The championship team of the 2000 season will always hold a special place in the hearts and minds of Raven fans.
But to anyone else outside the city limits that group was remembered for its star linebacker who had run afoul of the law, its arrogant coach that questioned the media’s ability to do its job and for a record setting defense that not only loved to punish the opposition but also wasn’t shy about telling you how good they were.
Those were “The Baltimore Bullies”
The Sports Illustrated cover summed up the national view of our champions.
They didn’t like us.
Our offense was an ugly smash-mouth mess led by a rookie bulldozer in the backfield, a scrap heap quarterback formerly from Tampa Bay and a Pro Bowl tight end who loved to talk and talk and talk.
Our defense was one of the league’s best, perhaps one of the best in history but the focus was on off-the-field transgressions more than what happened between the lines.
But Ravens fans didn’t care. If anything we embraced the media villains even more. Our collective inferiority complex made sure of it.
Baltimore football was hijacked from us years ago and no one seemed to flinch. The city was forced to jump through hoops for an expansion team – one that never came. Then finally when the NFL returned the media questioned how Baltimore fans could support a team acquired in much the same fashion that the last one was lost.
Baltimore needed some swagger and they got a big dose of it with the team that produced the city’s first pro sports championship since 1983. They needed to vent all that frustration from all those years of loss and heartache.
But for all the boasting that became a Ravens trademark it didn’t always produce victories during the Billick era. After Baltimore returned to the playoffs that following season the rest of Coach Billick’s tenure seemed to follow a roller coaster path.
A familiar pattern develop – a divisional crown one year, home for the playoffs the next.
Some of the ridiculous bravado split the locker room when things did not go as predicted. A team with ample Pro Bowl talent too often played recklessly and was among the league’s most penalized year after year.
So when Steve Bisciotti made the most critical decision in his four years as owner of the Ravens and decided to let go of the winningest coach the franchise had ever known, it was a move that was bound to spark controversy.
Bisciotti’s next hire would have to be someone special and it would have to be someone who could bring the veteran group together after a disastrous 5-11 campaign in 2007. But the owner wasn’t just looking for a coach, he was looking for someone who would help change the culture of the team and the perception of how Baltimore conducts business around the league.
“You have to be willing to do things that the masses wouldn’t do, or I don’t think you will be able to separate yourself from the masses.” Bisciotti said as he unveiled the untested Special Teams Coach John Harbaugh to the media.
Bisciotti’s hiring of Harbaugh spoke volumes.
He wanted a young, energetic coach who would not be afraid to hold his players accountable. He wanted someone to unite this group of very talented players into a team that consistently competed for the playoffs every season. He wanted his franchise to be like Pittsburgh. (Gasp…imagine what that sounds like now).
He wanted a consistent winner and a model for the league to follow.
Rex Ryan was never really under consideration for head coach. He’ll always be popular among players and fans for his colorful quotes and cocksure demeanor. The decision to bypass Ryan had nothing to do with football knowledge but more about image. It was time for Baltimore to turn the page.
Harbaugh, in his two seasons at the helm is 20-12 and 3-2 in the playoffs. If key players can stay healthy there is no reason to think that Baltimore couldn’t make its third consecutive playoff appearance – and that would be a franchise first.
I’ll admit I laughed a little bit at the P.R. campaign of “Play Like a Raven”. It sounded like some kind of cheesy college chant or something that would sell a few t-shirts and not something that professionals would latch on to.
But maybe it has become the mantra for the entire organization. Ozzie Newsome always talked about finding players who “Play like a Raven” so why not make that the organizational credo?
The Ravens settling into a level of success has also extended beyond the field of play. Just look at how players are making a difference in the community.
Recent headlines have read:
It’s refreshing and exciting to see the team and the players that we cheer for staying out of the scandal rags and doing right by people. It fuels civic pride while burying that old negative image.
During the midst of this public image makeover the Ravens have by no means been perfect. The Terrell Suggs saga ended with the suit being withdrawn but was still a disappointment in a rough season for the defensive end. The recent signing of Dante Stallworth was almost met with skepticism and debate due to his past.
Yet clearly the positives outweigh the negatives and in general the franchise is organizationally focused. The buzz surrounding recent OTA’s is proof positive of that.
The makeover will come full circle if a second Super Bowl trophy is hoisted in Arlington, Texas.
Maybe then some franchise out there might say, “We want to play like Ravens.”