- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. It's finally sinking in.
Twenty-four hours after winning the AFC championship, the Baltimore Ravens are beginning to realize the significance of representing the AFC in Super Bowl XXXV against the NFC champion New York Giants on Jan. 28 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
The unbridled joy on display after the Ravens' convincing 16-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday has been replaced with a sense of accomplishment.
"It's like, 'Wow, this is special because we've been the underdogs all year and now we're here,' " Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Nobody can take us out of [the Super Bowl] now. This is the dance. You win this one, hey, you are the champion."
Said defensive tackle Tony Siragusa: "It's something every kid and every person who ever played the game of football dreams about, and I'm living a dream right now."
There were plenty of people all season who said exactly that about the Ravens: A Super Bowl appearance was only a dream. In their playoff wins against the Tennessee Titans (24-10) and Raiders, the Ravens were the underdogs. That won't be the case against the Giants; the Ravens are favored by 2 and 1/2 points.
"[Ravens coach] Brian Billick came here and gave this team exactly what they needed attitude," Ravens cornerback Duane Starks said. "The type of coach he is a little outspoken it really says a lot. This is a young team that wants to go out and prove themselves and not worry about what anyone else thinks."
There was one crisis after another this season for the Ravens, starting last January when Lewis faced murder charges in connection with a post-Super Bowl fight that left two men dead in Atlanta.
Lewis, 25, plea-bargained to a lesser charge of obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony in a Fulton County (Ga.) court in June. The league fined Lewis $250,000 for his involvement in the altercation, and he is serving a year of probation.
Many wondered how the four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker would respond this season. Lewis answered by winning the league's defensive player of the year award.
"First off, we have a deep appreciation for the loss of life. Ray takes that seriously, and we take it seriously," Billick said. "Secondly, we have a deep loyalty and appreciation for Ray Lewis that has been borne out. Some people will never understand that because they're unable to detach themselves from the facts.
"At training camp, during the season and now, it's a non-issue. We understand it is a topic that you all will talk about, but I don't believe you'll find any of our players willing to engage in that discussion."
The Ravens started the season 3-1, then had to overcome an ineffective offense that failed to score a touchdown in five games the entire month of October. The Ravens tied the NFL record of 21 straight quarters without a touchdown but won two of those five because of the league's best defense and unflappable kicker Matt Stover. Baltimore set NFL records for fewest points and rushing yards allowed in a 16-game season.
"We still haven't scored a whole lot of points in the playoffs, have we? But guess where we are going," Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "We play to our strengths. We try to put 14, 17, 21 points on the board and turn it over to the defense. Some days we only get 10, but if you're playing with the defense we have, sometimes 10 is good enough. The Giants did it in 1990, so we're going to try it in 2001 and see how it works."
Baltimore's inability to score forced Billick to change quarterbacks, replacing incumbent Tony Banks with veteran Trent Dilfer. Though Dilfer's numbers were not spectacular, he has gone 10-1 as Billick's starting quarterback.
"The blueprint for us is togetherness, it's camaraderie, it's belief, it's the intangibles," Dilfer said. "The thing that has been really neat for me is that I've always banked on the intangibles in my career. A lot of times they let me down. This year is the first year that I've seen the intangible things far outweigh the practical application things."


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