When the Baltimore Ravens showed up for work on Halloween morning, coach John Harbaugh presented them with a piece of news that was the football equivalent of passing out parched apple slices to trick-or-treaters: The Ravens would be practicing in full pads later that afternoon.
Groans filled the auditorium at the team's training facility. October had been a rough month for Baltimore, which 10 days earlier had suffered a 43-13 defeat to the Houston Texans — the most lopsided loss in Harbaugh's five seasons as coach — before taking a bye-week break. The Ravens' most respected leader, legendary linebacker Ray Lewis, was back at home in Florida, having suffered a torn triceps on Oct. 14 that seemed destined to end his season.
Practicing in pads did not go over well with some of Baltimore's other veterans, including safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, and several of them openly challenged Harbaugh's edict. Rather than squashing the mini-uprising, the coach welcomed the dialogue and solicited additional criticism. Soon, the meeting turned surreal, as the subject shifted to Harbaugh's treatment of his players and perceived mood swings.
"It was practically a mutiny," one Ravens player recalled. "It came very close to getting out of control. But the way Coach Harbaugh handled it was amazing. He let people have their say, and he listened, and he explained himself, and pretty soon it was like a big group-therapy session. In the end, a lot of positive things were said. We didn't practice in pads, but we came out of there stronger as a group."