20 years of Ravens – Chapter 3: Festivus Maximus
Be sure to check out previous entries in this series
Prologue: Give Baltimore the Ball
Chapter 1: Art Modell Gives Baltimore, the Ravens
Chapter 2: The Marchibroda Era
Discuss your thoughts on this piece of Ravens history on our message board.
The loyal football fans of the great city of Baltimore went 13 years without NFL football, when the hated Irsay family moved them to Indianapolis following the 1983 season. The fair city of Cleveland, whom the Modell’s moved the Browns out of in 1996, didn’t have to wait nearly as long. In 1999, the Cleveland Browns were awarded an expansion franchise, and would get a brand new stadium that Art Modell was never promised. Modell is such a nice guy that unlike Irsay, he let the city of Cleveland keep all their records, history, and team colors as well. It’s like they never left. Just a three year break, and a fresh start with fresh faces, new ownership, and new stadium that still couldn’t shake “the mistake by the lake” moniker.
The Ravens search for a new head coach
The Ravens were searching for their second head coach in team history, following the release of Ted Marchibroda, who went 16-31-1 in his three seasons leading Baltimore. They had a number of coaches in mind. Geroge Siefert, who won Super Bowl XXIX with the San Francisco 49ers, and Mike Holmgren, who won Super Bowl XXXI with the Green Bay Packers, topped the Ravens, and most other team’s wish lists. Holmgren never interviewed, taking the Seattle Seahawks job before he made it to Baltimore. Seattle also offered a front office position. Siefert would go on to coach the Carolina Panthers.
The Ravens interviewed four hot assistant coaches, poised for head coaching gigs. Chris Palmer, offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He would go on to coach the expansion Browns, and was fired after two seasons, posting a 5-27 record. They interviewed Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator, Emmitt Thomas. He would end up declining himself, following his head coach in Philly, Ray Rhodes, to Green Bay. The third candidate was Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator, Jim Haslett. He would remain in Pittsburgh for one more year, before taking over the head job for the New Orleans Saints. He led them to a long awaited playoff win in 2000, but it would be his only trip in six seasons there. He is 47-61 as a head coach in his career.
The fourth candidate was a guy who once was an assistant of Bill Walsh’s. He helped Walsh write a 500 page book called The Winning Edge. You can find it on Amazon for $250.00. He interviewed for the Browns job the day before coming to Baltimore. Cleveland let him out of town as team president, Carmen Policy, former general manager and architect of the 49ers dynasty of the 1980s, cited “philosophical differences” as the reason for not hiring Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator, Brian Billick. Very odd considering Billick was a Walsh disciple, and Policy had Walsh as his head coach during part of his tenure with the Niners which lasted from 1983 to 1997. Mr. Policy, one of the great football minds, couldn’t have been more wrong here.
Billick was brash, and rubbed the folks the wrong way who prefer a lower volume from coaches in front of the microphone. When asked once if he thought he was arrogant, he responded, “If arrogant means you are self-confident, focused and directed toward a single objective, then yes, I’m arrogant.” Anyone who can read lips, and has caught a glimpse of Billick in game when a call doesn’t go his way, knows his favorite word is “Bulls***”.
Billick’s Vikings offense set records for points scored in a season (556), and was a Gary Anderson field goal away from advancing to Super Bowl XXXIII, but were defeated by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game.
The Ravens hired Brian Billick on January 19, 1999. Had Gary Anderson not picked the NFC title game to miss his first field goal of the season, the Ravens would have had to wait at least two more weeks to interview Billick, and who knows. Maybe they hire one of the other candidates instead of waiting.
With the new coach also came a new logo. The Ravens were sued for $10M by a man named Fred Bouchat, who claimed that he created the Ravens first logo, the “B” inside a winged shield. The ruling was upheld, and the Ravens changed their logo to the current one, the “B” inside the profile of a raven.
Another new addition, the Ravens go corporate by officially naming the second year stadium, PSINet Stadium. PSINet was the first commercial internet service provider, and signed a 20-year partnership with the Ravens, promising groundbreaking ways of connecting fans to the team, and a new world of sports marketing. “Piss in it”, easily became what the locals called PSINet, upset over the selling out to corporate business, although it is commonplace these days. Lucky for fans upset at the name, PSINet went bankrupt in 2002 and the name came down.
There were higher expectations for the Ravens going into 1999. Solid defense, new offensive minded head coach, and a new quarterback in Scott Mitchell. A nine year veteran. In the 1999 season kickoff, the Ravens faced the lowly St. Louis Rams. A gift from the schedule makers, and the Rams had to start their backup quarterback to boot, since Trent Green was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL he suffered in a pre-season game. No one knew who his replacement, Kurt Warner was. Warner wouldn’t even become a household name after beating the Ravens in week one. But it wouldn’t take long for the Rams to take the league by storm, to everyone’s surprise.
In week 3, Brian Billick would win his first game for the purple and black, fittingly against the new, expansion Cleveland Browns, who failed to hire him. Scott Mitchell was benched in favor of Stoney Case.
Scott Mitchell would only play in two games for the Ravens. Case would hold his own, but when Tony Banks was given the opportunity, he won six out of eight games, and gave the team hope that he would remain the starter for next season. Billick managed to make a .500 team out of the Ravens for the first time. They went 8-8 finishing with four straight wins in weeks 13-16, and had an outside shot at a playoff spot, but lost in the season finale.
The Ravens defense finished ranked second in the NFL and posted their first shutout as a franchise, 22-0 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Combined with strong QB play from Banks, the Ravens were a team on the brink of doing great things in 2000.
2000, The Ray Lewis saga
It would be a tumultuous offseason following 1999. After Super Bowl XXXIV, Ray Lewis was arrested, and charged with first degree murder in a double stabbing that took place outside an Atlanta night club. A fight had broken out including men that Lewis was hanging out with, and two men were stabbed and killed in the process. The knife contained none of Lewis fingerprints, or DNA. But he did give misleading information to the authorities upon his arrest. He would accept a plea bargain in exchange for testimony against his friends.
It wasn’t until June of that off-season that Lewis’ status for the upcoming season was finalized. He was charged with obstruction of justice, and fined $250,000 by the NFL. The largest fine a player has ever received that was not substance abuse related. He wouldn’t miss any playing time.
The black cloud haunted the Ravens, and Lewis all season, as visiting fans used the allegations as fodder for heckling. The national media was relentless in seeking more answers about that night.
Trying to turn the attention back to the play on the field, the Ravens made a strong statement in opening the 2000 season. They got off to a 5-1 start, and three of the first four wins were shutouts. The defense was the best in the NFL, and they would start to be compared to other greats, like the Vikings “Purple people eaters”, Steelers “Steel Curtain” of the 70s, and the 85’ Bears “Monsters of the Midway.”
On offense, Tony Banks was indeed the starter. After a 16-0 shutout over the Steelers to start the season, one of the team’s major hurdles was to simply beat the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars. The Ravens had never beat them in the four previous years, eight games. The defense was no match for Mark Brunell and the Jags in the Ravens home opener in week 2. But the offense picked up the slack. Tony Banks hit his new favorite target, free agent acquisition, later Hall of Fame tight end, Shannon Sharpe, for the game winning score. The Ravens got the monkey off their back with the 39-36 win. It was considered the first marquee win in the franchise’s history, and one that still holds up as one of the best games in Ravens history. Arguably one of the best non-playoff games.
The offense didn’t do much else after that 39 point performance, and a 37-0 performance against Scott Mitchell and his new team, the Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens went the entire month of October, five straight games, 21 consecutive quarters without scoring a touchdown. The Ravens managed to win two of those games behind a strong defense, and the right foot of kicker Matt Stover. Another shutout, 12-0 against the Browns, and once again, besting the Jaguars, 15-10. But the next three, the defense can only do so much, allowing 10, 14, and nine points.
Trent Dilfer takes over
A change would have to be made at quarterback. In the final minutes of the last game of the touchdown drought, Billick pulled the plug on Tony Banks, and went to backup veteran, Trent Dilfer. Dilfer didn’t get much done in his first action, but in his first start the next week, he found the endzone, and confetti fell from the heavens! Seemingly. The Ravens appeared back on track with the 27-7 win at the Bengals. Dilfer earned another start, and the defense continued to dominate, allowing 10 points or less in seven of the first 10 games.
The next week would be another marquee matchup for a Ravens team on the rise. The Tennessee Titans, who ditched the nickname “Oilers”, and moved into a new stadium in Nashville in 1999, were coming off a Super Bowl appearance where they came up one yard short of victory. The Titans hadn’t lost a game at home in their new building yet.
With the score tied at 17, late in the fourth quarter, Dilfer and the Ravens offense were driving. With 2:30 remaining, Dilfer threw an interception to Perry Phenix who returned it for a touchdown. The Titans were in the driver’s seat, ready to notch another home field win. The score would stand 23-17 after Al Del Greco shanked the extra point attempt. Those things always come back to haunt you. The Ravens had hope, and Dilfer drove the Ravens downfield once again. Patrick Johnson caught a two yard pass, just getting his feet down in bounds with 25 seconds to play, and the Ravens win 24-23.
Brian Billick delivered one of the most memorable postgame speeches to his team that day. Holding up a copy of Sports Illustrated in the locker room that read “Titans are the best team in the NFL.”
“Not today,” Billick said. “Not today.”
When he thought the cameras were off, he delivered one more line.
“F*** THE TITANS!”
And the rivalry was born. As stories like this play out, these two teams would meet again, with much more on the line in the near future.
The Ravens kept on rolling behind Dilfer, and the stingiest of all defenses. Another shutout against the Dallas Cowboys in week 12 gave them their eighth win. Matching their previous high.
At 8-4, you couldn’t help but to start thinking about the “P” word. Playoffs. But Coach Billick wouldn’t let that notion creep into his player’s heads, or their vocabulary. In fact, he would levy a $500 fine to anyone of his guys that uttered the word. Not until they clinched a berth, were they even allowed to think play….the “P” word. Tony Siragusa, outspoken team clown decided to test his coach, and promptly received the fine. Billick wasn’t clowning around.
Edwin Mulitalo used the word “Festivus” when talking about the word he wasn’t allowed to say. Festivus being an homage to the “Seinfeld” episode where the gang finds out that George’s dad invented a holiday, Festivus, because he didn’t believe in the commercialization of Christmas. Kramer would call happy occurrences a “Festivus miracle”.
Making the play…”P” word, would be a miracle this city had long waited for.
The ban on the “P” word was lifted in week 15, December 10, 2000. The Ravens beat the San Diego Chargers 24-3 at home, improving to 10-4 and securing their first ever playoff spot. Everyone now expected a ban to put on the words “Super Bowl” by Brian Billick. But he never did, and encouraged talk about the Super Bowl. He mentioned that the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal. You should want to be there, and talk about it.
Seems contradictory as you should want to be in the playoffs too, but what do I know.
Heartbreak would fall on the Ravens family. Wide receiver Jermaine Lewis lost his son, Geronimo, when he was born stillborn before the final week of the season. In the regular season finale, he honored his son by returning not one, but two punts for touchdowns, both key in beating the New York Jets, 34-20. The win gave them a 12-4 regular season record, and a wild card spot behind division winning Tennessee (13-3).
The defense set a two new records by allowing just 165 points in a 16 game season, and only 970 rushing yards through the season. (60.6 YPG). They also led the league with an unimaginable 49 takeaways. Forcing around three turnovers a game.
Ravens first playoff appearance
Trent Dilfer had won his first seven starts, and the Ravens would ride that streak into “Festivus”, where they first met the Denver Broncos at home. The Ravens dominated to the tune of 21-3, with Shannon Sharpe making the play of the day. He took a batted ball 58 yards for a score. Rookie Jamal Lewis, who rushed for a team record 1,364 yards on the year, scampers for a 27 yard TD run in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. But scoring two touchdowns seemingly put any game out of reach with the Ravens defense.
They moved on to the AFC Divisional round down in Tennessee. Fresh in the Titans minds were Coach Billick’s postgame comments, earlier in the year. They made it a point to play it on the stadium video board prior to game to whip the crowd, and players into a frenzy. The Titans opened quickly with an Eddie George TD to take an early 7-0 lead. Coach Billick was infuriated, and told his men to have his back, defend him on this one. He didn’t want to eat his words the Titans replayed on the video board over and over. The Ravens responded with a Jamal Lewis TD in the 2nd quarter, and Billick faced the Titans bench, and let the expletives fly their way. The two foes exchanged field goals in the 3rd quarter, and moved to the 4th quarter dead locked at 10. The Titans were poised to take a lead as Al Del Greco lined up for a go ahead field goal. However, Anthony Mitchell entrenched his name in Ravens lore, blocking the FG and returning it 90 yards for the touchdown. A 10 point swing, and all the momentum. Ray Lewis put the icing on the cake when he manhandled the ball away from the Eddie George as he attempted to make a catch as the Titans began driving downfield. Lewis took it to the house for the score, and silenced all the haters in the Tennessee crowd. You could hear a pin drop as the Ravens won in Adelphia Coliseum for the second time. The only two times the Titans lost at home in two seasons.
In a post-game press conference, Coach Billick was asked about his team’s trash talking the Titans prior to the game. Billick delivered yet another memorable quote.
“When you go into the lion’s den, you don’t tippy-toe in. You carry a spear. You go in screaming like a banshee. You kick whatever doors in, and say “where’s the son of a bitch!” If you go in any other way, you’re going to lose.”
Think he got their attention?
On to the AFC title game in one of most hostile environments for visiting teams (not so much these days), Oakland Coliseum, and the Raiders. The game was never in doubt as Shannon Sharpe struck again, a 96 yard touchdown catch and run off a short crossing pattern gave the Ravens the early lead. Later in the game, Tony Siragusa fell on top of Rich Gannon when he sacked him, nearly breaking him in half. Gannon left the game, and so did the Raiders hopes as the Ravens cruised all the way to the Super Bowl with a 16-3 win.
Super Bowl XXXV
All along the way, the Ravens were never favored by the experts. Many thought they weren’t experienced enough, and the notion was still that you needed an offense like the 80’s 49ers, and 90s Cowboys in order to win titles. Billick in just his second year as a head coach. Trent Dilfer, rookie running back Jamal Lewis, wideouts Jermaine Lewis and Qadry Ismail…Not exactly Walsh, Montana, Craig and Rice. Not exactly Johnson, Aikman, Smith and Irvin. Never mind the defense. Something that hasn’t been heralded in the league since the Steelers of the 70s, and the one off 85’ Bears.
The Ravens were off to Tampa, set to face the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, or “Festivus Maximus”. Once again, many pundits were not buying the Ravens. The Giants had just beat the Vikings 41-0 in the NFC title game. The most lopsided NFC title game ever. Dominant on offense, and defense. How on earth could the Ravens respond? Let’s not forget that the Ravens allowed one touchdown and three field goals in three playoff games. They responded by handing out one of the most dominating Super Bowl performances in history.
It was a defensive struggle early, but late in the first quarter, the Ravens scored first on just the second play of a drive. Trent Dilfer threw a deep ball to Brandon Stokley to take a 7-0 lead. It appeared that the Giants had tied the score when Giants linebacker Jesse Armstead returned an interception 43 yards for a score. But defensive holding nullified the play. A Matt Stover field goal gave Baltimore a 10-0 halftime lead.
The defense continued to flex their muscles, intercepting Giants QB Kerry Collins for the second time on their first drive of the second half. On their next drive, Duane Starks picked him off again, and returned it 49 yards for a score. 17-0 Ravens. Super Bowl history was about to be made.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ron Dixon returned it 97 yards for a touchdown to put the Giants on the board. Special team plays often swing the momentum the fastest. They were on the board against the stingy Ravens defense. The Giants had life.
The momentum was short lived, to non-existent for the Giants. The Ravens Jermaine Lewis returned the Giants kickoff back for a touchdown, pointing to the heavens along the final few yards, thinking of his lost son, Geronimo. It was the first time in Super bowl history that touchdowns were scored on three straight plays. The three scores took 36 seconds, and the Ravens pulled away to a 24-7 lead.
The wind was out of the Giants sails as Jamal Lewis added a two yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and a fumbled kickoff return by the Giants, set up Matt Stover for the icing on the cake. A 34-7 victory.
Brian Billick famously tried to get the water boy to dump out all of the water jugs prior to the traditional celebration, dousing the coach with ice cold Gatorade. He wouldn’t be spared as they got him right down the back with it.
Trent Dilfer managed the game well, amassing just 153 yards and the TD pass to Stokley. Jamal Lewis was the second rookie to rush for 100 yards in the Super Bowl (102). Ray Lewis was the game’s MVP notching 5 tackles, and defending four passes. Lewis also earned Defensive Player of the Year honors for the 2000 season. However it was Dilfer who got the traditional “I’m going to Disneyworld” commercial spot because the Disney Company didn’t want Lewis, given the incident in Atlanta a year ago.
The Ravens defense was the third in Super Bowl history to not allow an offensive touchdown. They imposed their will on the Giants to the tune of just 66 rush yards allowed, four Kerry Collins INTs, four sacks, and forced them to punt a Super Bowl record 11 times.
Following the game, Art Modell lifted the Lombardi Trophy in the air and said, “To the people of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and the State of Maryland, this belongs to you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
The Ravens earned the games top prize in just their fifth season of existence. Clevlanders had been very vocal that this was supposed to be their championship. Although Matt Stover, Rob Burnett and Larry Webster were the only three members of the Ravens who also played for the 1995 Browns team. The city of Cleveland is still in search of their first sports championship since 1964.
The freezing rain that came pouring down for the Ravens ticker tape parade two days after the win, wouldn’t dampen the fans and players spirts in anyway as they tour the Baltimore streets.
Sure, the Ravens had the best defense in NFL history. Defensive Player of the Year, Ray Lewis. An emerging rookie running back poised for a stellar career, Jamal Lewis. But the most satisfying thing about the 2000 season….
…The city of Baltimore had won an NFL championship before the Indianapolis Colts did.
Notable draft picks
1999: Chris McCalister (1st round, 10th overall), Brandon Stokley (4th round), Edwin Mulitalio (4th round)
2000: Jamal Lewis (1st round, 5th overall), Travis Taylor (1st round, 10th overall), Chris Redman (3rd round), Adalius Thomas (6th round)
1999, 2000: Marvin Lewis (defensive coordinator), Jack Del Rio (linebackers), Rex Ryan (defensive line), Mike Smith (defensive line/defensive assistant)