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By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001
TAMPA -- When it was over, he stood at the center of Raymond James Stadium, in the past his field of broken dreams.
He reached for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and squeezed its silver football tightly in his hands.
And while he didn't say it, you could forgive the Baltimore Ravens quarterback if he was thinking it.
Hey, Tampa Bay. How do you like Trent Dilfer now?
Dilfer, an easy target for six seasons as the Bucs quarterback, enjoyed the happiest homecoming of all in leading the Ravens to a 34-7 win over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
The Ravens defense staked its claim as the greatest in NFL history, intercepting Giants quarterback Kerry Collins four times to tie a Super Bowl record.
Playeth the Ravens, never score.
Led by linebacker Ray Lewis, the Most Valuable Player, Baltimore allowed a total of 23 points in four playoff games.
"I'm biased, but whole cares? Someone tell me they're not (the greatest defense)," Ravens coach Brian Billick. "I'll argue it to the death."
The Giants' only touchdown was not scored against the Ravens defense, but against their special teams. Rookie Ron Dixon returned a kickoff 97 yards with 3:31 left in the third quarter.
But that was answered 18 seconds later by Baltimore's Jermaine Lewis, who raced 84 yards with the ensuing kickoff for a score.
The victory was redemption for several Ravens.
It is the first Super Bowl title for 75-year-old owner Art Modell, who moved the team from Cleveland after the '95 season.
There is Lewis, the NFL's defensive player of the year, who overcame a year dominated by controversy for his role in withholding evidence in a double killing at an Atlanta nightclub one year ago.
Sunday, Lewis made five tackles and defensed four passes to became the seventh defensive player to win the MVP award. It was voted on this year by 15 members of the media and fans on SuperBowl.com.
"I played a hell of a game, but that's just what I do anyway," Lewis said.
Most surprisingly, there is Dilfer.
Playing in the city where he absorbed vicious hits on and off the field, Dilfer joined ex-Bucs Doug Williams and Steve Young in quarterbacking a team to a Super Bowl title after being thrown overboard by Tampa Bay.
"I think more than anything else, (it's) faith and perseverance," Dilfer said. "And I looked around the stadium and I thanked God for the great memories I had here and I thanked him for what he did for my life for six years here.
"I think everyone has been saying how great this feels. What feels better is waking up every single morning knowing life can be difficult, but if you face adversity head on, this is what comes out the other end."
Dilfer made two plays in the first half, but they were enough to stake the Ravens to a 10-0 lead.
On Baltimore's third possession, Dilfer floated a 38-yard pass to Brandon Stokley for a touchdown. Stokley beat Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn, who thought he would have help over the top from safety Shaun Williams.
Then, late in the first half, Dilfer's 44-yard completion to Qadry Ismail nearly went for another touchdown, save for a shoestring tackle by Giants cornerback Dave Thomas. The play set up Matt Stover's 47-yard field goal.
"After all the ridicule he took down here, it's great to see him hold up that trophy in the city where he started his career," Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "Trent was throwing the ball well this week in practice and he's a really confident guy. I knew if we found him some time, he'd make some plays."
Dilfer left early in the third quarter to have the little finger of his left hand X-rayed after injuring it during a sack by Cornelius Griffin. He returned one series later.
"I told them I didn't want go off," Dilfer said, "but they thought I'd broken my hand."
Dilfer might hold the distinction as the worst quarterback to win a Super Bowl, but he was easily the best quarterback on the field Sunday.
Collins, who conquered some personal demons this season, was bedeviled by the Ravens. He finished 15-for-39 passing for 112 yards with four interceptions. He was sacked four times.
Too often, he locked onto his receivers like a skeet shooter and his passes were read easily by linebackers and defensive backs.
"This is the most disappointing loss I've ever been involved with," Collins said. "I'm disappointed in the way I played. It wasn't a lack of effort or a lack of preparation. I didn't play the way I wanted to.
"Bad reads on my part. Bad reading of the defensive coverage. I missed some guys when I had them open."
The performance stunned Giants coach Jim Fassel, who watched Collins carve up the Vikings in a 41-0 win in the NFC title game Jan. 14.
"I didn't expect us to turn the ball over five times and not get any," Fassel said. "Against a good team, you're going to get beat soundly."
Sunday's game was billed as a defensive struggle, and it generally was just that. The Giants' Brad Maynard and the Ravens' Kyle Richardson set a Super Bowl record by combining for 21 punts. They tied the mark of 15 set in Super Bowls XVIII and XXXI with 4:39 remaining in the third.
Things moved at a snail's pace until the Ravens and Giants combined for three touchdowns in 36 seconds.
First, Ravens cornerback Duane Starks stepped in front of a pass intended for Amani Toomer and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
It was Collins' fourth interception, tying a Super Bowl record held by Denver's Craig Morton (Super Bowl XII), Buffalo's Jim Kelly (XXVI) and New England's Drew Bledsoe (XXXI).
What happened next was exhilarating, but eventually demoralizing, for the Giants.
Dixon's kickoff return for a touchdown cut the lead to 17-7 and seemed to ignite the New York sideline. But Dixon barely had time to reach the water cooler before Lewis took the kickoff from Brad Daluiso and matched Lewis with his return for a score.
They were the first back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns in Super Bowl history.
All that remained was for the Ravens to pound the Giants with running back Jamal Lewis, who finished with 102 yards on 27carries, including his 3-yard run to make it 31-7.
The Giants won seven straight after Fassel's playoff guarantee.
Maybe he should've promised a Super Bowl victory.
"Nobody remembers second place," Giants running back Tiki Barber said.
What people will remember about this Ravens team is how its defense bullied and bloodied everyone it faced. Sunday, it happened to be the Giants, who were 2-for-14 on third-down conversions, gained 2.56 yards a play and were held to 149 yards.
"We have the best defense in the history of the universe," Dilfer said. "And it's fine that some of these old coaches and old players want to argue for their (defenses). They should. But this is just proof. Our defense has proven it time after time. We're a great team because we play to our strengths and we just won the Super Bowl."
Isn't that what Dilfer came to Tampa Bay to do?
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