On January 28, 2001 in Tampa, Florida, history was made.
The Ravens won the Super Bowl. They beat the Giants, 34-7, and became World Champions just five years into their existence.
Two weeks later in the Super Bowl, he’d throw four interceptions.
Baltimore’s defense had a way of doing that. They didn’t just play well that year, they flat out dominated. The 2000 Ravens defense signed their application to be the best defense of all-time with their performance in Super Bowl XXXV. All totaled, they allowed 188 points in 20 games (playoffs included), or, an average of 9.4 points per game.
Why were they so dominant?
That defense was truly great, and it all started with the man in the middle: Ray Lewis. Back then, players were introduced individually and quite naturally and deservedly, Brian Billick tabbed the defense for Super introductions.
And when number 52 emerged from the tunnel, the battle seemed nearly halfway won.
Baltimore was so dominant that New York could only gain 152 total yards on 55 offensive plays (2.8 yards per play). Two weeks prior, the Giants had gained 518 total yards on 81 offensive plays (6.4 yard average). That Giants offense was really good, but that Ravens defense was legendary.
As great as the Ravens defense was, their offense had some playmakers, too. Led by Jonathan Ogden, Jamal Lewis, and Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens did just enough to keep the Giants defense from establishing any real momentum.
Ogden had his way with excellent pass-rushers Michael Strahan and Jessie Armstead all night. Lewis, in what was quite the exclamation point to his rookie season, rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown. Sharpe, on the other hand, didn’t do much that night (1 reception, 5 yards), but did draw the defense away from Brandon Stokley so Trent Dilfer could hit him for the game’s first score.
Those Ravens knew that if they got 10-14 points on offense, they were almost guaranteed to win. Courtesy of Dilfer’s 38-yard dime to Stokley, Baltimore was halfway to that magic number within the first nine minutes of the game.
Bone-crunching hits and a fight for field position followed, but the result was never in doubt. The only things in question were the amount of turnovers the Ravens would force and the amount of non-offensive touchdowns the Ravens would score.
In both instances, the answer to those questions was more than enough.
Perhaps the most iconic image of that night was when Jermaine Lewis returned a Giants kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown. It was a third-successive return touchdown, and in the span of 36 seconds, Baltimore went from being up 10-0, to being up 24-7.
Lewis’ score sealed the win for the Ravens. It was an extremely exciting play that provided closure, as Ravens fans knew the Lombardi trophy would be coming home to Baltimore. But more importantly, it provided Lewis a heartfelt moment to pay tribute to his son.
On December 12, 2000, Lewis and his wife, Imara, who was eight months pregnant, learned that their son was stillborn. After taking the Arizona game off that Sunday, he’d return for the regular-season finale at home versus the Jets, and returned two punts for touchdowns. Baltimore won that game, 34-20, thanks in large part to the 14 points Lewis and his blockers provided.
As he approached the goal line on Super Bowl Sunday, encompassed by flashbolts, Lewis raised his right arm and pointed to the sky. It was a wonderful moment.
Sunday is Lewis’ 42nd birthday. If he’s watching the game, hopefully he can reflect upon his Super Bowl memories with joy and peace.
Super Bowl XXXV was a redemption of sorts for many Ravens. Trent Dilfer played for Tampa Bay from his rookie year (1994) thru 1999. The very next year, he hoisted football’s ultimate prize on his former home field.
Ray Lewis went from the scene of a double-murder following Super Bowl XXXIV to being named Super Bowl MVP a year later.
In 1998, Brian Billick coordinated, what was at the time, the NFL’s all-time best scoring offense (556 points), but he couldn’t reach the Super Bowl. Two years later, leading a team that had the 14th-ranked scoring offense (333 points), he became a World Champion.
You don’t often see blowouts in the Super Bowl. In fact, one third of all Super Bowls (17) have been one-score games. Baltimore’s 27-point margin of victory in Super Bowl XXXV is tied for 7th-most all-time (Tampa Bay, Super Bowl XXXVII).
When the Ravens play the Giants on Sunday, it could very well be a mistake-ridden contest that ends with Baltimore blowing a 4th-quarter lead. It could also result in a 20-point win for the Ravens. It’s anyone’s guess how it will play out. My gut says the change at offensive coordinator will help the Ravens re-focus and give them a sense of urgency.
What I do know is that whenever these two teams meet, I’ll always remember the celebratory streets of Baltimore on that chilly January night when The Lombardi returned to Charm City.
Seventeen seasons after having a large part of our city’s sports heritage ripped away by Bob Irsay and his Mayflower Vans, Baltimore had come full circle in the world of sports and returned to its pinnacle.