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Q & A with Brian Billick

Ravens finally Baltimore's own, head coach says

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Posted: Wednesday January 17, 2001 6:59 PM
Updated: Wednesday January 17, 2001 7:29 PM

  Brian Billick Brian Billick has helped turned Baltimore around in just two short years. AP

The toast of the town in this just his second season as Baltimore's head coach, Brian Billick will lead his upstart Ravens into Super Bowl XXXV against the New York Giants on Jan. 28. He spoke with Sports Illustrated's Don Banks on Wednesday in a question and answer session before his team heads to Tampa, Fla., on Monday.

Don Banks: Have you had much time to enjoy the view so far?

Brian Billick: I've had some and I'm starting to take time more to do so. But there was almost an emotional detachment that I felt throughout the AFC Championship Game. In order to get through it and get the job done you almost have to stand back and not let your emotions get too involved. You can't really let yourself say, "Hey, if we win this game we're going to the Super Bowl." There's not time for that.

But now that I see what that victory meant and can enjoy it from a little distance, it's starting to sink in a little bit. I guess it'll be more like a couple weeks before I can really appreciate what we've accomplished. But it has been nice to see where this team has come from.

Banks: Summarize for us the city of Baltimore, the area, the fans' feel for these days?

Billick: Oh, it has been unbelievable. The response has been tremendous. And after losing a team, and then waiting all those years to get football back, this city has embraced this team whole-heartedly. These people have been waiting for something like this.

Banks: Has this team now truly become the Baltimore Ravens, and will never again be described as the transplanted Cleveland Browns?

Billick: I think so. What's great for me is the kids, the younger fans who don't have the memories of the Colts. They have only had the Ravens. The Colts were their father's or their mother's team and the Ravens are their team. That's their allegiance. That has been special to see that happen.

We have been known as the Baltimore Ravens/Cleveland Browns. Or we were Baltimore, but not the Colts. And now I think we're just the Baltimore Ravens on our own. We have an identity of our own. We're the Baltimore Ravens/AFC champions. And in a couple weeks I hope we're known as the Baltimore Ravens/world champions.

Banks: What did it mean to you to help send Art Modell to his first Super Bowl?

Billick: Oh, my goodness. When I think of the moments after the game on Sunday and the excitement and joy that you feel in reaching this goal, and then you look at Art and multiply that 40 times for the 40 years he has owned this team ... you realize how much more it must mean to him to finally get there. That's what is special.

But I saw almost the same look of detachment in Art as I felt at times on Sunday. And maybe that's because he had been so close so many times to reaching the Super Bowl and never quite got there. He had to be preparing himself at some level for another disappointment. And when Oakland looked like they had scored that late touchdown and would be just an onside kick away from having a shot to win, you have to wonder if he was thinking "Here we go again."

But because of the new financial structure of the team and the impending ownership change, with the timeline Art has and what that represents, you couldn't help but want this for him.

Banks: Did you in your wildest dreams think you could get this team to the Super Bowl in your second season on the job?

Billick: I don't think anyone could have imagined we'd be able to get there as fast as we have. That would have been very optimistic on anyone's part. I talked to a reporter this week who is working on a story that looks at if this has ever been done, to go from a perennial loser to the Super Bowl in two years. I lack the historical perspective to know if it has or hasn't.

We knew we had some of the pieces in place here, but in this league, the only constant is change. Just look at how many teams have reached the conference title level once and then not gotten back to that level again. It is a very fast-changing league from year to year and when you get the opportunity to compete at this level, you need to take advantage of it.

Banks: When you look back, what was the key moment or acquisition for this defense that gave it the chance to achieve what it has achieved this year?

Billick: Well certainly drafting Chris McAlister in 1999 and signing Sam Adams last offseason were very important moves. But I think the decision to keep Marvin Lewis as the defensive coordinator and bring in a whole staff of defensive coaches who have had coordinator experience was the key. It allowed us to build on what was already here, and it gave us great teachers at every position of the staff. What we've accomplished on defense has come from having that foundation, that base.

Banks: Given his struggles with Tampa Bay, how happy are you and this team for Trent Dilfer, who gets to return to Raymond James Stadium?

Billick: Anybody who knows Trent is happy for him. And he has handled everything perfectly. He doesn't have any bitterness or vindictiveness within him. He probably has the right to, but he won't go that way. What he has persevered through speaks very well of him. And for us he has been very steady and dependable. He has helped us win 10 games in a row. That says it all.

Banks: Put yourself in the shoes of Lewis. How much do you understand what Marvin's going through having to wait two more weeks to interview for a head-coaching job?

Billick: It's very difficult. But you have to do it. Just as I would have had to do it in 1998 if we would have won the NFC title game in Minnesota. But it's difficult. You'd like to believe that the same opportunities will be available once we're done, but you don't know that for certain.

I think the fact that I just went through this process recently has helped. We've talked about it and I've helped him put together a video for his interviews with owners. It's a hard thing to not let that occupy the front of your mind, but you keep focused on the game ahead and then you take your best shot once that is finished.

Banks: How do you think making the Super Bowl changes the rest of your tenure in Baltimore?

Billick: Well clearly it will elevate the bar of expectations for us. And that's a mixed blessing but it's one I'll take. But everything we do from now on will be measured to an extent by what we did this season. That's the nature of the business.

But I do hope that our fans understand that you can't be assured of making the same things happen for us that have happened this year. There's the whole Dan Marino analogy, where he went to the Super Bowl in his second year and always imagined he'd be back many times. It's a difficult road to get here. But I'd rather have this situation to deal with than never have gotten this far.

Banks: Could you have written a better script than facing Jim Fassel's team in the Super Bowl?

Billick: Naturally given my history with Minnesota, there was a part of me that would have loved to play the Vikings. I'm close to Cris Carter and we still talk all the time. We've talked already this week, and I'm probably closer to him now than I was when I coached him. And everyone knows how I feel about Dennis Green and the respect I have for him.

But if you could have said "Name the one coach from around the league that you'd like to face in the Super Bowl," I would have said Jim Fassel. We've never coached together. He was at Stanford as an assistant when I was with the 49ers on the administrative side, and we got to know each other there. And he was at Utah when I was at Utah State. But we've just been drawn together through the years. He is as good a friend as I have in football.

Over a 15-year period of time, Jim and I, in professional settings, whether it's the combine, the league meetings, whenever there is an opportunity, we seek each other out. We're similar. Jim is usually a part of my mentoring system. If there is something I have to decide on, that I need a little input on, Jim will be at the top of my list of someone I call and say, "Hey, what do you think of this?" Obviously, excluding this week."

Related information
Burning Questions: Dilfer may have advantage in former home stadium
McAlister: Persevering Ravens 'destined to win''s From The Newsstand: Super Bowl XXXV's Super Bowl XXXV Coverage
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