The Giants answer a Ravens interception return for a TD with a kickoff return for a score, but Baltimore has an ace in the hole: Jermaine Lewis.
By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001
TAMPA -- As he sprinted toward the end zone at the end of his 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Jermaine Lewis pointed skyward.
He knew someone special was looking down. He was sure the little guy was smiling.
To everyone in the Ravens family, the gesture symbolized a final closure to what had been a painful time for Lewis.
To the Giants, it meant closure to their hopes of winning another Super Bowl title.
History will say that on a cool January night in Raymond James Stadium, with one momentum-shifting, heartbreaking return, Lewis united the Giants and his stillborn son Geronimo forever in Super Bowl XXXV folklore.
"I just wanted to put everything into closure and move on," said Lewis, who lost his son Dec. 12 and wrote "Geronimo, Rest in Peace" on his wristbands. "I know he's looking out for me. I really already had a message (to him). I was confident that I was going to score today."
Teammate Corey Harris, whose critical block helped spring Lewis down the sideline, said when he saw his teammate turn the corner, he, too, felt a sense of peace.
"I said, "Thank you Jesus,' " Harris said. "Any time you've been through the kind of adversity that we have been through, any time you have a death in the family, our family, any time you work as hard as we did and go through the things that we've been through, it's all the sweeter. It's wonderful to come back and get the goal."
But Lewis' return won't be just an emotional asterisk in his personal scrapbook. It will be engraved as one of the most significant plays in the franchise's brief history.
Late in the third quarter, the Giants fell behind 17-0 after Duane Starks intercepted Kerry Collins and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown. Desperately needing a big play, New York got it when Ron Dixon ran the ensuing kickoff back for a breathtaking 97-yard touchdown.
Down 17-7, the Giants were alive again. The bench suddenly was energized. Their fans -- and their signature white towels -- were bubbling with renewed confidence. Eighteen seconds later, Lewis popped the bubble.
"I felt that they were getting a little momentum and were able to move the ball," said Lewis, who never had returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the NFL. "But when you take one kickoff back, the same guys that are on kickoff team are on kickoff return team and I figured they would be a little bit tired and I could take advantage of them. I did."
Added Ravens coach Brian Billick: "The emotional swing of the game ... you could see it on (the Giants') side. When Jermaine took it back the other way, it was more dramatic. The emotional flop, even though the points were the same, I think had to be devastating to them."
Lewis fielded Brad Daluiso's kickoff at the Ravens' 16 and began a most remarkable run to redemption. He took a few strides upfield and made a sharp cut to the right. With Harris and Sam Gash providing downfield assistance, Lewis dodged and darted into destiny.
His return negated Dixon's heroics and sucked the life from New York for good. "I knew it was over after that," Lewis said. "They needed all they could to score a touchdown, and for us to stick a dagger in them right away, that just really put it away."
Giants veteran tackle Lomas Brown summed it up best.
"That was the big momentum change," Brown said. "We returned the kick and I thought we had the momentum, but they came back like great teams do."