We are saluting our Super Bowl XXXV champion Ravens this weekend, and we're pleased that over 35 members of that team will be here to celebrate this 10th anniversary of the Ravens' 34-7 victory over the Giants in the title game. For those of us who were here for that glorious season, we can all recall outstanding memories from that season. Here are some of mine:
(By the way, you never know when you are in a championship season as you go through the campaign. In 2000, we were 5-4 at one point and had completed five consecutive games without scoring a touchdown. We certainly weren't thinking: "Hey, this is great. We're on our way to the Super Bowl." We knew the defense was special, but we were just hoping to score 10 to 17 points a game.)
RAY LEWIS/JIM BROWN:During training camp, Jim Brown was in town on business. He came out to McDaniel College for a day, and we asked him to speak to the team. Jim is close to Ray Lewis, who was coming off the trial in Atlanta. After speaking a short time to the team and mentioning Ray's "unfair" situation, Brown said: "You should hear from Ray." Ray, who had not addressed the full team that offseason, passionately spoke about how important the Ravens were to him. He mentioned being placed in jail for 10 days in an orange jumpsuit. Finally, Ray said: "We have what it takes to be champions. Let's support each other. Let's do it. We can get to Tampa."
SHANNON SHARPE, ROD WOODSON AND RAY LEWIS: This Hall of Fame trio would lift weights together at training camp. They would push each other to complete each set. Woodson, who weighed at least 30 pounds less than the other two, would complain about the amount of weight for each exercise. Shannon and Ray would tell him to shut up and keep lifting. Rod would then challenge them to "Come do one of my offseason workouts. See if you can do some of the stretching, core and sprint work I do." This was a disparate group. Ray was the young player. Rod was the elder statesman with a wife and five children. Shannon was a two-time Super Bowl champion from Denver who was single and always an entertainer. I remember telling Head Coach Brian Billick about these workouts and how I marveled that people so seemingly different hung out together. Billick said: "Why do you think movie stars marry movie stars?"
OPENING DAY: We played the Steelers in the final year at Three Rivers Stadium in the opener, and we shut them out, 16-0. Matt Stover kicked three field goals, Priest Holmes rushed for over 100 yards, and Qadry Ismail, who had six catches for 258 yards the previous December in Pittsburgh, added seven for 102 in this opener.
SEPTEMBER 13:We signed a guy named Kelly Gregg to our practice squad. Rex Ryan, who had recruited Gregg to Oklahoma, pushed Ozzie Newsome to sign Kelly. Coach Billick took one look at the differently-shaped Gregg and said: "Who did Rex owe a favor for us to sign this guy?" I was in the locker room when Tony Siragusa walked up to Kelly and said: "Who and what are you?" When Gregg answered, "Goose" called out to the room: "Guys, look, we signed Buddy Lee." And, Kelly did resemble the Lee jeans' figure popular in TV commercials at that time...and a nickname was born.
GOOSE, A HAT AND ESPN:Here's the truth: unlike what some people believe, most players don't make a dime other than what a team pays them to play football. Siragusa, however, was a master at making some bucks outside the game. ESPN's "NFL Live" started that season. For their second show, they wanted Siragusa as the "live" guest. We did this via satellite from our weight room. Goose walked in just before he was supposed to be on the air, wearing a DeWalt Tools' hat. The young producer, wearing a headset that was connected to the ESPN show out of Bristol, Conn., asked Tony to take the hat off. Goose said "No." The producer said: "They want you to take the hat off." "Hat stays," Goose said. After the segment ended, I asked Siragusa what was the deal with the hat. Goose explained that when I asked him to do the spot – the day before, by the way – he called a "guy at DeWalt and told him I'd wear a DeWalt hat on ESPN in exchange for some tools." And, the story got better. Tony then tells me that he went to a local Home Depot and traded the new tools for lumber for "a new deck at my house." Only the Goose.
BACK-TO-BACK:In early October, the Ravens won back-to-back road games without scoring a touchdown: 12-0 at Cleveland and 15-10 at Jacksonville. Hooray defense and Matt Stover! But, the touchdown drought continued for three more games – all losses: at the Redskins and then to the Titans and Steelers in Baltimore. After going zero for October for TDs, we scored three on Nov. 5 in a 27-7 victory at Cincinnati.
THE FIRST WIN AT TENNESSEE:On Nov. 12, we played at Tennessee's Adelphia Coliseum, which had opened in 1999. The Titans were 8-1, had never lost in their new home and had been proclaimed as "The Best Team In Football" on the cover of that week's Sports Illustrated. With the score tied at 17 with a little over two minutes left in the game, safety Perry Phenix intercepted Trent Dilfer and raced 87 yards for a touchdown and a 23-17 lead after a failed extra point. Undeterred, Dilfer directed a game-winning drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Patrick Johnson for a 24-23 win. I carried the Sports Illustrated to the locker room and handed it to Coach Billick before he addressed the team. He held it up for all to see and shouted: "The Titans might be the best team in football…but not today."
THE PLAYOFF WIN AT TENNESSEE: I did think that Tennessee had the best players that season, and I thought it would be very difficult to again beat them at their place, especially with two weeks to rest and prepare for us. (They had a first-round playoff bye. We beat Denver in the Wild Card matchup the previous Sunday in Baltimore.) The game was tied at 10 after three quarters in as physical of a game as I have ever witnessed. We didn't like each other, and both defenses wanted to show they were the best in the NFL. Next came the sweetest sound of that playoff campaign – the double thump of an attempted field goal quickly followed by the block. defensive end Keith Washington blocked it, and Ravens safety Anthony Mitchell grabbed it and raced 90 yards for a 17-10 Baltimore lead. Ray Lewis then intercepted a pass off Eddie George's chest and sprinted 50 yards for another touchdown. Holy Cow, we were on our way to Oakland for the AFC Championship…and we had already beaten the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Titans.
SUPER BOWL WEEK:Of course it started with Coach Billick shifting focus away from Ray Lewis at the opening press conference when he basically told the media that Ray had been found innocent in Atlanta and that media had "no right to be judges and juries at a new trial." Well, reporters do not like to be told what they can and can't report, nor what they can and can't ask. Many of the national media went after Brian and the Ravens. We were okay with that. In the meantime, we were doing a lot with CBS-TV, the network carrying the broadcast. One thing they wanted was to have a sit-down interview with Michael McCrary and Giants tackle Lomas Brown, who would be blocking Michael in the Super Bowl. After agreeing to do the interview, McCrary balked on the day it was scheduled. After some cajoling, he reluctantly did the piece. When the taping finished, he said: "Hey, I'm glad I did that. I feel better. I can see it in his eyes. He doesn't want any part of me or our defense."
THE PREDICTION: During Super Bowl week, I'd meet Coach Billick for breakfast and detail all the things we were doing for the media – and what we had turned down. I would then sit with him on the bus back from practice and give updates. On Wednesday before the game, I asked him: "Can we win this game?" He looked at me like I was nuts: "You're kidding me, aren't you? Let me ask you," he continued, "would you rather play the Giants on a neutral field or the Broncos at our place?" I said the Giants, because the Broncos were considered better. "How about the Giants or at Tennessee?" That was easy – the Giants by a lot. Finally, Brian said: "How about at the Raiders in front of that crowd, or the Giants in Tampa? We are going to kick New York's a--." Well now, can't say it made me sleep any better the rest of the week, but he sure was right.
Nice to remember – and I could write for days with more stories from that season. But, let's focus on the task at hand: beating the Bills at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. I can't wait. The crowd will be juiced when it sees the Super Bowl champion Ravens, and the fans will become electric when we introduce our defense. Let's beat the Bills.
Talk to you in two weeks.
Kevin Byrne, a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.