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Ravens honor Jarret Johnson's unheralded legacy

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- John Harbaugh heard the term "Play Like a Raven" when he was hired as the Baltimore Ravens head coach in 2008, and he tried to find out what exactly that meant.

His search ended when he met linebacker Jarret Johnson.

"I think the best description was epitomized by Double J," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens honored Johnson at their team facility on Wednesday and announced they will soon sign him to a one-day contract so he can retire with the team where he spent his first nine NFL seasons.

In many ways, this ceremony was more special than the ones the Ravens held for Matt Stover, Derrick Mason and Ed Reed. It was expected for the Ravens to roll out the purple carpet for those decorated players.

Johnson never went to a Pro Bowl. He wasn't a household name or a part of the Ravens' Super Bowl teams. But the team wanted to celebrate the hard work, tenacity and leadership of one of the more underrated players in its 19-year history.

"This was validation that you did it right," Johnson said. "You conducted yourself the way you're supposed to conduct yourself as a player."

Johnson smiled more during his half-hour news conference than he probably did throughout his entire Ravens career. He was a no-frills edge setter on defense who sacrificed his body with little fanfare.

His streak of 130 straight games played is the longest streak by a Ravens offensive or defensive player. He never sat out a game due to injury in his nine years with the Ravens.

As general manager Ozzie Newsome put it, Johnson was a tempo-setter in the locker room, classroom, practice field and on game days. "From the very first day, he became one of the guys that the other guys would follow," Newsome said.

Johnson initially thought he was going to start his NFL career somewhere else. He received a call from the Dallas Cowboys that they were thinking of drafting him in the third round, but he then watched the Cowboys select tight end Jason Witten.

The Ravens ended up taking Johnson in the fourth round.

"We had no idea position what position he would play for us," Newsome said. "But we knew JJ was a football player."

Johnson bounced around the defensive line in his first two seasons and then switched to linebacker in this third year. He even played inside linebacker before getting a chance to start at outside linebacker in 2007 when Adalius Thomas left in free agency.

During Johnson's seven years as a starter for the Ravens (2005-11), he was the unheralded rock of a defense that ranked in the top 10 every season.

"When I got here, there was Kelly Gregg, Tony Weaver, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Adalius Thomas. At that point, you did it their way or you got out of the way," Johnson said. "I was smart enough and tough enough to learn from them and become one of those guys. Then, all of a sudden, you look back and there are guys doing it like you did it."

Johnson finished his career with the San Diego Chargers, leaving the Ravens before the 2012 season, the year the Ravens won the Super Bowl. Minutes after the Ravens were hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy, Johnson sent Harbaugh a congratulatory text.

Harbaugh then replied, "You helped build this."

Johnson likely won't have his name put on the stadium's facade as part of the Ring of Honor, but Wednesday's ceremony proved he put a lasting imprint on the franchise.

Said Newsome: "To have a guy like JJ to come in and be the poster child for 'Play Like A Raven' is just as gratifying as it is for having guys who have a chance to go to the Pro Bowl."