For Tyrod Taylor, Sunday’s Super Bowl experience will be his first.
For Todd Washington, Sunday’s Super Bowl experience will be his first as a coach.
Suffice it to say, these two former Hokies are rather excited about their opportunity.
Taylor serves as the backup quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, while Washington works as the assistant offensive line coach on Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh’s staff. The two will be attempting to help Baltimore secure the franchise’s second Super Bowl victory with a win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Sunday.
Taylor will become the 20th former Tech player to participate on a Super Bowl team. That list also includes Washington, who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003.
“It’s amazing. It’s definitely exciting,” Taylor said. “A lot of guys play in this league and are never able to make it to this game.
“There was definitely a lot of work put into it. We had a goal set this year. We were a game short last year (lost in the AFC Championship game), and we wanted to get back to that same point and win that game. We did that in New England. Just to know that you’re going, it’s definitely exciting. It’s still a business trip, but it’s exciting knowing that you’re going to be playing in a Super Bowl. It’s the biggest game in all of football.”
Of course, playing in said game brings forth its inherent challenges – and not just those on the field. Each player receives 15 tickets (with the option to purchase more), and Taylor, who was popular in high school and in college at Tech, has plenty of friends willing to use those tickets.
“I’m close to it,” Taylor said when asked if he had accounted for all 15 of his tickets. “High school coaches, family friends … I’ve taken care of my immediate family first.
“People don’t realize that I’m not in a situation where I can just go buy a whole bunch of tickets. Those tickets are definitely expensive. I’ve been telling people that if they can’t get to the game, at least get down there and experience what it’s like. It’s definitely going to be a great time.”
Taylor is in his second year with the Ravens, who drafted him in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. As a rookie, he played in three games, completing one pass for 18 yards, and rushing for 2 yards on a carry. This past season, he played in seven games, completing 17 of 29 for 179 yards, with an interception, and rushing for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Most of his game experience came Dec. 30 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Taking over for Joe Flacco in the third series (the Ravens had clinched a playoff spot and didn't want to risk an injury to Flacco), Taylor completed 15 of 25 for 149 yards, with an interception. He also rushed for 65 yards on nine carries and scored a touchdown in the Ravens’ 23-17 loss.
“I definitely showed what I’m capable of,” Taylor said. “I didn’t get the ultimate goal, which was to win, but I think I showed them what I’m capable of. It’s something to build off of, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. We were able to rest some guys, and I was able to get in and showcase my talent.”
Taylor spends a lot of time with Washington, as the two of them pour over protection schemes and run-game blocking assignments in preparation for each game. Like Taylor, Washington joined the Ravens’ organization two years ago, enduring a 12-hour interview with Harbaugh and other staff members before Harbaugh offered him a job on the spot. Washington accepted.
The job marked the beginning of a journey toward his ultimate goal – to be a head coach. Washington spent eight years in the NFL as a player with two organizations (Tampa Bay from 1998-2002; Houston from 2003-2005), but he always knew he wanted to get into coaching. He spent three years coaching at the University of San Diego before former Cleveland Browns coach Chris Palmer hired him to coach with the Hartford Colonials of the UFL. He spent a year there before landing the gig with Baltimore.
“This is something I always wanted to do,” Washington said of coaching. “I knew from day 1 that coaching was in my blood after I finished playing. I spent three years in San Diego and fell in love with it (coaching).
“When I was in San Diego, I felt I could be used in the NFL. I don’t know why. I just felt that the NFL is where I needed to be. I coached with all my heart and soul, and people noticed.”
Washington, a guard and center at Tech from 1994-97 and a fourth-round pick of the Buccaneers out of the 1998 draft, offers a unique perspective for many of the Ravens’ younger players. He has played in a Super Bowl and dealt with the distractions of Super Bowl week.
While with the Buccaneers, Washington was part of a team that won Super Bowl XXXVII, beating the Oakland Raiders 48-21.
“The hardest thing is to keep the routine as normal as possible,” he said. “That’s easier said than done. On the flip side, it’s the Super Bowl. The entire world is watching. All eyes are you, so it’s going to be different.
“We’re going to lean on the veteran players and on the coaches. We’ve got a lot of veteran players, and a coach who has been to a Super Bowl. We’re not going to let the young players get caught up in the entertainment. This is still a business trip for us.”
Unlike the players, assistant coaches only get two tickets for the big game. Washington said his brother, T.J., also a former offensive lineman at Tech, went to the Super Bowl when Todd played for the Buccaneers, so he probably won’t go this time. Instead, Washington plans on using the tickets for his family – his wife and three children.
Both Taylor and Washington like being on the East Coast, and especially in Baltimore, which sits an easy drive from where they grew up as kids – the famous “757” area. Taylor grew up in Hampton, Va., while Washington calls Onley, Va., his home. Onley is right across the Chesapeake Bay from the Hampton-Newport News area.
Of course, they both went to Tech and became extremely successful as Hokies before heading off to the NFL. But their similar paths do not keep them to pointing out specific differences.
“I tell him that we could beat his teams,” Taylor said, laughing. “We go back and forth all the time.”
“The defense we had when I played would have killed his offensive line,” Washington said in response. “He’d only be able to run around back there for so long. He knows I’m right.”
Joking aside, they both hope to stay in Baltimore for a long time. Taylor, who has two more years left on his rookie contract, is renting a condominium, but hopes some day to find a more permanent residence.
“I love the city and love the fans,” he said. “The fans remind me of being back at Tech. I have family up here. Being closer to home allows my family to get to the games. It’s a great place. They love football here. I love being on this team.”
As for Washington, he figures to be safe in his situation for quite some time. After all, the Ravens probably aren’t getting rid of Harbaugh any time soon.
Then again, maybe the Ravens’ success will lead to other organizations approaching their coaches, which in turn, may lead to other opportunities for Washington.
“I’m just riding the wave wherever it takes me,” Washington said. “The game has been good to me. Who knows what the future holds? It may lead me back to Blacksburg some day. But my ultimate goal is to be a head coach, and I could see it happening in the NFL.”
Taylor, Washington and the rest of the Ravens left today for New Orleans and will conduct their usual game-week routine. The results of their season-long work will be known this Sunday.
“The first time I went to New Orleans was this offseason when we first signed Jacoby Jones (Baltimore receiver who had been with Houston),” Taylor said. “I went down there and helped him out with his camp. I remember talking to him when we rolled past the stadium, and we said, ‘Man, we’ve got to get back here.’
“It’s funny how things have played out. We’re back to where we said we needed to get to, and that’s where he is from, so it’s definitely exciting.”
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