Twelve years later, the play sticks in Jeff Mitchell's mind. The one-time Ravens center can still hear the collision, see the Denver player fold and sense the game turning on one bone-jarring hit.
"I'd never seen anything like it," Mitchell said of the play that occurred early in the Ravens' victory over Denver in the 2000 playoffs. "Our fullback, Sam Gash, was lead blocker on an outside run when he met up with Bill Romanowski, the Broncos' linebacker who'd been trash-talking all week in the media.
"Now, Sam was no King Kong. He looked like any guy on the street, but when he hit someone, he'd explode. Sam hit Bill so hard that (Romanowski's) helmet fell off and the pads inside of it flew out. Sam just laid him out. It was fun to watch – and it set the tone for the game."
The Ravens defeated Denver, 21-3 en route to the Super Bowl. Those were the best of times for Mitchell, the 300-pound gatekeeper of an offensive line that carved holes for running back Jamal Lewis and gave haven to quarterback Trent Dilfer.
But he can't explain the club's mid-season funk, when it went five straight games without scoring a touchdown, three of them losses. Mitchell missed two of those setbacks with an ankle sprain.
"That (slump) was painful to watch," he said. "We kept waiting for (coach Brian) Billick to walk into the offensive meeting, raise hell and chew everyone's (butt) off. You'd expect him to freak out, but all he said was, 'It's going to end soon, and we'll score some touchdowns.'
"He was right."
Though a fixture on that title team, Mitchell had struggled early on. A fifth-round pick from Florida in 1997, he tore up his right knee in camp and sat out a season.
The next year, he started at center as the team christened Ravens (now M&T Bank) Stadium.
"All of the players loved the Jumbotron screen," Mitchell said. "In the huddle, the offensive linemen would watch replays to see what they'd done right or wrong. I remember an intense game (in 2000) when Trent smashed his finger in my face and screamed, 'Hey, hey, HEY! LOOK AT ME!' "
That was the last of Mitchell's four years in Baltimore. Championship ring — but no long-term contract — in hand, he signed instead with the Carolina Panthers, played five more years and retired.
Now 38, he lives with his wife and two children in Charlotte, N.C., where Mitchell and his father own a firm that makes replacement triggers for hunting rifles.
He has shed 50 pounds off his playing weight, mindful of the health problems that plague many former players.
"I stopped eating for four people, for the sake of my heart and my joints," he said. "I sold my body (as an athlete), but I knew what I was doing, and that there would be repairs down the road.
"I'm just trying to to conserve the cartilage. We've only got so many steps in us, and I've used a lot of mine."
Last month, for the first time since he left town, Mitchell returned with his son Jack, 13, to watch the Ravens stomp the New York Giants, as they had in Super Bowl XXXV — Mitchell's final game with the club.
"Jack is a huge Ray Lewis fan, and has been ever since his mother told him that Ray used to carry him around the ballpark as a baby. He wears number 52 on his seventh-grade football team," Mitchell said.
On the sideline, during warm-ups, he introduced his son to the Ravens linebacker, who autographed the Lewis jersey on Jack Mitchell's back.
"Then Ray and I hugged, and talked about the good times," Jeff Mitchell said.
Glancing at his son, he caught an expression of awe:
"Jack looked at me, like, 'Gee, dad, you really DO know these guys!' "Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun