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Baltimore's defense leaves a lasting impact
[an error occurred while processing this directive] By GARY SHELTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001
TAMPA -- Perhaps you will remember the tears in the old man's eyes.
In another game, with another owner, this would be the snapshot worth saving. You could see Art Modell's face reflected in the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the hardware that had broken his heart time after time. But then you think of the way he ripped out a few hearts of his own when he bolted Cleveland, and you think of other scenes.
Perhaps you will remember the reborn quarterback with his fist toward the sky.
On another day, with another quarterback, this would be the lingering memory of Super Bowl XXXV. Trent Dilfer walked across the field, a 34-7 victory on the scoreboard behind him, and you could not help but think of his incredible tale. He is a man with horrible yesterdays and unpromised tomorrows, withstanding the bumps in his road and the wildness in his arm to become, incredibly, a champion.
Perhaps you will remember the coach from whom the cockiness flows.
No matter what you hear, Brian Billick did not claim he invented this game Sunday night. But even on a night when his team was as good as he believes it to be, and he was as smart, Billick was not the ranking memory, either. When you break down the game that made stars of punters and kick returners, this is the way you will remember it:
Ray Lewis' speed.
Jamie Sharper's ferociousness.
Michael McCrary's relentlessness.
For most of the night, this was a completely forgetable switch-the-station kind of game. There was only one measure of true greatness: The Ravens' defense, which played like Huns pillaging a village.
This was the only thing super about the Super Bowl. The Ravens were merciless, treating every play as if it were an opportunity to slam another door in the Giants' faces. The Giants disappeared early, shortly after their will. If not for Ron Dixon's 97-yard kickoff return, New York would not have scored if the game had continued until April.
Whenever you speak of Super Bowl XXXV, this is where you will start. When you talk about the first Super Bowl in Tampa, you start with Marcus Allen's run. When you talk about the second, you start with Scott Norwood's miss.
This time, you will speak of the ferocity of the Ravens' defense. You will talk of the way Tony Siragusa carries his weight, and the way Rod Woodson carries his years, and the way Duane Starks breaks on the ball. Not to say this defense is ferocious, but late Sunday night, one of the Backstreet Boys was reported missing.
Also, you will remember their swagger. This is a defense that believes it is better than any other collection of 11 men who have attempted to play it. They will tell you that again and again, each time louder than the last. Go ahead, debate the designation if you wish. If so, may you have better luck than the lame arguments put up by the Giants.
Officially, New York had 149 net yards, but darned if anyone can remember any of them. In particular, Giants quarterback Kerry Collins seemed to faint dead away at the sight of the Ravens. He threw four interceptions, and he spent so much time sliding short of the first-down marker he might have been mistaken for a break-dancer.
The Ravens didn't just beat the Giants; they Buffalo Billed them. Any day now, you can expect the New York politicians to declare the Giants as New Jersey's team. The Ravens embarrassed the Giants, stripped away any notion that this was a good team after all.
This was your NFC champion? Tony Dungy should call the Bucs in today and fine every one of them. Ditto with Denny Green, Mike Martz and, for that matter, Dan Reeves.
Thirty points? Heck, most of us didn't figure the winning team would have 30 yards. But that's how good the Ravens' defenders are. They strip a little something from their opposition on every play, and they keep you backing up, and suddenly, you are wishing the clock would hurry along. They make their offense better, because it seems to be presented with a lot of 40-yard drives.
What else do you wish to remember about this night? Yes, it was nice to see Dilfer win, even for those of us who criticized him when he was here. Funny, it doesn't matter which side of the Dilfer debate you came down on; there was evidence enough for all. During the first half, Dilfer was the reason the Ravens led 10-0, and he was the reason they didn't lead 20-0. If this day was all Dilfer was promised by the Ravens, however, then remember that he made the best of it.
Perhaps you will remember this. As a team, there is nothing warm or fuzzy about the Ravens. They are are a hard team for an outsider to like, loud and profane like the old Raiders, brash and blustery like the old Bears. They have the owner with the moving van and the coach with the wagging finger. They have the battered quarterback and the babbling tight end and the unrepentant linebacker.
Also, they have the Lombardi Trophy.
Pray no one tells Siragusa there is food inside, or you may never see it again.
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