This matchup is about a lot more than defense
Updated: Monday January 22, 2001 4:57 PM
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- It's the immovable force against the immovable force, defensive powers that started the year as longshots. Yet this Super Bowl between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens is hardly unlikely.
The key is the system that benefited both teams.
The Giants were 7-9 in 1999, 14-4 this season. The Ravens went from 8-8 to 15-4. Last year's contestants were the St. Louis Rams, who improved from 4-12 to 16-3, and the Tennessee Titans, who went from 8-8 to 16-4.
"No, I hardly expected this," says Ernie Accorsi, the Giants' general manager. "I thought we'd contend for a playoff spot. But this is the salary cap.
"There's nothing left of the old system. There's very little distance between the good teams and the average ones. A break one way or the other and you're up or down."
So, look at this game as a classic defensive struggle, fit for the 1930s, when scoreless ties or finals of 3-0 were not so rare.
The Ravens set a record this season for fewest points allowed, 165 in 16 games, while yielding the fewest yards rushing in the NFL and second-fewest overall. The Giants were second against the run and fifth overall on defense.
The Giants arrived in Tampa on Sunday afternoon.
Lewis' troubles were far more serious: a charge of double murder lodged against him in the stabbing of two men outside an Atlanta night club following last year's Super Bowl. He eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and received probation from the courts and a $250,000 fine from the NFL.
Lewis said that gave him incentive for this season, when he was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year, a middle linebacker whose style of play was in the Dick Butkus-Ray Nitschke mold.
"After I fought for my life in Atlanta, everyone said, 'He might not be the same again. He might not get 100 tackles. Ray Lewis will never be the player he was.' Well, they were absolutely correct," Lewis said. "I'm not the same player. I'm better."
While Ravens head coach Brian Billick calls the charges "a non-issue," Lewis faces another test on media day Tuesday. Then, surrounded by hundreds of interrogators, he will be bombarded by questions about the Atlanta case. Even for an athlete who has been well coached and dealing with a far less incendiary topic, these mass-interview sessions can be troubling.
Collins, the Giants' quarterback, led the Carolina Panthers to the NFC championship game in 1996, the second year in the NFL for both player and team. But his career spiraled downward, a trip fueled by alcohol.
He was accused of making a racist remark to a teammate, asked out of Carolina in 1998 and was photographed walking down a New Orleans street puffing on a cigar after being released from jail on a drunk-driving charge.
After being released by the Panthers, he spent a half-season in New Orleans, then signed with the Giants at the beginning of the 1999 season for $16.9 million over four years.
This was his comeback season -- his 3,610 yards passing were the third-best in team history, and he threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns in the 41-0 win against Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game.
He makes his apologies Monday evening. Then, say Collins and head coach Jim Fassel, he will talk only about football.
What about football?
The Ravens, who moved to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996, are here despite a stretch in October when they went five games without scoring a touchdown. Trent Dilfer took over at quarterback for Tony Banks for the ninth game, a 9-6 loss to Pittsburgh, and now has won 10 consecutive.
Dilfer is returning to Tampa, where he played for six years with the Bucs.
The Giants are returning to the city of their last Super Bowl victory, a 20-19 thriller against Buffalo 10 years ago.
This team probably isn't as good as that one, and certainly not as good as the one that won the Giants' first Super Bowl in 1987.
But nobody is these days.
As Wellington Mara, the Giants' 84-year-old owner, put it after the win against Minnesota: "We were the worst team to get home field in the playoffs. We were the worst team to get to a championship game. Now we'll be the worst team ever to win a Super Bowl."
Another owner might be saying the same thing next season.