Long after the game, as he dressed in a cramped coach's office, Billick seemed anything but arrogant. "For the first time in my life, I think I finally understand the game—I mean, really understand it," he said, his eyes red and half-closed. "This is the ultimate example of how football is not about the star quarterback, the star running back. It's about team. I know it's a clich�, but I'm almost 47 years old and I finally realize it. Had we sailed through without all the problems, and we hadn't developed such a sense of team, I don't think we'd have had this success. I'm humbled by it. I know people will hear that and say, 'Aw, that's just Billick pandering to the media.' But it's true."
Two rooms away Ray Lewis stood happily at his locker, wearing a lavender paisley-patterned suit and a big grin. He hadn't won over all his critics, but his passionate play made it impossible not to admire him as a football player. Even two of Lewis's former friends, his codefendants who were acquitted in the Atlanta killings, Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, were in awe of the man who testified for the prosecution last May. Sweeting sat in a club-level suite that included several prominent rappers, including Jay-Z, while Oakley watched from a lower-level seat across the stadium. The two men talked by cell phone during the game. "We had to give it to Ray, and to their defense in general, the way they hold people down," Sweeting said at 4 a.m. on Monday, as-he left a party at a Tampa club. "There's a lot of hurt in our relationship, and a lot of people aren't pleased by the way he treated me. But I was happy for him, because I know this week was no picnic for him."
Millions of football fans weren't thrilled with the events of the week, either. But Super Sunday, for better or worse, was Ray Lewis's day in the sun.