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OWINGS MILLS — Trent Dilfer abruptly reversed his prolonged bitter stance toward Brian Billick, taking a step toward reconciliation after holding a severe grudge against the Baltimore Ravens coach for the past six years.
While he still vehemently disputes the Ravens’ decision to not renew his contract after quarterbacking them during their Super Bowl championship, Dilfer has decided to let go of his personal animosity toward Billick after years of criticizing his former coach.
Dilfer, who will start under center against Baltmore for the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, went 11-1 as the Ravens starter during the 2000 season after replacing Tony Banks.
"I want to use this opportunity to publicly apologize to Brian for that bitterness," Dilfer told Baltimore reporters during a Wednesday conference call. "I’m going to make a point to see him on Sunday. He’s been the man in this deal and I haven’t. He’s been the adult.
"I’ve been the childish one, and I want to end that right now. I still strongly disagree with it, but there’s a difference in disagreeing with a decision and letting that decision bring bitterness in somebody."
Dilfer had previously said he had no desire to speak to Billick again, taking major issue with the Ravens not retaining him and instead signing free agent Elvis Grbac. Grbac had a disastrous lone season in Baltimore and opted to retire rather than accept a paycut demand.
It was a historical snub as Dilfer became the first quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl only to lose his starting job during the following season.
During the Super Bowl in February, Dilfer sounded off again about being dumped by the Ravens, directing his ire toward Billick specifically.
"He grossly misunderstood the talent of that football team, myself specifically," Dilfer said. "I totally agree with so many things he did. But to this day, I am so sad I didn’t have the chance to face the challenge of repeating."
Nine months later, Dilfer is looking to move on and stop living in the past. He said he has recognized a personal tendency to dwell on one of his career’s greatest disappointments.
"I recognize they had a tough decision as an organization, I disagree with it still to this day," Dilfer said. "Just because I disagree with it doesn’t mean I can’t let it go. This is a great opportunity this week to let it go.
"I think I’ve grown up as a man. You’re always trying to get better. Here I am six years later and I wasn’t able to let something go. This is as much to stretch me as a human being and to not be hypocritical in my parenting."
Dilfer wasn’t alone in his opinion about the decision to not sign him to a new contract, a move he discovered initially in a telephone call with offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, not Billick.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis said he didn’t like the decision to dump Dilfer, which was made organizationally during personnel meetings headed by general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"I don’t think it’s right when you let a person go who takes you to the Super Bowl and then win it, to let him go," Lewis said. "I definitely don’t agree with that. Once again, it was always a great time with Trent."
Shortly prior to Dilfer’s interview, Billick said he was open to speaking to Dilfer and burying the hatchet. Billick has been repeatedly complimentary of Dilfer, but said he has been at a loss as to how to repair that relationship.
"We’ve been down this road several times," Billick said. "I would love to talk to Trent. I’d love to say hello to Trent and wish him well and see how he’s doing."
Besides putting aside old feelings, this is a chance for Dilfer to concentrate fully on his business on the field.
Two seasons ago, Dilfer was pressed into action in Baltimore for the Cleveland Browns and only completed 16 of 30 passes for 147 yards.
"I think in ’05 when I went in there with Cleveland, I didn’t think it would be hard or an added distraction," Dilfer said. "But as hard as I tried not to let it capture any of my focus, it did.
"Walking into the stadium, the memories it brought back, I didn’t play my best football because of that. This time around, my focus is much more on me and the things I can do to help us win and less so on the Baltimore Ravens."
Dilfer said he maintains close friendships with former Baltimore teammates Mike Flynn, Rod Woodson, Tony Siragusa, Shannon Sharpe, Matt Stover, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, Brandon Stokley and Qadry Ismail, several of whom have expressed publicly that they were upset that they didn’t get a chance to try to repeat in 2001 with their Super Bowl quarterback.
"It’s been very flattering to hear that they all feel the same way I felt, partly cheated that I didn’t get a chance to go through the tough time of repeating," said Dilfer, adding that he rarely flashes his Super Bowl XXXV ring, breaking it out for speeches at corporate events. "I think that was what I was most upset about and, unfortunately, I let that turn into bitterness, which I should not have done."
Dilfer is directing the NFL’s worst offense statistically in terms of total offense and passing yards and was sacked five times last week.
He completed 12 of 33 passes for 128 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 23.3 rating during a 23-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks after starter Alex Smith left the game with a separated shoulder.
Now, the 35-year-old journeyman quarterback gets a chance to redeem himself against his old team.
"I recognize the storyline, but I’ve got enough issues of my own that I have to be concerned with," Dilfer said. "Just to add more drama to the situation isn’t going to help me or my football team."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.