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We Told You So

The Ravens tried to tell everybody in Tampa how good they were, but to make believers they had to demolish the Giants

Posted: Tuesday September 11, 2007 3:05PM; Updated: Tuesday September 11, 2007 4:41PM
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By Michael Silver

This story was originally published in the February 7, 2001 issue of Sports Illustrated

Crossing paths in a dimly lit corridor and standing at the doorstep of history, Ray Lewis and Brian Billick got ready for the biggest game of their lives by getting defensive. It was 15 minutes before the kickoff of Super Bowl XXXV when Lewis, the Ravens' unrepentant middle linebacker, and Billick, the team's bombastic coach, held a rare, private conversation that underscored a week's worth of public pronouncements.

Standing outside the Ravens' locker room at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Lewis said to Billick, "They don't understand, do they?" The coach shook his head no. Naturally, Billick understood all that they couldn't comprehend--they being the New York Giants, the 3,300 credentialed members of the media and, to be fair, most of the U.S. sporting public. "We'll show 'em," said Billick.

We now understand that Billick, Lewis and the rest of the Ravens had a right to be arrogant. In annihilating the Giants 34-7, Baltimore's third NFL franchise won its first Super Bowl in the way that Lewis and Billick had said they would all along, with a counterintuitive blend of a statistically challenged offense and a defense whose passion sucks the will out of disbelieving opponents. So go ahead, America, and get defensive: A year after the St. Louis Rams appeared to have turned the NFL into a futuristic video game, the AFC champion Ravens stomped all over the Giants to win an old-school NFL title clash.

Never mind that the cocky team won. Forget, for a moment, that Art Modell, an NFL owner for 40 years who broke a million hearts in Cleveland when he moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996, is enjoying his first taste of Super Bowl glory. Some fans may revile the Ravens, but the Ravens love one another, and it shows in the way their proud defensive players race to the ball in waves. In allowing New York a mere 152 yards and no offensive points, Baltimore was led, as always, by Lewis, who, upon earning Super Bowl MVP honors, completed one of the most remarkable one-year turnabouts the sports world has known.

Consider that 52 weeks earlier, in the wee hours following Super Bowl XXXIV, Lewis was in the midst of a bloody brawl in which two men were knifed to death outside an Atlanta nightclub. Facing murder charges, which were dropped when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing justice, Lewis vowed to channel his anger and frustration into a ferocious championship drive. While he consistently alienated outsiders during pre-Super Bowl interviews by bristling at any notion of remorse--at one point going so far as to portray himself as a Christ figure--Lewis spoke loudest of all with his captivating play. In the end he was the Giants' cross to bear.

"To be here after what happened last year," Lewis said from the victory podium, "it's a feeling you can't describe." Later he added, "I don't mean to disrespect anyone, but we're definitely the best defense of all time. The thing is, the Giants didn't know. You just don't know until you play us, but our defense is a buzz saw."

That buzz saw is one sharp instrument with which Lewis doesn't mind being associated--and, perhaps, a metaphor even Billick might find to his liking. A onetime San Francisco 49ers public relations employee who now fashions himself a full-fledged media critic, Billick spent much of the week castigating reporters for what he called their "absolutely deplorable" coverage of Lewis's legal troubles. The tone of his statements came off as equal parts contentious and condescending, and Billick willfully cast himself as an antihero. Five days before the game, as he sat in his room on the 12th floor of the Ravens' hotel, Billick addressed his behavior as follows: "I believe that the people who know me have a solid respect for my abilities and the way I conduct myself, and whether they think I'm egotistical or arrogant is secondary."

Besides, Billick continued, his statements were subject to the scrutiny of a far more stringent body, a four-woman task force made up of his wife, Kim, daughters Aubree (16) and Keegan (11), and his mother, Mildred. "My daughters' sole purpose is to make sure Dad's head doesn't get too big," Billick said, laughing. "If I say something they think is self-serving, they'll let me know."

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