There is one word that has described the Baltimore Ravens over the last two decades: Defense. Whenever people in the media both locally and nationally, or fans of the Ravens and other teams talk about this franchise, they always bring up the defenses that the Ravens have had over the years. Some of the personalities with coaching like Rex Ryan, Brian Billick, Chuck Pagano, John Harbaugh and Marvin Lewis have helped, but it has mainly been the players on the defense with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Chris McAllister and others. As the saying goes, "defense wins championships" and in 2000, no team personified that more than the Ravens. Saturday marked a special day for that mantra, the Ravens, and the city of Baltimore.
On January 28, 2001, the Baltimore Ravens defeated, and destroyed, the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV taking home what would be the teams first of two Lombardi trophy's. Yesterday marked the 16th anniversary of that memorable accomplishment. A year that started with the Ray Lewis controversy, followed by a touchdown-less month which prompted a quarterback change from Tony Banks to Trent Dilfer mid-season, to an 11-game winning streak culminating in their Super Bowl victory. It was not only the team's first Super Bowl championship, but the city of Baltimore's first pro football championship since the Colts in Super Bowls V, 30 years before the Ravens. Up until the Ravens Super Bowl win, Baltimore's last professional sports championship was the Orioles World Series win in 1983.
The Ravens did it the hard way. They did it with a suffocating defense that was, arguably, the greatest defense of all-time. A defense that featured that year's defensive player of the year in Ray Lewis, but also featured two mammoth's up front on the defensive line in Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams, who helped paved the way for Lewis. The team also had solid edge pass rushers in Michael McCrary, Rob Burnett and Peter Bowlware, and a secondary that was led by Rod Woodson and Chris McAllister. Other contributing players were linebacker Jamie Sharper and cornerback Duane Starks, who both made key interceptions in the Super Bowl defeat of the Giants. Together, the defense only allowed 10.3 points per game and the fewest points allowed by a defense ever in a 16 game season with only 165 points given up. What was even more amazing was that they only allowed one touchdown in their entire four game playoff run which included facing offenses that had the likes of Rich Gannon, Steve McNair, Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer, Rod Smith, Jerry Rice and Eddie George.
In the AFC Championship game, the Ravens faced a Raider team that had the top rushing offense in football. The Ravens were the top rushing defense in football. The defense stymied the Raiders rushing attack and only allowed 24 yards rushing in a 16-3 win in Oakland. Heading into the Super Bowl, the Ravens would have to play a Giants team that had shutout the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship Game at Giants Stadium. Quarterback Kerry Collins threw for 351 yards and five touchdowns in that game. Once again, the Ravens and the defense would have to prove itself one last time, and they went out with a bang.
Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer returned to Tampa, the city where he was first quarterbacking the Buccaneers, as a Super Bowl quarterback and Ray Lewis showed off his now infamous squirrel dance in front of the whole world. The Ravens were ready and they struck first with the offense as Dilfer heaved a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon Stokley with 6:50 to go in the first quarter to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead. The rout was on. After kicker Matt Stover kicked a field goal to put the Ravens up 10-0 at the half, Starks got his interception off of Collins late in the third quarter and took it to the house to give the Ravens a 17-0 lead. Little did we know that Starks interception would set off some Super Bowl history as the ensuing kickoff was returned by the Giants Ron Dixon, who proceeded to take it 97-yards for the touchdown to give the Giants their only points of the game. Ravens kick returner Jermaine Lewis would answer right back. Lewis returned the following kickoff 84-yards for the touchdown as Lewis pointed to the sky for his son Geronimo, who was tragically stillborn just a month prior. It was the first time in Super Bowl history that two kickoffs were returned for touchdowns. Not only that, three touchdowns were scored on three consecutive plays in 36 seconds.
With the Ravens up 24-7, the team put the nail in the Giants coffin on a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Jamal Lewis, followed by a Ron Dixon fumble setting up a Stover field goal. The Ravens won the game 34-7, it was no contest. A Giants offense that scored 41 points two weeks before, was held to only 152 total yards and was completely shut out. The Ravens defense forced four turnovers, all interceptions on Collins, a man who had thrown five touchdown passes just two weeks prior. To add to his defensive player of the year award, Ray Lewis was named Super Bowl MVP.
The Ravens Super Bowl victory wasn't met by the hearts of America, many felt that this was a team of thugs and just flat out dirty. The Ravens didn't care. They ignored the doubters and critics and did it their way. Which is something that has carried over to today, especially during the teams next Super Bowl run in 2012. Baltimore loved them and that was all that mattered. The 2000 Ravens were never popular and may never be looked at as one of the best teams to win a Super Bowl, but all those players have to do is look at their Super Bowl ring and remember the trials and tribulations they had to go through to get it. We will never know if this same team would've repeated in 2001 if they brought back Dilfer and Jamal Lewis didn't suffer a torn ACL in training camp. Who knows, maybe they would've stopped the beginning of the dynasty that has now run wild in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
We will sadly never know, but the fact of the matter is this, this 2000 team was a special group. They were a family and Saturday marked a very special day to look back, remember and appreciate the team that brought home Baltimore's first Super Bowl championship since 1970, and after waiting 12 years to get a team back after the Colts skipped town in the middle of the night back in 1984.