A few days ago, I came across the excellent NFL films documentary “America’s game: The 2000 Baltimore Ravens.” It had been a long time since I had watched it, so I decided to sit down and relive some of the team’s past glories.
The hour long retelling of one of the greatest football teams ever assembled, who shocked the sports world in their first ever playoff run culminating in a Super Bowl championship is absolutely fantastic. And my viewing of it got me to thinking about something. Head coach Brian Billick, the decidedly central character in the story of the team, isn't in the Ravens’ ring of honor, their proverbial hall of fame.
After watching, I came out thinking that this is not only a disservice to Coach Billick, but also to the Ravens franchise, and the fans who follow it. This is something that in the past has been posited by ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, Russell Street Report’s Tony Lombardi, and other well respected figures in the Baltimore Sports media landscape.
This notion can be supported by what the team and the franchise on the whole identify as, and would eventually become as a result of the seeds that Billick’s effort planted. That is, a confident, blue collar, hard working team that has a ton of swagger and isn't afraid of anything or anyone.
This can very much be observed in “America’s Game,” as Billick’s brash tough guy persona led to clashes with the media, and more importantly, results on the field. Several sound bites from the show serve as evidence to that, and also as great entertainment:
“He would go out there to face the media, and take the hits for us,” said Ray Lewis in reference to Billick’s relationship with the press. That 2000 team won ugly in every sense of the word, and were hardy a darling of the so-called experts. To the head coach’s credit, that was in opposition to everything he had ever learned.
Two years prior, Billick had built the highest scoring offense in NFL history with the Minnesota Vikings, and was hired by Baltimore in 1999 to presumably win in that fashion. Instead, he won the Super Bowl the next season with castoff quarterback Trent Dilfer who started the 2000 campaign as the team’s backup.
Reflecting on the confidence that Billick helped to instill in the franchise, Dilfer called back to a moment prior to the team’s first ever playoff run. Speaking to the team, Billick challenged them to take advantage of the stage:
Dilfer summarized his experience with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as one where the coaches would simply state that just getting to the playoffs was their goal, and it is certainly a good one to have in a league where job security isn’t at all guaranteed. But that isn't Billick, and thanks to him that isn't the Ravens either.
Without Billick, I have a hard time believing that Baltimore would be widely recognized as one of the only team’s that can go into Foxboro or Heinz Field and come out with a victory on the biggest stage. The fact that they have is a credit to John Harbaugh, but also to his predecessor for creating an environment and an identity of pure self confidence and confidence in each other.
“He was constantly fueling this ‘us against the world’ mentality,” said Dilfer. “The league is trying to screw us, nobody thinks we matter,’ and that was great, it definitely motivated some guys.”
That should sound very similar to any current Ravens fans who have heard Terrell Suggs unapologetically rail against the Steelers and Patriots, or have heard John Harbaugh and certain players defend Joe Flacco against criticisms in the media. The common thread is that it all can be traced back to Billick and the culture that he crafted on those hot summer days at McDaniel College during training camp, or in the locker room as he delivered his trademark fire and brimstone speeches that galvanized his teams against all outsiders.
While he may not even be the best coach in Ravens history, he undoubtedly laid the groundwork for what has become one of the more respected franchises in the NFL. Brian Billick is a Raven through and through, and the Ravens are a reflection of who he is without a doubt.
His run ended somewhat ignominiously but enough time has passed now that the franchise should give their old skipper his requisite due. The Ravens should induct Billick into the ring of honor in 2017. If they indeed do so, it will have been a long time coming.