By GARY SHELTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001
Trent Dilfer, this is your day.
The world is watching, waiting, wondering. The new fans. The old critics. The famous, the familiar, the foreign. The doubters, the back clappers, the knee slappers. The ones who smile and the ones who smirk.
Today, all of their eyes are on you. This is your moment. This is your Super Bowl.
Don't screw it up.
If you are Dilfer, of course, that is familiar advice. For three months, during an incredible journey in which Dilfer has been hoisted and carried from one victory to another by the Baltimore Ravens, that has been the message from his coaches, from his teammates, from his fans.
Stay out of the way. Don't mess it up. If we need you, we'll call you.
Today, they will need. Today, they will call.
And, then, you may write the next chapter in the Dilfer Saga.
This is the hunch. The Ravens are going to play great defense today. And so are the Giants. In fact, the Giants are going to play so well, they will be able to do what the Raiders could not, what the Titans could not, what the Broncos could not in these playoffs. The Giants' defense will be so good, it will be able to put the game into Dilfer's hands.
And where are the Ravens then?
Imagine this. The Giants lead the game, 10-6. There are two minutes to play. The Ravens have the ball on their 20. Dilfer approaches the line.
So, what happens next?
Is Dilfer good enough, composed enough, to bring the Ravens down the field and into the end zone?
"Absolutely," Dilfer said. "Any time you're in that situation, and the ball is in your hands, you have the chance to do something special. Is there a guarantee it will happen? No, there are no guarantees. But we'll do what it takes. That's been the motto of this offense. We'll do what it takes."
He has played it cool this week. Dilfer has been calm, classy at every opportunity. You figure a part of him has to want to stick his thumbs in his ears and waggle his fingers. After all, he is in the Super Bowl, and the Bucs aren't, and nyah, nyah, nyah. But Dilfer has shrugged for every camera he has seen, and he has explained the Bucs position as well as his own. Last we saw of Dilfer, he was bristling at being limited by the Bucs' defense-first philosophy. Now, he seems to cherish the same role. He has not chided. He has not scolded.
Regardless, the reviews have not been kind. Read the nation's papers, and he has been called the worst quarterback ever to start a Super Bowl, and the accidental quarterback, and the incidental quarterback. You get the feeling the Ravens strapped him across the hood of the team bus on their way here. From the clippings, he has as much to do with the Ravens being in the Super Bowl as Miss Daisy had with winning the Daytona 500.
And why not? For a very long time, the Super Bowl has been a quarterback's game. It was the place you looked for Starr vs. Dawson, and Bradshaw vs. Staubach, and Marino vs. Montana, and Elway vs. Favre. For Pete's sake, Kurt Warner threw for almost as many yards in last year's Super Bowl (414) as Dilfer has in this year's playoffs (474). Consider this: For the first time in 31 years, neither Super Bowl quarterback has been asked to go to the Pro Bowl.
Joe Montana? Joe Namath? Steve Young? The comparisons to Dilfer have been more blunt. Tony Eason and David Woodley and Vince Ferragamo are more like it. If he wins, he will move up in comparison to Jeff Hostetler, Jim McMahon and Mark Rypien.
"It doesn't bother me," Dilfer said. "You make a choice of what you're going to listen to and what you aren't. I have no problem with saying that my teammates carried me. They carried me."
The other morning, Dilfer was talking about how he tries not to think of himself as walking the same path as the other quarterbacks who have appeared in this game, because to him, it serves only as a distraction.
Then a reporter leaned over and asked this: "Trent, do you think you'll be a starting quarterback next year?"
And even that didn't faze Dilfer. For goodness' sakes, has any other starting quarterback in Super Bowl history been asked that question? But this time, it's true. If you believe what you hear, Brian Billick is ready to start writing sonnets to declare his love for Brad Johnson. Which leaves Dilfer, free agent to be, exactly where? On the open market, again?
For the sake of his future, Dilfer could use a solid game today. That doesn't mean a lot of yardage. That means accuracy. It means a big play or two on third down. It means a touchdown pass.
Most of us expect the Super Bowl to be two teams in a scrum at the 50, pushing mightily at each other. Neither Dilfer nor his opposite, Giants quarterback Kerry Colllins, figures to play a starring role. (Yes, Collins played well against the Vikings' defense, but any positives against that defense should be considered in the same vein as a batting practice home run.)
But what if the Giants are good enough to take a lead? What if they can put the game into Dilfer's hands? What about 80 yards to go, two minutes to play, and four points to overcome?
"Obviously I know he can (lead us downfield)," guard Mike Flynn said. "I saw what he did at Tennessee (in the regular season). He threw a big interception that game and they ran it back for a touchdown. We got the ball back, and he never lost confidence, and that was the easiest way to lose confidence.
"It was his first or second start, and I'm sure the first thing that crossed his mind is, "Every Baltimore fan in the world is cursing me back home,' and I'm sure he was thinking everybody in Tampa was snickering, "There he goes again.' It was the biggest point of the season. When we got in the huddle, the last thing you need is a quarterback who's sobbing and pouting over the mistake he made. If he had done that at that point, we all would have went in the tank. But he didn't. he came in and said, "I'm going to make a play.' "
Can he do it today? Can Dilfer come up as big as the Super Bowl itself when it counts, on the field where they darn near buried his career?
Maybe it's from seeing too many ex-Buc quarterbacks shine, but something feels like he can. Something feels like Trent's going to Disney World. Something feels like he's going to be called the worst quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl.
Something feels like that won't bother him, either.