- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 13, 2007

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore won Super Bowl XXXV the hard way. Working out of a dilapidated facility that the Colts had abandoned for Indianapolis 16 years earlier, the Ravens went five straight games without a touchdown in the 2000 regular season, then had to win two road games in the AFC playoffs just to reach the Super Bowl.

That team seemingly was on a mission to win for elderly owner Art Modell — who hadn’t won a title in 36 years — for fans who had been deserted by the Colts and for aging starters like Rod Woodson, Rob Burnett and Tony Siragusa.

The 2006 Ravens, however, open the playoffs in a completely different situation.

The second-seeded Ravens (13-3), now owned by 46 year-old local businessman Steve Bisciotti, have been preparing for today’s emotional matchup at M&T; Bank Stadium against the third-seeded Colts (13-4) at their $31 million practice facility more fit for glass slippers than muddy cleats.

But then, these Ravens aren’t the Cinderellas of 2000. Seven starters and kicker Matt Stover have Super Bowl rings from that magical run as do coach Brian Billick and three of his assistants.

Perennial Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden believes the vibe is different from 2000, when the Ravens were in the playoffs for the first time since arriving in Baltimore. Ogden, who is questionable today after missing the final two regular season games with an ailing toe, is making his fourth playoff trip in seven years.

“We’ve got so many guys with experience, who’ve been to Super Bowls and deep into the playoffs,” Ogden said. “The feeling in 2000 was, ‘Who’s next? Let’s take them on. It doesn’t matter.’ The confidence level is the same. Different players, but the same confidence. We know we’ve got to get it done, though.”

Or as general manager Ozzie Newsome put it, “No one expected that much from us in 2000 [even though they had the NFL’s stingiest defense]. The expectations are higher now.”

That’s because not only do so many critical Ravens remember what it took to win it all in 2000, but this year they earned a first-round bye thanks to a defense — still anchored by fiery middle linebacker Ray Lewis — that is again the NFL’s best, and a veteran quarterback in Steve McNair who also has been to a Super Bowl with Tennessee.

“The heritage we have is there,” said Billick, whose office is around the corner from a majestic hallway lined with paintings from the 2000 Super Bowl run. “I have no doubt this group understands the immediacy of where we are, the urgency of where we are.”

If the younger Ravens don’t, Lewis is intent on making sure they do.

“The thing I try to emphasize to the young guys is, ‘Know your job better than the person next to you, because if you know your job better than them, then you’ll know what you’re doing better than them,’ ” Lewis said. “And if you understand that, now you understand how fast we play and how we trust each other so much. That’s what the playoffs are about. They’re about trust.”

That’s a place that the Ravens haven’t been since the 2001 season, when the same defense that had won a championship for Baltimore a year earlier made its last stand in a divisional round loss at Pittsburgh. Twelve starters from that team — including Burnett, Woodson, Siragusa, Shannon Sharpe, Jamie Sharper and Duane Starks — never played for the Ravens again as age and the salary cap broke up the team. Today’s game will be the first postseason game for the Ravens since 2003 when they suffered a wild-card loss to McNair and the Titans. The fact that the Colts are the opponent makes it that much more special.

“You can feel how much the fans appreciate having a football team around, because they’ve lost one,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “They were calling for us to play the Colts because they’re still bitter and they’re still sore in their bellies. For me and the Ravens representing the city of Baltimore, we want to oblige them.”

And if the Ravens can do that, they’ll be one step closer to playing in their second Super Bowl of this decade. Lewis believes that this defense can’t be solved even by Peyton Manning and the Colts’ offense, but also wants to take things as they come.

“I don’t want to compare us to 2000,” Lewis said. “You’re only judged if we go win a championship. If we win this Super Bowl, then you can put us up there. But right now, we just did what we needed to do to get to where we are right now.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide