Matthew Jeffers admits that being unable to fall back to sleep early some mornings, he has instead contemplated his prospective plans for the day, only to let them all eventually fall by the wayside.
We’ve all been there.
However, a few weeks ago, Jeffers, a senior at Towson University, was awake at 6:30 a.m. and restless. The acting major had certain ideas pulsating through his head, and he knew he could not fall back asleep until he expressed them.
His beloved Ravens were a few days removed from losing their third consecutive game. Fans were growing irritated, the local media was becoming confrontational, and players and coaches were visibly frustrated.
Seeking to offer much-needed perspective, Jeffers rolled out of bed and logged on to the Ravens’ official website and clicked the “Contact Us” link to send an email to the team.
Clearly, his viewpoint was appreciated. Less than two weeks after writing his 504-word note, Jeffers found himself inside the Ravens’ Owings Mills headquarters, sitting across the office desk of head coach John Harbaugh. Later, he stood in surreal amazement as all 53 Ravens players waited in line for the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand.
What in the world did Jeffers write?
Jeffers saw the Ravens facing adversity and wanted to share his life’s challenges with the team. Diagnosed as a child with an uncommon form of dwarfism — he is 4 feet, 2 inches tall, although his limbs are proportionate to his body — Jeffers told how he has undergone more than 20 surgeries, some routine, others life threatening. Doctors performed a tracheotomy to repair a closed airway when he was 5 months old, and he’s endured multiple summers in a hip spica cast — an excruciatingly limiting apparatus.
Although Jeffers has been surgery free since 2003, his mother, Marcie, was diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor in February 2011, a battle she continues to wage, thanks to a positive approach.
“So, you tell me, is life fair?” Jeffers wrote in the email.
“When you give every ounce you have, and all you have to show for it is a loss in overtime, is that fair? When families in Newtown, Conn., go into their child’s room but have no child to kiss goodnight, is that fair? We live in a painful world, no doubt about it. But let me tell you this: The ONLY disability in life is a bad attitude. A positive attitude is the most powerful combatant to life’s misfortune.”
Jeffers anticipated that maybe a secretary would read his message and send back a “thank you.” Instead, his email made it to Pam Lund, the executive assistant of Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. Lund forwarded the message to Harbaugh, who passed Jeffers’ words to each and every Ravens player and responded directly to Jeffers.
“[His email] was really moving and just so spot-on and to the point for anybody, whether you’re playing football or just in life,” said Harbaugh, who cracked a wide smile when asked about Jeffers during a press conference before the team’s upcoming playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
“He was talking about attitude and how you approach adversity in life. It really resonated in me and with our coaches and with our players. Our guys were excited to meet him when he came up last week. Great guy, great talent, just a real good person.”
After being contacted personally by Harbaugh, Jeffers figured that would be the end of it. “I appreciated John’s response and thought that was it.” Jeffers said. “And then, the next day, that’s when Kevin Byrne contacted me and the whole thing started.”
Byrne, the Ravens’ senior vice president of public and community relations, invited Jeffers and his father, Michael, to the complex on Dec. 28. There, Jeffers said, the Ravens “treated me like a celebrity.” He thought he was going to get a quick handshake from the coach. Instead, he sat down with him for a lengthy conversation, met the entire team and went on a tour of the spacious facility.
Several players and coaches told Jeffers how his message touched them emotionally. That accomplishment, Jeffers said, is something he’s still trying to wrap his head around, but it’s a feeling he will never forget.
“These guys are so famous … and to have little old me have an impact, it feels very weird. That’s the only thing I can say,” said Jeffers, a Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate.
When Harbaugh sent out his mass email to the team with Jeffers’ message, Ravens safety Sean Considine was sitting on his couch watching football. Upon reading it, he immediately wrote back to Harbaugh, thanking him for sharing it.
“It just opened my eyes. Everyone was upset about losing and felt down, but there are a lot worse things going on out there,” Considine said. “People are struggling through some serious things and still going about their lives and maintaining a positive attitude and getting better from it. I think it was a great message for us because we could do the same thing.” After reading Jeffers’ words and regrouping the following week, the team dismantled the New York Giants, 33-14, to earn a playoff berth.
Jeffers explained that because the Ravens have experienced so much success and played at such a high level in recent years, it was understandable for them to respond poorly to a losing streak. After defeating the Colts last weekend, he said it’s clear the team is in a good place heading into this Saturday’s playoff game against the Denver Broncos.
“It’s all about perspective,” Jeffers said. “You come across a roadblock and forget what it feels like to have your feet in the mud. You forget what it feels like to have an obstacle in front of you instead of an open road. It’s not always about going down that open road that brings out the most enriching things in life. It’s about the hurdles that you have to overcome, and when you overcome them, that’s when true glory presents itself.”