Offensive ugliness stands out
In October, when they did not score a touchdown of any kind over five games, the Ravens did not even look like a playoff team, much less a Super Bowl champion.
To this day, I still marvel over how coach Brian Billick kept the team from splintering and the locker room from becoming a hostile enclave. Forget about the quarterback issues that would haunt Billick the rest of his time here. He should be remembered, instead, for defusing a potentially devastating failure of the offense and keeping harmony on a team with unqualified ambition. It was his finest hour as coach, and the Super Bowl was the reward for his ability to manage the massive egos that dominated the locker room.
That offense was the ugly stepsister to a bawdy Ravens defense that registered four regular season shutouts and would have had another in the Super Bowl had it not been for a special teams breakdown. When pressure and expectation finally got to quarterback Tony Banks and the drought spiraled out of control, Trent Dilfer stepped in to save the season. Dilfer, a castoff from the Tampa Bay Bucs, had something to prove and he did with gritty determination.
Once the drought was broken, it was a different team, a dominating team. With Jamal Lewis running behind Jonathan Ogden and Shannon Sharpe pulling down big passes from Dilfer, the Ravens averaged 27 points over the final seven games – all wins -- of the regular season to roll into the playoffs.
The offense had finally found its personality. Left guard Edwin Mulitalo christened the playoffs " Festivus Maximus" after a made-up holiday from a Seinfeld episode, and Billick finally cancelled the ban he imposed on use of the word "playoffs."
When the Ravens intimidated Denver in the wild-card round, I didn't think they could be stopped. But they nearly were the following week in Nashville. With a scant 134 total yards, the Ravens needed two return touchdowns by Anthony Mitchell (90 yards with a blocked field goal) and Ray Lewis (50 yards with an interception) in the fourth quarter to beat the Titans, 24-10.
Lombardi Trophy, victory parade, the Ravens had it all. For all the great vibes that ride produced, the speed bump the Ravens hit soon after when they decided not to re-sign Dilfer had its repercussions. With Elvis Grbac, there would be no repeat. That's too bad, because this was a team that should have had two rings.
Numbers stand out, characters shine
The Ravens' defense will be always be defined by their numbers.
The Ravens set 16-game records in points (165) and rushing yards (970) allowed. They recorded four shutouts, one shy of the post-merger NFL record held by the 1976 Steelers. They finished first in the league in six defensive categories.
But this defense should be remembered for its characters.
The defensive line relied on a New Jersey tough guy ( Tony Siragusa) and a moody force nicknamed "Sybil" in the middle ( Sam Adams). The linebackers featured the emotional heart of the team (Ray Lewis) and a quiet yet dominant pass rusher ( Peter Boulware). The secondary followed the voice of experience and wisdom ( Rod Woodson) and thrived on its brash, cocky young corner ( Chris McAlister).
What made this defense so special was how all of these diverse personalities melded together for one mission: To forge its place in history with a Super Bowl title.
You never had the feeling that the 11 starters would become life-long friends, but they always trusted each player would handle his job. No one wanted to let down a teammate. No one wanted to be considered the weak link.
There was a professional peer pressure at work with the Ravens. Players practiced hard every day and never took plays off during games because they knew Lewis or another teammate would lay into him once he got back to the huddle. It's not coincidental that Adams' only two Pro Bowl seasons came during his only years with the Ravens.
There was an aura surrounding the Ravens from their season-opening shutout in Pittsburgh through their playoff run where they gave up one touchdown. The Ravens had swagger. Their opponents had fear.
The Ravens didn't just stuff running backs. They made them quit. Cincinnati's Corey Dillon once waved off coach Bruce Coslet about going back into the game and Tennessee's Eddie George lasted one rush against the Ravens before injuring his knee.
The Ravens' pass rush didn't just harass quarterbacks. It knocked them out of the game. The Bengals' Akili Smith left after a bone-rattling hit by Rob Burnett and the Raiders' Rich Gannon tapped out after Siragusa drove him into the ground in the AFC championship game.
Perhaps the only disappointment is this defense didn't have a few more years together like the Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain or Minnesota's Purple People Eaters. But for this one season, the Ravens had a defense for the ages.
A Super encounter, a year later
Here's what I remember about Super Bowl XXXV: Not much.
I was assigned to write the story on the fans, reacting on the homefront to what was going on in Tampa. What that meant was I spent most of the game on the phone in the newsroom taking quotes and scenes from reporters spread out around town. They got some great stuff — from a pregnant fan who went into labor before game time to the raucous, traffic-stopping victory party that broke out at the Inner Harbor — but I was two degrees removed from all the action.
So my favorite Super Bowl-related memory actually came a year later.
I was in Stillwater, Minnesota, for a story — I was a national correspondent for The Sun back then — and had one of those awkward chunks of time you end up with on the road. I'd already given up my hotel room, but still had a couple hours to kill before my next interview.
Stop reading now if you're a bean counter for the newspaper, because what I did was go for a manicure at a day spa. The woman checking me in asked for my phone number and, just as I was giving it, a cute couple walked in. The wife said something like: 410? You must be from Baltimore. We just moved from there.
In the waiting room, they told me how much they missed the city, and it sounded like they'd only moved because of work. I asked them what they did, and the man said, um, I was with the Baltimore Ravens, now I'm with the Minnesota Vikings.
It was our great punter of that great season, Kyle Richardson.
Jean MarbellaCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun