Those red-letter days in life when considered in retrospect, feel at times like they only happened yesterday in some ways, eons ago in other ways.
The day of Super Bowl XXXV is one of those days.
Throughout my career as an amateur athlete I’ve had the good fortune to play for a number of champions and when I think back and bask in those relative glory days, I always preferred the pursuit of a championship more so than the actual achievement. The chase; the game-by-game adrenalin rush; the quest for the ultimate goal were much more fun than the actual award of the coveted prize.
I felt that way during the Ravens 2000 season too…
As fans we thought that the Ravens were building something and that they would soon be a good team when that season opened. We had expectations of improvement on 1999’s 8-8 season and we were hopeful that the team could reach the “P” word – the playoffs.
We weathered the storm of those 21 consecutive quarters without a touchdown and we laughed at the “Goof on the Roof” who refused to come down until the Ravens hit paydirt. Yet frustration wasn’t far behind that somewhat forced chuckle at our own offensive futility.
After a 5-1 start the Ravens dropped three consecutive games to fall to 5-4 on October 29, 2000. The loss that day to the Pittsburgh Steelers would be their last of the season as they proceeded to string together 11 consecutive wins on the way to a title and the Lombardi Trophy.
What a ride that was!
I remember earlier that season I had decided to go to the Super Bowl with a buddy of mine. In September we booked our flights to Tampa and reserved a room and opted to hold off on purchasing tickets to the game. Our thought was to wait and see who the participants were because small market teams might drive prices down.
As the weeks went by, particularly towards the homestretch of the season it grew increasingly more interesting. Could we be going to a Super Bowl played by our team?
Week by week, win by win we pushed closer to an impossible dream, one that became reality on that balmy night of January 28, 2001 in Raymond James Stadium.
We managed to score a couple of tickets to the game and through some clever buying and selling we ended up 20 rows off the field on the 20 yard line – surrounded by Giants fans.
It didn’t take long to realize that the sheer will, forcefulness and speed of the Ravens defense would be too much for the Giants. Most of the fourth quarter was anti-climatic. It would be just a matter of time before we were champions.
As that purple and gold and silver confetti cascaded from the sky after the final gun sounded and as that huge inflatable replica of the Lombardi towered at midfield, the surrealism was numbing. Strangers, brought together by the color purple and a common love for a team embraced like brothers. The sense of pride flowed abundantly.
Jilted by an owner blinded by a fog of alcohol; all those seasons without a team; disrespected by expansion committees; a city lacking identity; suddenly all of it was gone.
Oh how we smiled. We smiled and smiled and smiled. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as we savored every second.
For me that season can never be duplicated because expectations were just blown through the roof. We hoped to make it to the post season, maybe we even thought we could – but never did we ever expect to be the last team standing.
But with the championship came the realization that the ride was over. No more games; no more jubilant gatherings. Yes we achieved the unthinkable but just like all those amateur championship runs I had experienced before, the sobering thought of the finality once again embraced me.
As that sobriety set in and the adrenalin rush subsided, a brotherhood of man developed. A community became one; crime took a timeout; differences were set aside. We were a community galvanized by a team.
One love, one heart.
What do you say we do it again?