Ravens Super Bowl team returns, ready to suit up and play

They came back to M&T Bank Stadium Sunday looking a little older and grayer, some looking as if they hadn't missed too many buffets and others as if they had joint-replacement surgery scheduled in the morning. Didn't matter. Oh, did the sell-out crowd show them some love.

These were the Super Bowl XXXV-champion Ravens, some 35 members of that team, anyway, in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that title.

They formed a gantlet during the pre-game introductions and slapped hands with the current Ravens as they raced out of the tunnel. And right then and there, with the stadium an ocean of noise and the sun shining on an absolutely perfect day for football, it was hard to tell who wanted to go smack the Buffalo Bills in the mouth more, the old guys in their Dockers and white game jerseys or the young guys in purple and pads.

"What was really cool," said Tony Siragusa, the mammoth defensive tackle on that championship team, "was everyone [in the gantlet] was going: 'I got another series in me!' All the guys wanted to play. It was like: 'This is what we do.' It was awesome. 'Cause your adrenaline's up. You don't get that feeling once you stop playing."

For the better part of the afternoon, the crowd probably hoped the old guys WOULD suit up, so erratic were the Ravens in their narrow, 37-34 overtime win over winless Buffalo.

But this was a day for the old Super Bowl champs to catch up with old teammates and share memories and drink in the affection of the fans.

What a season that was, 2000, an emotional roller-coaster for both the Ravens and this town.

It opened with the Ravens beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh, 16-0, in their last visit to Three Rivers Stadium. They won three of their first four games, then went 2-3 in October as the offense, in a colossal and embarrassing collapse, failed to score a single touchdown the entire month.

"Going through a five-game touchdown drought on offense, that's probably what I remember most," said running back Jamal Lewis, a rookie out of Tennessee on that Super Bowl-bound team. I think that showed the type of team we really had. [Kicker Matt] Stover kept us in games by putting the ball through the uprights and that's how we scored points."

"Nobody panicked," Siragusa recalled of the October touchdown drought. "And everybody went out there and, defensively, we said: 'All right, we gotta get better.' And as the season went on, we just knew what we had to do and we took it upon ourselves.

"And when the offense finally came long, it was great. But defensively, it was like a band of guys sticking together."

It was a team, the Super Bowl XXXV winners, of oddballs and hotheads and characters, with a nice blend of veterans and young players and a coach, Brian Billick, who seemed to push all the right buttons.

In the pre-game locker room, the defensive linemen would slap AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" on a boombox and work themselves into a lather.

Ray Lewis, in just his fifth season as a Raven, but already the acknowledged leader, would rage through the room.

And if you weren't already pumped up, if you weren't ready to drive a helmet through the wall or at least through the sternum of an opposing player, the great middle linebacker would make sure your mood changed in a hurry.

"Where would you rather be?" Lewis would thunder to his teammates, his voice rising and falling in a preacher's cadence. "Where would you rather be than playing this game at this moment? I got 50 people here that I bought tickets for. And I ain't seen none of them yet. You know why? 'Cause I'd rather be in here with you all. Now where would you rather be?"

And as the season went on, it all came together for the Ravens.

They won their final seven regular-season games, outscoring their opponents 193-63. The defensive unit, which was so tight it held its own Happy Hour on Fridays at a local bar, set a 16-game record by allowing only 165 total points.

The Ravens also set an NFL record by allowing only 970 yards rushing. Football experts debate this all the time: Was that the best defense ever in the NFL?

"In my eyes, absolutely," Siragusa said. "No other defense could go out there and find out what an offense is doing and shut it down. I mean completely. Just shut it down.

"It was amazing to see other team come in here and score a field goal, and they'd be jumping up and down like they won the Super Bowl. And they had three points on the board. That was amazing."

The finish was amazing, too. A 21-3 home win over the Denver Broncos in the AFC wild-card playoff game. A 24-10 win over the Tennessee Titans at Adelphia Coliseum to advance to the AFC Championship game. A 16-3 win over the Oakland Raiders in Oakland to reach the Super Bowl.

And then the icing on the cake: that 34-7 pasting of the New York Giants for their first Super Bowl title.

Sunday, with the old champions in the stadium, it made you think: Maybe history will repeat itself.

Maybe this current Ravens team, now 5-2, has what it takes to get to the Super Bowl, too.

The old Ravens think it can happen again — at least if the Ravens don't throw in too many more clunkers like Sunday, when the defense largely failed to show up.

The old guys know that's not how you get it done in this town.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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