Down they went, all those pretty faces, all the fancy offenses with their genius coordinators. The Rams, the Broncos and the Colts—with the No. 1, 2 and 3 offenses, respectively, in the NFL—never got past the wild-card round. The fourth-rated 49ers didn't even make the playoffs, and the conference championship games took care of the Vikings and the Raiders, sitting fifth and sixth.
No Cris Carter and Randy Moss and Robert Smith to quicken the pulses and light up the scoreboard at Super Bowl XXXV. No Daunte Culpepper with his galloping scrambles, or Rich Gannon with his twinkle-toed magic. Gone, all of them gone. The poor devils never had a chance. Swept under by the Big D, as in DEE-fense.
It'll be Giants versus Ravens in the Super Bowl of the Uglies. Yards will be bitterly contested. Quarterbacks will get sacked, runners smacked, guys wearing the 50s and 90s will dictate the tempo, or lack of it.
What's that, you say? The Giants gained 518 yards on the Vikings in their 41-0 NFC title game victory, and Kerry Collins threw five touchdown passes, establishing this club as an offensive force. Oh, sure, but as New York left tackle Lomas Brown, the 16-year veteran, said, "I'm not so much in awe of the 41 as I am of the zero. Zero points for Minnesota—with that offense they brought in here!" A defense-oriented team got hot against a club that had been struggling on defense—that explains what the Giants did on Sunday.
The Ravens? Bullies of the league. Road warriors. Three postseason wins, the last two on the road. They should have been tired on Sunday, playing without a bye and coming off a game against the Titans in which the defense was on the field for 81 snaps. Tired? Ask the Raiders, who picked up one first down and 38 yards in the first half and whose running attack, No. 1 in the league, finished with 24 yards and an average of 1.4 per rush.
The Super Bowl has traditionally been the showcase for All-Pro and budding Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Look at the roster since 1990: Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Brett Favre, John Elway, Kurt Warner. Now? Kerry Collins and Trent Dilfer, two guys on the mend, both salvaged from the scrap heap.
Looking for stars at the so-called skill positions? You'll find some willing workers, but no one on either team who got any Pro Bowl mention. The big names are on the other side of the ball: Ray Lewis, Jessie Armstead, Rod Woodson, Michael Strahan. Never has a Super Bowl been so set up for a defensive guy to win the MVP award.
But that's what makes this game so intriguing. A big play on offense will really be big. A touchdown will be huge. Do you know what the Ravens' record is in games in which they've scored more than six points? It's 15-0, counting the postseason.
Baltimore doesn't figure to score much against New York, unless its defense gets on the board a few times. And after they squelched the Raiders so thoroughly, Ravens defenders admitted they were quite pleased with the prospect of facing the Giants, whose offense had struggled the week before against Philadelphia. Lional Dalton, one of the six or seven players used so effectively in Baltimore's defensive-line mix, echoed the sentiments of his teammates when he said, "We feel the Giants are going to play right into our hands. We've faced them in the pre-season the last five years, and they play the kind of offense we like to see. We love a team that tries to pound the ball. No one's done it to us yet."
Ah, but did he see the NFC Championship Game? No, he admitted. That might change the Ravens' perspective a bit.