Billick made a guarantee of his own
TAMPA, Fla. -- Flying here Monday morning, I thought a lot about the weirdness of it all, the oddity of the Ravens-Giants, who between them were a combined playoff-less 15-17 a year ago. And I thought of the Halloween night I spent with Baltimore head coach Brian Billick last fall, finishing the fine-tuning for a crucial game that could determine the fate of the Ravens' season.
Baltimore was 5-4. The Ravens had just gone the entire month of October without scoring a touchdown. Billick's offensive brain was getting attacked from all sides. This is part of the item I wrote on the Ravens when I sat down after the vital game with the Bengals the following weekend in Cincinnati:
"The combined weight of a three-game losing streak and five full games without a touchdown -- two quarters shy of an NFL record -- was felt throughout the Ravens' organization last week. Art Modell called the slump the worst his team had been through in the almost 40 years he has owned the franchise. "'I haven't seen a drought like this since the Oklahoma dust bowl,'" he said. The day after the streak reached 20 quarters, two assistants had to be separated during an argument over blocking assignments."
So how was Billick handling it? After spending 2 1/2 hours with him while he put together an offensive game plan, you walk out of his office thinking, This guy could make quadruple-bypass surgery sound like trimming an ingrown toenail ... "'Now we're 5-4 with the Number 1 defense in the league,'" Billick said. "'Anyone who looks at our offensive film knows that what we're doing is sound and that we've just hit a tough stretch. When I look back on this year, I know that how we handled this streak, and how we came out of it, will be what I remember more than anything.'"
Billick, I thought, was somewhere between Pollyanna and Dale Carnegie that night. But what's wrong with that, if you believe it? That was his point to me. "John Wooden," he told me, "cuts to the heart of the matter about times like these. He says, 'Why do we dread adversity when we know that facing it is the only way to get stronger, smarter and better?' We've got to keep this in perspective. We've lost three games in a row against three of the best defenses in the league [Washington, Tennessee, Pittsburgh]. We've played five of seven on the road. We have to, and we will, fight the urge to let human nature take over and start blaming each other and pointing fingers. There is no emotion I detest more than self-pity, and I will not allow it. When we come out of it and start winning -- and we will; I guarantee it -- we'll all look back on this period knowing it was only a bump in the road."
There it was. The "G" word.
Billick knew if the team died, he would get a big share of the blame. Because it was he who went with the Tony Banks-Trent Dilfer quarterback duo, he who thought he had enough offense to pair with his very good defense. "I know," he acknowledged, "I am responsible for everything this team does, and will do. I've never shied away from that. I know I'm a good football coach. We'll all see where it goes from here."
That was the night kids trick-or-treated, and the Ravens haven't lost since. Ten consecutive. I remember talking to Shannon Sharpe the next day, and he was pushing the underused, kid running back, Jamal Lewis, saying, in effect, that the Ravens were forcing the deep ball too much. The next Sunday, in Cincinnati, Lewis ate up the Bengals. That's the way this team has to play. Control the clock with the running game. Play field-position football. Let the defense play offense.
I'm looking forward to seeing Billick here Monday night and fitting him with a seer's cap.
Bizarre media note of the day
The New York Post is employing Dusty Ziegler to write a daily diary at the Super Bowl, and this morning's entry included news that the coaches had warned the players not to get any lap dances at the local strip clubs, because lap dances are now illegal in Tampa. "I don't want to go to Mons Venus or any places like that and get caught with my hand in the cookie jar," Ziegler writes.
Dusty, do you mean that figuratively?
I'm really hoping you do.
Ziegler diary quote of the day
From Ziegler, in his diary, on his Tampa roommate, backup lineman Chris Bober: "He snores a little bit too loud. Sometimes he talks in his sleep a little bit. It's really bad when he falls off his bed and shakes the room. He fell off the bed one night, hit the night stand, rattled it."
1. I think it's pretty weird when the Delta Express pilot announces it's 44 degrees in Tampa. It'll be 44 on Tuesday in Jersey. Shall I renew my call for San Diego to be the everlasting Super Bowl site?
2. I think, speaking of San Diego, this is the reason the Chargers should trade the No. 1 pick in the draft for three picks in the top 40, which is about equal to what Michael Vick could fetch them: You can get to the Super Bowl without a franchise quarterback. Three of the last four Super Bowl QBs have been guys who became unrestricted free agents after their original teams gave up on them. The Bucs gave up on Dilfer, enabling him to sign for a year in Baltimore. The Panthers and Saints gave up on Kerry Collins, who jumped to the Giants. Last year, Steve McNair was a No. 1 pick still playing for his original team, the Oilers/Titans. But Kurt Warner had been dumped by the Packers four years earlier and navigated his way back to the NFL, begging anyone for a job. I am not dissing Vick here. I am simply saying the Chargers have huge holes to fill all over their roster, and if they're wrong about another quarterback, they won't win until Junior Seau's son plays for them.
3a. I think Tony Siragusa is absolutely right. He did nothing to deserve the $10,000 fine for hitting Rich Gannon, other than being fat. Memo to the NFL: The purpose for fining players in cases of overt physicality is to punish them for dirty hits. Siragusa's was not a dirty hit. It was a clean, hard, WWF rollover.
3b. I think, speaking of the Gooseman, this was part of the dialog between Siragusa and Giants defensive end Michael Strahan when they met, face to face in angry poses, last week at a bar in Pine Brook, N.J., to shoot this week's Sports Illustrated cover:
Goose: "If you kiss me, I'll kill you."
Strahan: "Believe me, there's no danger of that."
Siragusa's mom, sitting nearby: "Tony, you can take him!"
Strahan, not knowing this was his mom: "C'mon lady! This is Giants country!"
Siragusa: "Tell him, Mom!"
4. I think I need a little help. Because I was flying this morning, I missed the 9 a.m. sale of U2 tickets for the June 17 show at Madison Square Garden. Brother, can you spare a pair?
5. I think at least one of the Giants' wives is very angry about the team's travel schedule. The families arrive on Thursday. This one wife is furious that her man will have four nights of partying fun without her. She says her man will be working the strip clubs hard before Giants curfew, and she wants to be here to keep tabs on him. Ma'am, at the Super Bowl, men will be men.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King will file daily reports from Super Bowl XXXV. Check back tomorrow through Sunday by 2 p.m. to, in King's words, "find the good, the bad, the ugly and the latte of Super Bowl week."