Let's get it out on the table. Members of the Ravens team that capped the 2000 season by winning Super Bowl XXXV are thrilled that the current squad is competing for the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 3.
"These guys have earned the right to be in the Super Bowl," former Ravens linebacker Brad Jackson said. "Hopefully, after 60 minutes next Sunday, they'll join us behind the velvet rope as Baltimore Ravens world champions. We embrace that. It's been far too long since the city of Baltimore has gotten to call ourselves world champions again. We thought it was going to happen in 2006, and last year was a great year for them to get it done. This year, it's all in front of them. All they have to do is go out and do what they do for 60 minutes. If they do what they do for 60 minutes, they'll have the same result: world champions."
But for the record, players from the 2000 squad insist that if they could play against the 2012 team with both sides in their prime, it wouldn't be much of a contest.
"If you asked me to pick a team to win, well, of course the 2000 Ravens," said Mike Flynn, who started 14 of 16 games at guard that season. "If we played them, the spread is 6 1/2 going in."
Added defensive end Rob Burnett: "It would be a low-scoring game, that's for sure. Even with [quarterback] Joe Flacco, I don't think this team would be able to put up as many points as it does against our defense. I'd say we'd win a close game. I'd say we'd win a 7-3 ballgame just because of our defense and because we'd also have [inside linebacker] Ray Lewis in his fourth year."
As the Ravens make their final preparations before leaving for New Orleans on Monday, comparisons to the 2000 squad are inevitable. That's what happens when a community has waited 12 years for a return to the Super Bowl.
Lewis is the only player left from the 2000 team, and he said he sees a few similarities between both squads.
"When you think about this team and the 2000 [Super Bowl team], the kinds of things you see is we have a great mix of it all," said Lewis, who will retire after Sunday's game. "We have youth, we have athleticism, we have wisdom, we have leadership — we have it at all different levels. That's kind of the thing we had in 2000 that was very, very special."
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who has overseen the building of the organization's roster since it moved from Cleveland in 1996, said he was reminded of a similarity during a conversation with former Ravens coach Brian Billick.
"He said, 'Ozzie, those past four or five weeks of the season going into the playoffs, anything I asked that team to do, they would do.' And I think John [Harbaugh] will say the same thing," Newsome said. "The way the team has responded to John and his coaches, how he's asked them to practice, the different things like that, how he wants them to prepare, I think that has been very similar as to the way that it was in 2000."
Then again, there are some very glaring differences. The first involves the offense. The 2000 unit endured a five-game stretch in which it didn't score a touchdown en route to 333 points in the regular season and was forced to rely heavily on running back Jamal Lewis to move the chains.
The current offense — led by Flacco and running back Ray Rice — set a franchise mark with 398 points.
"They are very balanced," Jamal Lewis said. "When we went to the Super Bowl, we were not balanced. We were heavy with the run and [quarterback] Trent Dilfer threw to [tight end] Shannon Sharpe and just minimized his mistakes. Now, it's Flacco going for the deep ball, taking a shot and managing the game, Ray Rice doing his thing running the football and controlling the line of scrimmage, and hey, they have big-time receivers out there that are going down there and making it happen. It's more of a balanced attack now mixed in with their defense."
Former Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware wouldn't go as far as wishing that he had the current offense, but he did note that life would have been a lot easier.
"We had some name-brand guys, but our offense was built in such a way that we get a lead on defense and we'll just be conservative on offense," he said. "We were never built on our offense to come back or overcome a deficit or to try to win on offense. Our team was built on great defense, great special teams and solid offense, and that's how we won. This Ravens team now with Flacco and the way they've been playing, they can put up a lot of points. They can score and be a very, very effective offense."
The other major difference is on defense. The 2000 unit established NFL records in both points and rushing yards allowed in a 16-game regular season, surrendering just 165 points and 970 yards.
The current defense permitted 344 points and 1,965 rushing yards and finished the regular season as the first one to finish outside of the league's top 10 in yards allowed since 2002.
Burnett pointed out that the 2012 unit has been decimated by injuries. Only two players — free safety Ed Reed and cornerback Cary Williams — started all 16 regular-season games. In 2000, eight of the defense's 11 primary players started every game in the regular season. Boulware, defensive tackle Tony Siragusa and cornerback Duane Starks missed just one start each.
"We had some guys with a lot of miles on them, some guys that had played for a lot of coaches who believed in the old-school, beat-them-up-during-the-week practices," Burnett said. "But Brian came in and instilled the no-padded practices, and he was able to keep us fresh so that our best football was played on Sunday. A lot of coaches had to see it live, had to see it on Wednesday and Thursday when your body wasn't fully recovered from the previous Sunday. Brian came right on time. That hire by Mr. [Art] Modell and Ozzie Newsome was brilliant because I think Brian was able to bring the chemistry together, especially defensively where we were able to give the organization all that we had on Sundays when it counted."
If there's one thing Qadry Ismail has noticed about the current Super Bowl run, it's the groundswell of emotion and support from the Baltimore area and beyond. The former wide receiver noted that social media like Twitter and Facebook has given fans a chance to connect with the Ravens here and abroad.
"The dudes here, they've got 30,000 or 100,000 people following them," Ismail said. "I'm just realizing that if the social network was up and running the way it is now, I could see where we would have this level of excitement because the fans would have a sense of being more connected to the guys. This group here, as far as fanbase, they're in a league of their own."