The NFL Network’s recent presentation of America’s Game, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, brings back fond memories. During that broadcast, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis and Trent Dilfer told the story of that season.
Dilfer is almost always a lightning rod triggering debate among Ravens fans. What may have happened if he stayed on as the Ravens quarterback in 2001 and the team didn’t sign Elvis Grbac? Would the team have successfully defended their crown?
We’ll never know for sure but here’s an opinion first served up back on October 14, 2005 that suggests it that Trent Dilfer didn’t win Super Bowl XXXV. He was simply in the right place at the right time. ~ Tony Lombardi
Ever get invited to a party or event that you felt obligated to attend yet you weren’t quite looking forward to it? Sure you have. We all have. Then you get there and much to your surprise, you are actually having a good time. Check that — make it a great time!
Then there are those events that you can’t wait to get to. The build up is tremendous and the anticipation is killing you. Yet when you arrive, it’s not what you thought and hoped it would be at all. In fact, it’s quite the disappointment.
Truth be told, the former event probably wasn’t as great as you thought and the later not as bad. The underlying influencer of your emotion was expectation. You weren’t expecting much but when you did get something in return your enjoyment was heightened. When you were expecting the world and everything in it, the expectations set you up for a fall.
The Ravens 2000 season was much like the former party. Last season and into this one, is reminiscent of the later.
As time goes on, we often look back to the 2000 season and use it as a measuring stick for all subsequent seasons. It is our barometer for competitive sanity and we wonder why it can’t be like that again.
Let’s face it, it will never be like that again. They say you never forget your first St. Pauli, amongst other things. Well you certainly don’t forget your team’s first Super Bowl victory, especially one that wasn’t really expected.
As a result, it’s only natural to embrace all things associated with the 2000 Season and the Super Bowl XXXV Champs. Why change a thing? Why didn’t they keep it the same? Maybe the Ravens could have repeated.
If only it was that easy.
The Ravens front office knew that it would be extremely difficult to repeat in 2001 yet they also realized that given their salary cap status, they needed to take advantage of the then current make up of the team. They knew that cap constraints would force them to dismantle the team after the 2001 season.
To repeat, the front office agreed that the Ravens would need to be more balanced. They thought that it would be shortsighted on their part to expect a repeat performance by the 2000 record setting defense and to expect the team to remain as healthy as it did in 2000. Therefore, they concluded that more would be required of the offense, particularly while facing the daunting task of a first place schedule. To get back to the Super Bowl, the front office agreed that an upgrade at quarterback was needed.
“The formula we used for success in 2000 worked magnificently,” Billick once said.
“However, to again ask our defense to break the all-time scoring record and rely that heavily on the run game and special teams the following season would have been too much to expect. We believed we needed more offensive balance if we were going to seriously compete for the title in 2001. The balance that we were striving for had to be addressed.”
And how could anyone argue really? Sure, Trent Dilfer is a great guy who commands respect. He’s a leader and an exemplary teammate. There’s really nothing to not like about the guy other than his productivity on the field. Many have complained about Kyle Boller’s inadequacies as his quarterback ranking hovers around the 70 mark. Trent Dilfer in 2000 had a rating of 76.6 despite being the beneficiary of a ball control offense that consistently dominated the battle for field position and time of possession.
The Ravens didn’t win games in 2000 because of Trent Dilfer.
They won games and a championship despite Trent Dilfer.
Do you recall the Ravens offensive struggles that season? We treasure the great memories of that 2000 season yet we forget the struggles because in the end they won. But fate had a helping hand.
Remember the playoff game against Denver? The records will indicate a Dilfer touchdown pass to Shannon Sharpe. What the records don’t show is that the pass was actually a poorly thrown swing pass to Jamal Lewis that was tipped — a pass that more times than not is intercepted. We tend to forget that the Titans were beating the Ravens everywhere but on the scoreboard in the 2000 Divisional Playoff Game. Missed field goals, a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown and a Ray Lewis interception return for a score add up to points that might indicate a convincing Ravens’ win. It was hardly that because of an inept offense led by Trent Dilfer.
The following week in Oakland, the offense once again struggled mightily. Dilfer opened the second half with an interception that momentarily gave the Raiders life. Once again, he was bailed out by the defense.
Two weeks later during Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa with the Ravens holding a 7-0 lead, Dilfer attempted a screen pass to Jamal Lewis that was intercepted by Jesse Armstead and returned for an apparent touchdown. The play was called back for defensive holding which when looked at closely, would not be called nine times out of ten.
The temporary major shift in momentum created by that wretched pass was wiped out and the Ravens held on to the lead. Despite a completely dominating defensive performance, the offense squandered opportunities as Dilfer missed several open receivers for big gains. The score should have been 51-7.
Not that it really matters what the score was but the point is, Trent Dilfer was simply on a Super Bowl winning team. Trent Dilfer did not win that Super Bowl or even the playoff games for that matter, for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
Yet we want to hold on to what is dear and the 2000 season certainly meets that requirement. And then when you mix in the failures of Dilfer’s successor, Elvis Grbac, no wonder the town cried for Trent. Dilfer, championship, exceeding expectations. Grbac, quitter, shedding tears on the sideline, failing to reach expectations.
What many seem to overlook is that Dilfer led a perfectly healthy team. Grbac inherited one that relied on the rickety knees of Terry Allen and the inexperience of the bloated Jason Brookins — not Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes. Grbac didn’t have Jeff Mitchell and Spencer Folau on his offensive line or even Harry Swayne for that matter.
They obtained Leon Searcy yet he never saw the field due to injury. The result was a patchwork line they kept Grbac under constant pressure and with no running back that commanded respect, teams just teed off on the emotionally fragile Grbac.
To make matters worse, the defense was not as dominating while giving up 100 more points (165 v. 265).
With a healthy team, a better offense and a more productive defense, Dilfer managed only a QB rating of 76.6. What might he have done without all that? Grbac managed to eek out a 71.1 rating. Is it fair to say that Dilfer would have done the same or worse? In his last full four seasons since leaving the Ravens, Dilfer has a QB rating of 67.3.
This isn’t meant to be an endorsement of Elvis Grbac. Personally I think Randall Cunningham would have done a better job than both Dilfer and Grbac with the 2001 Ravens team but he never got the chance. Billick’s commitment to Grbac and foolish pride got in the way. Perhaps he even acknowledged such with this admission earlier in the week.
“I regret that the circumstance presented itself that Trent Dilfer was not with us going forward. He’s an outstanding young man. He’s dealt with incredible adversity in his life, which we all have him in our prayers and wish him the best. We are appreciative of what Trent did when he was here. But we did our analysis.”
Trent Dilfer is a stand up guy. He has battled personal tragedy and emerged a stronger man. He is in many ways the quintessential underdog that Baltimore loves to embrace. He was part of one of our city’s proudest moments — part of a team that added to the legacy of a community and strengthened civic pride.
Dilfer even said at the 2004 Ed Block Courage Awards that, “I will not consider my career complete until I once again become a Baltimore Raven.”
Wouldn’t that be nice?
But it would hardly make a difference on the field — not now and not in 2001. The Ravens tried to make the 2001 party as a big a smash as the 2000 party. It just didn’t work out.
Despite all efforts to the contrary, sometimes parties just don’t meet our expectations.