TAMPA, Fla. -- It took 30 years and no small amount of heartache and tears,but Baltimore is on top of the football world once again.
The surprising Ravens completed their magical playoff run with a wild andone-sided 34-7 victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV andpresented the city with its first NFL championship since the Colts won SuperBowl V in 1971.
Call it the Purple Reign.
Call it whatever you want.
The sellout crowd of 71,921 at Raymond James Stadium -- and a worldwidetelevision audience estimated at 800 million -- witnessed one of the mostdominating defensive performances in Super Bowl history.
And, as an added bonus, the sports fans of Baltimore got to enjoy the rarespectacle of a New York team totally undressed, after years of sufferingthrough New York Yankees baseball dominance.
"To the people of Baltimore City, to the people of Baltimore County, to allthe people of Maryland, this belongs to you," Ravens owner Art Modell said ashe accepted the Vince Lombardi Trophy from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
There were big plays all over the place. Duane Starks returned aninterception for a touchdown. Jermaine Lewis ran back a kickoff for another.Jamal Lewis rushed for 102 yards. Ray Lewis was everywhere, including on thestage after the game to receive the Pete Rozelle Most Valuable Player trophy.
"We told them before we left, `We're going to bring you back a worldchampionship,' " he said. "We told them we would ... and we did."
This one is for all those cold Sunday afternoons when they were playingfootball everywhere but Baltimore.
This one is for that cold March night in 1984 when Robert Irsay and theColts slithered out of town. All is not forgiven, but now we can beginforgetting.
This one is for Modell, who -- sadly -- had to do the same thing to thecity of Cleveland to get in position for his first Super Bowl.
This is for all the people who fought to bring an expansion team toBaltimore, only to be told that they would be better off with another museum.
Baltimore has some great museums. Now, it has another Super Bowlchampionship.
"We're the best team in football and we proved it," said quarterback TrentDilfer, who made his return to Tampa triumphant with some clutch passes in thefirst half. "We knew it. We had the heart, the will and the confidence. Weknew we had a great team. Today was just a matter of going out and provingwhat we already knew."
In a perfect world, they'd truck the Lombardi trophy back to Baltimore in aMayflower moving van, but the Ravens will have to settle for a championshipparade downtown tomorrow at 11 a.m.
The team returns to Baltimore today, but fans are asked not to try to greetthem at either Baltimore-Washington International Airport (they will notarrive through a public terminal) or the Ravens complex in Owings Mills.
What a night!
The evening began with a stirring pre-game ceremony that featured thelegendary Ray Charles Charles singing "America the Beautiful," the BackstreetBoys delivering the national anthem and appearances by rock singer Sting andveteran rock group Styx.
The second half featured an uncharacteristic offensive flurry that made amockery of the 3-point betting line and two weeks of predictions that thiswould be one of the closest Super Bowls in history.
"I'm just numb right now," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "I don't have ateam to prepare for next week, so I'm just numb."
All he has to prepare for now is the parade and finding a replacement fordefensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who is all but certain to leave the teamfor a head coaching position.
Once again, the Ravens faced a predominantly hostile crowd. There were alot of Ravens fans in attendance, particularly in the north end zone, butTampa is something of a New York suburb. The Yankees hold spring trainingacross the street from the site of Super Bowl XXXV.
No problem. That seems to be the perfect environment for the Ravens'smash-mouth, defense-oriented style of play.
They went into the pit in Tennessee and knocked off the defending AmericanFootball Conference champion Titans to reach the AFC championship game. Theywent into one of the most hostile stadiums in professional sports a week laterand dominated the Oakland Raiders.
Compared to that, the NFC champion Giants were a piece of cake. The Ravensdefense surrendered just one touchdown in four postseason games. If theyaren't the best defensive unit in history, they want to know who is.
"I'm biased," said Billick, "but who cares? Somebody tell me they're not."