Yesterday marked the 13th anniversary of the Ravens Super Bowl XXXV victory at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The date triggers emotions and memories for all Ravens’ fans – a day that will go down as an unforgettable one in Baltimore folklore.
During the summer leading into the 2000 season, a friend and I vowed to make our way down to Tampa for the Super Bowl without regard for the participants and for no defining reason other than a desire to witness the grandest stage in all of professional sports.
Little did we know that our fortunes would take a dramatic turn north when our very own Ravens rode the shoulders of a once in a lifetime DE-FENSE to an NFL title.
Fresh off an 8-8 season, no one expected so much from the Ravens. There’s nothing more exhilarating than achieving something that seems impossible – to blow through the walls of expectation. There’s an enormous sense of accomplishment when that happens and as a result one could argue that no matter what the Ravens accomplish from this point forward, as fans we will never again realize the sheer joy afforded by Super Bowl XXXV.
And that includes the Super Bowl XLVII win over the San Francisco 49ers.
The victory in Super Bowl XXXV wasn’t just one for the team, Brian Billick, Art Modell or the organization. It was one for an entire community – a community scarred by the departure of the Colts and repeated rejections by the NFL.
From the time Bob Irsay and his cronies high-tailed it out of town on a snowy night in March of 1984 right up to the arrival of the Ravens in 1996, Baltimore played the role of the jilted lover. The city attempted to land an expansion franchise in 1993 but lost out to Carolina and Jacksonville.
Paul Tagliabue suggested that instead of investing in the NFL, perhaps Baltimore should build a museum – an ill advised quip that will always be linked to the mere mention of the name “Tagliabue.”
The night before that historical evening of January 28, 2001, I happened to be in the Ravens team hotel. I bumped into Billy Davis who I had met on several previous occasions and I asked him how he felt. I’ll never forget Davis’ response – a player who was a repeat Super Bowl winner as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
“I’ve been here before and I have never been part of a team this well prepared to win.”
The look in Davis’ eyes was that of unwavering confidence. These weren’t just words but rather a statement of conviction and will – a will that the team collectively exerted upon the seemingly defenseless New York Giants.
After the game, Ravens fans both old and very new basked in a communal glow of purple, black and gold as celebratory confetti tumbled from the sky.
The moment seemed to stand still in time – a freeze frame of life interrupted by the words of then Ravens owner Art Modell as he stood at the podium beside the vilified Tagliabue.
“This is for the people of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and the State of Maryland.”
On that night, Baltimore received its official validation. We were back in the NFL and back in a very big way. No longer was there a feeling of the jilted lover; no longer did Tagliabue’s silly little statement rip at your soul; no longer did the Colts’ clandestine exodus seem as painful.
We were World Champions and Silver Betty was coming home to Baltimore!
Upon leaving the stadium I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Yet while I would never have traded my first hand experience in Tampa that weekend, I immediately wanted to be home.
I wanted to be part of my community.
I wanted to be with all of my friends and family and dance with them through the streets of Baltimore.
In a sudden and strange way, I was homesick.
Little did we know on that glorious night that the Ravens over the course of the next five seasons would win only one playoff game and appear in only three.
In 2008 John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco helped to change all of that and since, save for the hiccup of 2013, the Ravens have not only been to the playoffs during 5 of those 6 seasons, they also won a playoff game each time they’ve been to the dance, advanced to three conference championships and of course they brought home a second Lombardi Trophy.
It’s been a great run under John Harbaugh and there’s no reason to believe that the team won’t get back on track in 2014. A little organizational humility particularly for the coaching staff, a bitter pill no doubt, could prove to be the right medicine for Steve Bisciotti’s company.
But that said, when comparing the two championships, XXXV shines brighter. In the same way that the 1958 NFL Championship Game put Baltimore on the map, XXXV put the town BACK on the NFL stage, front and center.
As a city of champions we matured as a football community in 2001. We became better fans and the collective football IQ swelled. XLVII solidified our place among the league’s best franchises but XXXV was the launching pad.
In time, someday in future years as we grow more removed from XLVII, XXXV will be universally viewed as the more important achievement for Charm City.
That team’s identity was clear – tough, strong-willed, workmanlike and brave.
It was quintessential Baltimore.
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