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A Championship Celebration

Ravens Championship Celebration
Photo Credit: Baltimore Ravens
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Last week it was announced that ESPN would feature the 2000 Baltimore Ravens in an upcoming episode of their award-winning series, 30 for 30. Last night during the team’s Super Bowl XXXV, A Championship Celebration held at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, stories were shared that will undoubtedly make their way onto the program, one that will soon become must-see television for Ravens fans.

And then there were some stories that are unlikely to land on 30 for 30 – they were a bit too profane. More on that in a bit.

On whole, the celebration was a wondrous romp down memory lane, akin to the most splendid high school reunion you could imagine. And a splendid time was had by all during this 2-hour voyage through the sands of the 2000 season.

In attendance, and gathering for the first time as a group since January 28, 2001, the day of SB XXXV, were: Brian Billick, Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, Rod Woodson, Tony Siragusa, Shannon Sharpe, Trent Dilfer, Jamal Lewis and of course Ray Lewis. The celebration was emceed by former Ravens executive Kevin Byrne, who subbed for an injured Sage Steele. And although I’m a big fan of Steele and I have no doubt she would have done a wonderful job, I don’t think the celebration would have come off in the same way as it did with Byrne at the controls. He was part of that inner circle and the dynamics would have changed with Steele at the wheel – and I’m not sure it would have been for the better.

Byrne set the stage and introduced the participants one-by-one leaving The General, No. 52 for last. And in a predictable but albeit entertaining way, Ray made his grand entrance.

Byrne played the role of point guard and did his best to distribute attention towards each of the panelists but as one might expect, a few were a bit more demonstrative than the others. Some were a bit more profane than their colleagues as well and to help set the stage, Byrne brought out a swear jar. If you swear, you put money in the jar. And as if on cue Billick quipped, “I think you’re going to need a bigger jar.”

The jar was largely ignored.

Billick’s role in that championship season was the first topic discussed and the biggest takeaway from this segment was how all the players on the panel, particularly Sharpe, Woodson and Goose, all lauded Billick’s adept way of enabling and liberating the team’s big personalities without losing the squad’s collective focus upon winning.

Towards the beginning of the 2000 season, Marvin Lewis explained how Billick asked if he could address the defense directly. Billick spoke of how he prepared to play the Ravens when in Minnesota as the Vikings offensive coordinator. He recognized the talent on the defense but thought that they weren’t playing as a unit. Sure, they had Pro Bowl caliber talent who might be awarded as such, but they failed to play together. Marvin, paraphrasing Billick, shared that the head coach implored them to do their jobs and the rest would fall into place. Billick’s words of wisdom clicked after that thrilling Week 2 game against the Jaguars during which the Ravens surrendered 36 points. Opponents only managed a TOTAL of 152 points in the succeeding 18 games.

Ray and Marvin bantered about the Ravens ability to check opposing running backs, how they throttled Barry Sanders’ in 1998 limiting him to 41 yards on 19 carries. Thirty-one of those yards were on one run, meaning the other 18 carries netted 10 yards. By the 2000 season, limiting backs, while still a priority, took a backseat to protecting the home field and limiting points. Del Rio urged the defense, “don’t let them shit on their field” – “you don’t let another team come into our house and take a dump!”

Toward the season’s end Sharpe would consult with Marvin and ask how many points the offense needed to produce a win. By the time the Super Bowl rolled around the Ravens defense asked for just 7 points. Ray and Woodson, despite the Giants scoring 41 against the Vikings during the NFC Championship, believed the Giants might not even enter Ravens territory. They were nearly spot on as the Kerry Collins-led offense could muster up only 152 net yards, turned the ball over 4 times and were forced to punt 11 times.

Speaking of punting, and with no disrespect to Ray’s MVP performance in SB XXXV, Goose said that if there was a co-MVP in the game it had to have been Kyle Richardson who regularly flipped the field in the Ravens favor, punting 10 times himself. That’s quite an admission from Goose who declared during the celebration that kickers are nothing more than glorified soccer players. Tales of Siragusa tormenting the Ravens own kickers were shared, even threatening Matt Stover just before a crucial kick, not to come back to the sidelines if he missed.

championship celebration

Stories of Goose’s tormenting didn’t end there. The super-sized defensive tackle refused to make weight during weigh-ins, blaming Ray for buying him 40 wings the day of the weigh-in, and adding that Ray didn’t care what Goose weighed as long as he helped keep “52” clean; Goose also refused to run a 40-yard dash, claiming that if the Ravens were counting on him to run 40 yards to make a tackle, the team had bigger problems than Tony not running the forty.

Siragusa fast-forwarded to the AFC Championship Game when Billick asked the team not to agitate the fans in Oakland’s Black Hole before the game, believing that would give the Raiders a decided home field advantage. Goose wasn’t having it. He, along with d-line sidekicks Sam Adams, Mike McCrary and Rob Burnett decided to flash a few unsavory gestures towards the Black Hole.

You probably recall Siragusa’s hit on Rich Gannon that put the MVP QB out for the balance of the contest. During CBS’ broadcast, Phil Simms went out of his way to vehemently label Goose’s hit “illegal”, despite the play not being flagged. Three days later, Goose was fined $10,000 by the league.

Fast forward to the Super Bowl XXXV, where Simms and PBP announcer Greg Gumbel would be on the call, again. Byrne requested Siragusa’s attendance at the production meetings prior to the game. Enraged by Simms costing him money, Goose told Kevin that it wouldn’t be a good idea to send him to the meetings because he didn’t want to encounter Simms. But Byrne insisted that Tony go anyway. Immediately, Goose let Simms, a fellow New Jersey resident, know where he stood. And I’ll paraphrase.

“Phil, I know where you live and I’ve seen your house. So if you get home and you’re wondering what happened to your garden, you’ll find it at my house. We’ll call it even for you costing me 10 grand.”

The majority of this celebration, as you might expect, was focused upon the Ravens record-setting defense. But there were many accolades shared, directed towards Billick, Sharpe, Dilfer and Jamal. Woodson and Sharpe were quite eloquent when expressing their feelings about Billick and Trent, echoing the sentiments of the other. Billick they believed, was masterful in the way that he didn’t put restrictions on what these men did off the field but instead, made the team’s leaders accountable to each other and in doing so, the younger players then followed suit. Sharpe shared a story of a young player who wanted to travel back with his parents following a game instead of riding on the team bus. “Shay” reminded the young player (who wasn’t named) of the liberties Billick extended to them and the one thing he demands, to be on time for the team bus to and from, must be adhered to. Jamal chimed in that the young players followed the vets’ lead and Sharpe’s chastising of the young player, was a perfect example of that leadership.

During the preseason, Jamal was a little nicked up so his emergence in the team’s offense was a bit delayed. But following a 9 carry, 76 yard performance in the mud of Miami during Week 3, incumbent Priest Holmes, realizing the passing of the RB torch was about to take place, shook Jamal’s hand and wished him the best, offering support to the rookie in any way possible.

Back to Billick for a moment, the Super Bowl 34 tragedy that involved Ray Lewis, wasn’t mentioned, probably by design. But there’s little doubt that the players admired the way Brian navigated the treacherous waters infested with media sharks trying to rip the scab of that festering wound from Atlanta, every time the team visited a new city.

Billick recognized the personalities. He recognized the uniqueness of the team’s immense physicality and he let that play out, understanding that teams facing them for the first time wouldn’t be properly prepared. It was just too difficult to simulate the brutal tendencies of Marvin’s defense.

Woodson and Sharpe also talked about Dilfer, explaining that athletes playing in the NFL were among the best throughout their lives, dominating each level of play. But when you get to the NFL, humility can envelope you and egos sometimes have to be checked at the door. They lauded how Trent recognized his role on the team. He didn’t come in with the mindset of putting up numbers to help secure a better financial future in the league. He recognized the strength of the defense and knew that managing field position, playing a game of ground and pound while protecting the football, personal accolades and stats be damned, was best for the team.

Dilfer admitted that he was a physically encumbered athlete, not capable of doing the things he once did. And despite never having been a backup, he eagerly assumed the role in order to be ready once the opportunity presented itself. Which of course it eventually did. And while nothing was mentioned of the animosity that once tarnished the relationship between Billick and Dilfer, the 50-year-old Santa Cruz native let it be known that he’s still somewhat scarred by never having the opportunity to return as the team’s quarterback the following season to try and repeat as champions.

While showing humility throughout, Dilfer made it clear that his efforts against the Titans during the Divisional Round were sabotaged by high stakes theft – and we’re not talking interceptions. Trent stressed how meticulous he was with his game planning and making notes in his playbook – a treasured NFL bible of sorts that he regularly had by his side. Until former Tennessee defensive coordinator Gregg Williams somehow wormed his way into the Ravens locker room to steal Dilfer’s playbook. Trent shared that the Titans were calling out plays and formations seemingly when the Ravens broke the huddle. Years later Williams admitted to Trent that the Titans did steal the playbook. But despite the sinister efforts of their then arch-rival, the Ravens prevailed and advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

Prior to the game at Tennessee, the Titans multi-media group assembled a video montage of Brian Billick’s post game speeches – particularly those involving the Titans, and used them to not only attempt to humiliate the Ravens head coach, but also to rile up the Nashville crowd. The move backfired in that it simply served to galvanize the Ravens even more.

After the game, despite advancing and feeling rather profane, Billick still had a little something left for the Titans – something that up to last night had not been shared with the public:

Former Ravens linebacker Tim Johnson even made a surprise appearance as “2000 Shannon Sharpe”. It didn’t deliver quite the same level of humor as Johnson’s original impersonation of Sharpe, made popular by the inaugural season of HBO’s Hard Knocks, but it did evoke memories of just how close that 2000 squad was – how despite a dominant defense, the team struggled to stay above .500 just 9 games into the campaign – that despite an offense that failed to score a touchdown for 21 consecutive quarters, the defense never turned on them. And for that we can all thank, at least in part, the bond shared by this group of panelists who were collectively focused on the most important stat of all – wins. And once the Ravens offense got that touchdown monkey off their back, they never looked back, never lost again.

Towards the end of this unforgettable evening, the panelists, particularly Goose, were very emphatic about the support of the fans; the way that Kevin Byrne helped to manage the chaos triggered by the off-field distractions and big personalities; and the way the Modell Family, particularly Arthur B., treated each of the players like they were extended family.

What an unforgettable season it was.

What an unforgettable Championship Celebration.

championship celebration
From left to right: Jack Del Rio, Brian Billick, Marvin Lewis, Tony Siragusa, Ray Lewis, Jamie Sharper, Matt Simon, Shannon Sharpe, Jamal Lewis, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, Jermaine Lewis, Rod Woodson, Harry Swayne, Kevin Byrne
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