John Harbaugh. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
As 80,000 Baltimore Ravens fans gathered at MB&T Bank Stadium to rally and celebrate their team’s triumph in Sunday’s Super Bowl, head coach John Harbaugh had something to say to the massive crowd. “We had a visit from the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali…. And he used to say, ‘What’s my name?’ We’re going to finish it off right here, with our whole stadium declaring to the football world, loud and clear who we are. Three times. Are you ready? What’s our name? [crowd answers, “Ravens”] What’s our name? [crowd answers, “Ravens”] What’s our name? [crowd answers, “Ravens”] Yeah! Thank you!”
It was deeply moving to hear Coach Harbaugh invoke the champ. Ali visited the team before the start of the season and was a source of inspiration throughout the year. There were stories over the weekend that the great Ali was close to death. Thankfully, this turned out to be false and his daughter Laila tweeted a picture of him getting ready for the big game and very much alive.
The words of Muhammad Ali are also a beautiful thing to hear in the twenty-first century. Harbaugh is keenly aware of its history and what Ali meant in his day. As he said in September, “He molded a generation. He was courage for a generation. He changed the world, but not just in the ring. The ring was his platform to change the world.”
Harbaugh is absolutely right, and the phrase “What’s my name?” encapsulates that courage. In 1967, heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali was defending his title against challenger Ernie Terrell. By now, “the Greatest” had already cemented his position as the most controversial and derided athlete in the history of the United States. Ali had already changed his name from Cassius Clay after joining the Nation of Islam. His name change meant that he had declared allegiance to an organization that called white people “devils” and believed racism was an incurable part of the United States. He had also by this time become an anti-war lightning rod by becoming a draft resister and refusing to be any part of the US war in Vietnam. Sportswriter Murray Robinson echoed the overwhelming majority of the media when he said, “[Clay] the adult brat, who has boasted ad nauseam of his fighting skill but who squealed like a cornered rat when tapped for the Army, should be shorn of his title.”