Maybe no moment in ESPN Films’ “30 for 30″ documentary “Bullies of Baltimore,” which aired Sunday night, captured the 2000 Super Bowl season better than coach Brian Billick holding up the Sports Illustrated cover declaring the Tennessee Titans the best team in the NFL.
“Maybe they are, but just not today,” Billick said to his players as they yelled, screamed and celebrated a 24-23 upset win over the host Titans in Week 11. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, beating the New York Giants, 34-7, in Tampa, Florida, yet that game against the Titans, as well as a 24-10 divisional-round playoff win over Tennessee, were the defining moments of one of the league’s most fascinating teams.
The documentary captured the flavor of that squad. The Ravens were bullies because they beat up on opponents, holding them to an NFL-record 165 points in 16 regular-season games, including four shutouts and seven other games in which they allowed no more than one touchdown.
On the way to the title, the Ravens backed up every word with an undeniable swagger that the film encapsulated well.
As middle linebacker Ray Lewis said, “if they don’t score, they can’t win.”
But the documentary was also about some of the characters on the roster. Watching and listening to the late Tony Siragusa again was priceless. There were times when he was direct and charming, and others when he was brutal or vulgar. The locker room was his domain.
There will never be another Shannon Sharpe. He was the voice the Ravens needed on offense. The tight end talked trash while attempting to gain a psychological advantage.
In the first “Hard Knocks,” which featured the 2001 Ravens, Sharpe was hilarious and stole the show. Linebacker Tim Johnson impersonating him was unforgettable, but his best line was right before the Ravens played the Titans in the divisional round the year before.
There was a lot of chatter between the teams and the Ravens’ pregame quotes had become bulletin board material in Tennessee. In pregame introductions, the Ravens were heavily booed.
“Whatever they said we said, we said it,” Sharpe yelled on the sidelines.
That summed up the 2000 Ravens: they didn’t apologize and backed up their trash talk.
The Ravens’ playoff win against Tennessee is still my all-time favorite because it had everything you’d want in a win-or-go-home game. Billick had become public enemy No. 1 with his rant in the locker room after the Week 11 win, and it was shown on the Jumbotron before the game. Billick and Titans coach Jeff Fisher didn’t like each other, and neither did their players. Tennessee opened the game with an 11-play, 68-yard scoring drive that was followed by expletives yelled from the crowd at Billick.
The Ravens answered with a four-play, 57-yard scoring drive to open the second quarter, and Billick screamed expletives back at the crowd. It was a grueling, punishing game, but the Ravens scored on Anthony Mitchell’s 90-yard return of a blocked field goal attempt in the fourth quarter and Lewis secured the win with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Afterward, Billick delivered the “banshee speech,” one of his best postgame news conferences ever, and Titans running back Eddie George came into the Ravens’ locker room to give Lewis a hug.
It was that kind of a moment, that kind of game, and Lewis was simply the best player in the NFL at that time. Because of the team’s dominant defense and Lewis’s involvement in a double murder case in Atlanta following a Super Bowl party on Jan. 31, 2000, the Ravens were hated outside of Baltimore. Lewis eventually negotiated a plea and was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of obstruction.
That nationwide hatred only fueled the Ravens, who went on to beat the Oakland Raiders, 16-3, in the AFC championship game before thrashing the Giants for their first title.
The 2000 Ravens didn’t just beat teams; they took away opposing players’ desire to compete. Ask Cincinnati running back Corey Dillon, who chose not to go back on the field in a Week 3 game in Baltimore that season. Bengals coach Bruce Coslet resigned the next day.
The Ravens had a chance to repeat in 2001, but those ambitions were wiped away early in training camp when both running back Jamal Lewis and right tackle Leon Searcy went down with season-ending knee injuries. The Ravens also brought in Elvis Grbac to replace starting quarterback Trent Dilfer, a move that drew criticism but was desperately needed.
The documentary touched on those topics but missed out on some other great contributors during that season. I would have liked to have seen defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis get more credit. He changed that unit from a run-and-react style under former Browns coach Bill Belichick to an attacking style here in Baltimore. The defense was loaded with characters, and Marvin Lewis kept them all under control.
ESPN also missed out on the defensive line and how they were the heart and soul of the team. Besides Siragusa, there was moody tackle Sam Adams and ends Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett. McCrary was the overgrown kid who would fly around with the laser jet backpack and drive army tanks, and Burnett was the quiet, underrated strongman.
The Ravens had two dynamic pass rushers in McCrary and outside linebacker Peter Boulware, and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks specialized in press coverage. Special teams also had their standouts in gunner Billy Davis and kicker Matt Stover, who made all 30 of his extra point attempts and 35 of 39 field goal attempts that year to earn first-team All-Pro honors.
There was also no mention of the late Ted Marchibroda, the former Ravens coach who couldn’t win in Baltimore because the team had no cash flow. He deserves credit for lining things up for Billick, especially when you consider left tackle Jonathan Ogden, Boulware, Ray Lewis, wide receiver Jermaine Lewis and weak-side linebacker Jamie Sharper were drafted under his watch.
Overall, ESPN could have turned this into a three-hour film. Instead, they captured the spirit and passion of a city still in love with football and a team that has a special place in NFL history. They brought back some of the characters who made the 2000 Ravens’ playoff run memorable.
And they captured the flavor of it all pretty well.