- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

TAMPA, Fla. Brian Billick went ballistic.

Less than 10 minutes into the first news conference of Super Bowl week, the Baltimore Ravens second-year coach lambasted the media for sensationalizing the Ray Lewis saga.

Super Bowl XXXV, this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, will be played two days short of the one-year anniversary of Lewis' involvement in a double-murder after last year's Super Bowl in Atlanta.

Lewis spent 15 days in the Fulton County (Ga.) jail. Murder charges were later dropped when he plea-bargained to obstruction of justice charges in exchange for his testimony against co-defendants Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley. Lewis is on a year's probation through June and was fined $250,000 by the NFL.

"Those that wish to embellish it not to crystallize it, not to shed new information but to sensationalize it for your own purposes, and this is a personal observation, it's reprehensible," Billick said. "I don't like it. I think it's unprofessional."

Billick, whose first job in the NFL was as the assistant director of public relations for the 1979-80 San Francisco 49ers, apparently forgot his roots when he attacked the same medium with which he used to work.

"There are those of you and I've seen some reports that are embellishing on it and embarking on an area that I just see no productivity," Billick said. "I don't think it's in the best interests of the [victims'] family. I don't think it's in the best interests of the league. I don't think it's in the best interests of Ray Lewis, and quite frankly, I don't think it's in your best interests because I don't think you all, when you do that, come across real well."

Billick said Lewis, if he chooses, will address last year's Atlanta tragedy today during media day. More than 3,000 reporters are expected to attend and many will be focused on Lewis, the Ravens' All-Pro linebacker.

Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe offered some advice to his 25-year-old teammate. Sharpe publicly appealed to Lewis to be cautious with the media.

"You can't get frustrated, try to be as cordial as possible, try not to lose your head, because you've done a great job, so don't lose it in the last seven days," Sharpe said. "The team that has the least amount of adversity will win this ball game."

Before the Ravens left Baltimore, Billick spoke with Lewis as well as his players.

"I've advised the players to not engage in any conversation, whatsoever, regarding the sequence of events a year ago," Billick said. "With regards to Ray, he has an idea to what he wants to do one time only if he chooses to do it. I've advised him after that to not engage with it. Beyond the exposure tomorrow, I don't believe you're going to find anybody willing to engage it, at least in regards to my team or any of my players."

Billick said Lewis has shown sympathy to the families of murder victims Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Billick went on to say that Lewis would like to meet with the Baker and Lollar families, but the families have no desire to speak to Lewis the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.

One reporter questioned Billick's tactics and implied that the coach was trying to tell the media how to do their jobs. Billick responded: "I have the podium and you all are here to listen to me."

Billick vigorously defended the way the Ravens handled the Lewis situation from the beginning.

"We've made it very clear that we have handled Ray Lewis' situation, beginning with last year's Super Bowl, as directly, as honestly, and as forthrightly as we could come up with," Billick said. "We are not going to go backwards now. We are not trying to stonewall it. As much as some of you want to, we are not going to re-try this. It's inappropriate and you're not qualified."

Billick's day didn't start well, either. One of the Ravens team buses slammed into a police cruiser on its way to Baltimore/Washington International Airport after a pep rally at the Inner Harbor.

"Twenty-five guys had their camcorders out and nobody got it on film," Sharpe said. "The [police] car is getting rammed into the median. It was real wild. As long as nobody got hurt, it wasn't a bad omen."


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