapon with the other,” says verse 11 in Chapter 4 of the Book of Nehemiah.
The head coach pleaded with his players to continue to build a successful season while defending from the threats of the outside world (opponents, angry fans, excessively critical reporters).
When the Ravens gained access to the playoffs with a win in the regular season finale, Harbaugh celebrated in the locker room by holding a sword in one hand and a shovel in the other. A patch with a shovel and a sword behind the Ravens shield and the year 2009 was added to the practice jerseys during the playoffs.
Since the 2010 season, players have been able to wear the patch with the sword and shovel behind the shield for every season in which they have qualified for the playoffs with the Ravens, but only under Harbaugh. This meant that a player like Ray Lewis – with four playoff berths under his belt in the pre-Harbaugh era – only had the patches from 2008 onwards on his jersey to celebrate his accomplishments.
The evolution of the Ravens tradition
The Ravens won their second Super Bowl after the 2012 season, and the coaching staff implemented some changes for the 2013 season, tweaking the two existing patches and adding two new ones.
The patch with the arm and the hammer, which rewards participation in offseason workouts, was awarded for each year from 2008 to 2012 in which the player attended at least 85% of the sessions, while since 2013 it is sewn only once and stars are added to show the number of seasons the milestone has been reached.
The patch for conquering the playoffs has been simplified, and instead of the Ravens shield with crossed sword and shovel behind it there is now a simpler sword with the reference year.
Two new patches were introduced in 2013: the patches with the AFC logo celebrate a player’s contribution to winning the division and the patches with the Super Bowl mark the player’s role in accomplishing the ultimate team goal.
Sam Koch was awarded so many stars for participating in the offseason workouts over the years (he played for the Ravens from 2006-2021) that they organized them in circle!
Back to the future
A version of this article was first posted on the Italian site Huddle Magazine in June. When I was researching the tradition for that article I went through all the practice photos on the Baltimore Ravens website and something immediately caught my eye. During June minicamp all the players (or at least all the players I was able to double check) had the 2020 playoff patch missing from their jerseys.
If you look, for example, at photos of tackle Ronnie Stanley, he had three swords on his practice jersey in 2022 (for reaching the playoffs after the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons). Since the Ravens again reached the playoffs in 2022 you would expect him to have a fourth sword added in 2023. Assuming that the patches are not updated before Training Camp, three sword patches were the minimum in his case, but he had two in all the photos I was able to find. The same happened for several other players.
Sure enough, all went back to normal when Training Camp started, and Ronnie Stanley’s jersey (now updated to the Nike Vapor F.U.S.E. template) now has all four of the playoff swords. The same is true for all the other players who contributed to the 2020 and 2022 team’s results.
Ravens fans may have something to add to this recap (obscure insights, players’ quotes, personal anecdotes). Please share them with us in the comment section.
If this tradition was new to you, we are sure you won’t look at a Ravens practice photo the same way going forward.