The Baltimore Ravens open their preseason campaign at M&T Bank Stadium Thursday with a new inside linebacker, a new nose tackle and a new singer to deliver the national anthem, Baltimore native Joey Odoms.
For the first time, Odoms will step out under the bright lights and face the band, the cheerleaders, the cameras projecting his face on the big screens and 71,000 screaming fans in purple. And all he has to do is sing a song that’s been likened to a vocal version of a triple axle, all by himself.
Sure, he’s nervous, he says. To say he isn’t “would be to pretend that I don’t care.” But it’s a good kind of nervous, not the “I’m terrified” kind of nervous.
He says he just wants to do well and have fun. “I always see myself as being a part of the crowd. I’m just lucky enough to open up the festivities,” he says. “I’m just another fan. I’m a Ravens fan. And soon as I’m finished I’ll be right in the stands cheering.”
Kevin Byrne, a Ravens vice president, says Odoms stood out in a crowd of 50 candidates who had submitted videos of themselves singing the anthem because is voice “is so pure, his diction is excellent” and gives the song respect.
Better yet, he paused where Baltimore fans normally shout “O!” in the middle of the anthem. Call that home field advantage. Odoms says he’s just used to hearing it, he waits for it and he gets “disappointed if I hear it sung and you don’t hear the O.”
Odoms replaces Mishael Miller, another Baltimore native who was the Ravens’ original anthem singer. Miller left at the end of last season to work at a church in Alabama.
At that time, Odoms was serving with the Maryland National Guard in Afghanistan. As luck would have it, Coach John Harbaugh visited the troops. Odoms told the coach he wanted to sing the anthem at a Ravens’ game and Harbaugh told him whom to contact. Odoms sent a video of himself, singing the anthem, in uniform in a tent in Afghanistan.
When he got home, he was in a group of eight finalists—some of them voice majors-- who sang for a panel of judges culled from the Ravens staff, the Baltimore Symphony and the Ravens band at M&T Bank stadium. Byrne says they could have picked any of the finalists—they were all that good--but there was something about Odoms. It was kind of like American Idol or America’s Got Talent.
There are a lot of talented people in the country, but they don’t get the opportunity to showcase that talent, Byrne says. “Joey got his chance to showcase it and hit it.”
Now he gets to showcase that talent for everyone at the stadium in the city where the poem that became the national anthem was written 200 years ago.
Odoms says he doesn’t do anything special to get ready; no do-so-mi-do warm-ups, just push-ups. Pushups, you ask? “It helps build the wind and it’s good for the adrenaline,” he says. “And just to have your muscles focus on something so you could feel everything.”
So, like a good soldier, the singer will drop and knock out 20 before he heads for the microphone.
This story is part of our series “Rockets’ Red Glare: The War, the Song and Their Legacies,” made possible by a grant from Star Spangled 200, a national bicentennial in Maryland.