BALTIMORE (AP) — Not long after Art Modell moved his football team from Cleveland to Baltimore, a young intern joined the Ravens with hopes of learning enough to fulfill his lifelong quest of becoming an NFL general manager.
Eric DeCosta was little more than an errand boy back then. Working at an entry level position, his responsibilities included taking coach Ted Marchibroda's car for an oil change. It was a task he was more than willing to tackle, in part because he was given $100, purchased the $9.99 special and pocketed the rest of the cash.
The most rewarding aspect of the job was working under Ozzie Newsome, then the vice president of player personnel. Newsome, who would ultimately become the first African American general manager in NFL history, was in charge of acquiring talent via the draft and free agency.
"In 1996 when I was sitting there in my office — well, I didn't have an office, I had a card table in the hallway — Ozzie would call me in," DeCosta recalled.
"That was one of the joys in my life, sitting down and watching tape with him. He would show me plays and players, we would talk about techniques."
The 48-year-old DeCosta now resides in a lavish office in the team's training complex. After working his way up the team's corporate ladder, he took over for Newsome as Baltimore's general manager in January and this week, for the first time in franchise history, someone other than Newsome will be in charge of the Ravens draft.
DeCosta's first draft-day decision will come Thursday, when it's time for Baltimore — barring a trade — to make the No. 22 overall pick.
He can't wait.
"I wake up early in the morning thinking about the draft," said DeCosta, a Massachusetts native. "It's been like that since I was 10 years old. I used to sit on the couch and read Will McDonough's column and look at his mock draft in The Boston Globe. I get excited. It gives me a sense of energy, and I'm going to approach this draft as if it's the most important thing in my life."
Newsome will serve as an adviser to DeCosta, who is thankful to have learned under a man who built two Super Bowl champions by studying countless hours of game film before drafting shrewdly and wisely.
"He's valuable. His wisdom, his expertise, his relationship with certain people in the league and agents is critical to me," DeCosta said.
"We're so different, but he can look at me and I can look at him and we know what each other is thinking. I can say to him, 'Ozzie, I'm uncertain about this. I don't know which way to go. I'm here at the crossroads,' and he'll give me an honest opinion. Just like, when he was the GM, I could walk into his office and say, "Ozzie, we shouldn't do this.' And he would say, 'OK.'"
The teacher is now assisting his former student, and their chemistry should make it a seamless transition.
"I've always seen those guys just work well together," coach John Harbaugh said. "So, to me, it works the same way, except now Eric is in the seat. Eric is the decision-maker, and he'll be the guy making that final call."
DeCosta was promoted to Ravens' Midwest area scout in 1998, became director of college scouting in 2003, was named director player personnel in 2008 and ascended to assistant general manager in 2012.
As word of DeCosta's ability leaked outside Baltimore, several teams were interested in interviewing him for the GM job. So in 2007, owner Steve Bisciotti promised DeCosta that he would succeed Newsome when the time was right.
After ignoring overtures from several teams, including the New York Jets, Green Bay and Seattle, DeCosta ended up with the only job he really wanted.
"Did I have chances? Yeah. Did I have a lot? Yeah. Did I ever really consider it? Not really," DeCosta said. "Because every time I'd go to bed thinking that maybe I would consider something, I'd wake up and say, 'What are you, crazy? You know you're going to have the job someday that you've dreamed about, so just wait and make it perfect.'"
The wait, in effect, took more than two decades. Those oil changes, that card table that served as his office and his gig as an understudy to Newsome were all part of it, and DeCosta really wouldn't have it any other way.
"Some people would think maybe that I would be embarrassed that I started off as an intern now that I'm a GM, that I want to forget that," he said.
"But to be honest with you, I cherish that, the fact that I could start out as a young person and really had to do a lot of different things. I'm proud of that. I understand what a lot of people do in this organization, because in some instances, I did those jobs."