- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2001


OAKLAND, Calif. Move over Johnny U., Brooksie and Cal, you're so 20th Century. Ray, Shannon and Art are the Baltimore heroes of the new millennium.

Baltimore has waited 30 years for a return to football glory and yesterday the city moved one step closer to it, thanks in large part to perhaps the greatest defense the NFL has seen.

The 5-year-old Baltimore Ravens are going to the Super Bowl after their dominating 16-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship game before a sellout crowd of 62,784 at Network Associates Coliseum.

The Ravens held the Raiders the league's top-rated rushing attack to just 24 yards on the ground and forced five turnovers.

Many football observers, including the Raiders, knew the Ravens defense was good, but they didn't know it was this good.

"They're pretty darn good," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "If they are not the best, they're right up there at the top. They are very explosive from left corner to right corner, they're outstanding."

The Ravens and their defense will get one more test this season when they face the New York Giants Jan. 28 in Super Bowl XXXV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

The Ravens became just the fifth non-divisional champion to reach the Super Bowl. They join the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs, 1980 Raiders, 1997 Denver Broncos and last year's Tennessee Titans. Of those teams, only the Titans failed to win the Super Bowl.

Baltimore fans, whose beloved Colts were moved to Indianapolis by owner Bob Irsay in 1984, haven't seen an NFL championship since the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V.

Ravens owner Art Modell can relate to that.

Modell has waited 35 years for this moment. The affable 75-year-old owner never has been to a Super Bowl and yesterday's win was bittersweet for Modell, who was vilified by the city of Cleveland five years ago when he moved his franchise to Baltimore.

Modell hopes that the Ravens' trip to the Super Bowl will help him, his family and the city of Cleveland reconcile.

"I don't want any animosity, I don't want any bitterness, I love [the people of Cleveland] and I had to do what I had to do," Modell said. "There's no reason to go back and explain why I did it. I didn't leave Cleveland after 35 years because I love crabcakes."

Modell wasn't the only one in the Ravens locker room who earned redemption. Quarterback Trent Dilfer was in tears when the Lamar Hunt Trophy was presented to the Ravens. After spending six season as the Buccaneers starting quarterback, Dilfer is going back to Tampa as a Super Bowl quarterback.

"The greatest lesson I've learned in life is that you have to appreciate the moments in your life that are hard," said Dilfer, who is 10-1 as the Ravens starter. "You have to you can't go running from adversity. I'm very thankful for my years in Tampa. I would not trade one single experience for anything."

And the Baltimore fans wouldn't trade Ray Lewis, Tony Siragusa, Michael McCrary and the Ravens defense for anything.

The Raiders managed just 191 yards of total offense against the Ravens. The Raiders averaged 154.4 yards a game rushing, but the Ravens held Tyrone Wheatley, the Raiders 1,000-yard rusher, to only seven yards on 12 carries. And when Raiders' quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Bobby Hoying went to the air, the Ravens secondary was there too. Cornerback Duane Starks intercepted two passes. Veteran Robert Bailey, the Ravens nickel back, and linebacker Jamie Sharper each had an interception.

The only touchdown of the game came when Dilfer connected with tight end Shannon Sharpe on an 6-yard slant and Sharpe turned it into a 96-yard touchdown pass. It was the longest play from scrimmage in NFL postseason history.

The touchdown can on a third-and-18 at the Ravens 4-yard line. Sharpe lined up in the slot on the right side. Marquez Pope, the Raiders strong safety, was beaten to the inside on Sharpe's 6-yard pass route. Sharpe caught Dilfer's pass and broke down the middle of the field to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead with 11:08 left before halftime.

"The thing was basically we were just trying to get a first down," Sharpe said. "We needed probably 12 to 15 yards for a first down. Throw the ball, make the throw quick and force them to make a tackle. Trent and I talked about it all week I'm going to slide through the outside. He hit me in stride. When Marquez missed the tackle, it was basically a foot race."

The rest of the Ravens scoring was generated by kicker Matt Stover. Stover, the AFC's Pro Bowl kicker, made field goals of 21, 28 and 31 yards.

But as it has the entire season, the Ravens defense carried the team.

The Ravens set the NFL record for fewest points (165) and rushing yards (970) in a 16-game season. Yesterday, the Ravens defense didn't allow the Raiders into their own territory until Oakland's first possession of the second half and that was only because Dilfer was intercepted by safety Johnnie Harris at the Ravens' 39.

That Ravens turnover contributed to a 24-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal and represented the only points the Raiders would score. In three playoff games, the Ravens have allowed on 16 points. The Ravens also are the only team in this season's playoffs to win a road game and they did it twice last week at the Tennessee Titans and yesterday.

"The nature of our defense, you get a feel of having control of the game defensively, that dictates what you do offensively," said second-year Ravens coach Brian Billick. "We've gotten into that pattern, that routine. I'm going to have to burn my diploma from Brigham Young. I may never throw the ball again. That seems to be our mentality. And once we get into a certain point of the game, we have confidence in that."

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