- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001

TAMPA, Fla. Super Bowl quarterbacks usually fit into one of several categories. You have the Golden Arms (John Elway, Dan Marino, Joe Namath, Kurt Warner). You have the Gritty Field Generals (Brett Favre, Jim McMahon, Joe Theismann, Bart Starr). You have the Scramblin' Fools (Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, Steve McNair). You have the One-Season Wonders (Chris Chandler, Stan Humphries, Mark Rypien, Joe Kapp). The archetypes are fairly well established.

Or, at least, they were until Trent Dilfer of the Baltimore Ravens arrived in town. Dilfer seems to have invented a category all his own the Accidental Super Bowl Quarterback. Some might compare him to Tony Eason ('85 Patriots), David Woodley ('82 Dolphins) or Vince Ferragamo ('79 Rams), but those quarterbacks, we tend to forget, had some strong playoff performances to help their teams get to the Super Bowl.

Dilfer's contribution to the cause, on the other hand, has been minimal. In the past three games, he has completed 23 of 48 for 437 yards and two touchdowns the kind of numbers Warner put up in the Super Bowl alone last year. His TD passes were downright bizarre. The first bounced off two players one Raven, one Bronco before Shannon Sharpe grabbed it and ran 58 yards for a score. The second, also to Sharpe, was supposed to gain eight or 10 yards but wound up gaining 96 when the Raiders defender missed the tackle.

Basically, Dilfer has just stayed out of the way. His orders from coach Brian Billick are simple: Don't force anything. Don't make the big mistake. Wait for our defense to give you field position. Let the defense win the game.

So far, it has worked pretty well for the Ravens. Their defense, which happens to be one of the best in NFL history, has allowed just 16 points in three playoff games, greatly simplifying matters for Dilfer. In the fourth quarter against Tennessee the biggest 15 minutes of Baltimore's season he didn't have to do anything; the special teams and defense scored touchdowns to beat the Titans 24-10.

And now he's at the Super Bowl, and teammates like Tony Siragusa are saying, "I think Trent should start picking out names of Tampa Bay people who told him he couldn't play and sort of give them the finger. He wouldn't do that [being a born-again Christian], but if he points them out to me, I would. Those of you who have called him a horrible quarterback I think he's laughing at your articles right now, to tell you the truth."

Excuse me, but am I missing something here? Has Dilfer undergone some transformation I'm not aware of? Not to be a killjoy or anything, but to me he's essentially the same quarterback he was with the Bucs the pass-and-pray type. His statistics certainly indicate as much. His passer ratings in his last two years in Tampa were 74.0 and 75.8. His rating this season in Baltimore, since he replaced Tony Banks in Week 9: 76.6.

What exactly has the man proven, other than that the Ravens defense is so good, it almost doesn't need an offense? That's the story of this Super Bowl or one of them, at least. The Baltimore D has taken the most important position in the game and rendered it virtually meaningless. (Ask Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi what he thought about Dilfer coming out of college, and he says, "I think I can cop a plea, because that was the year I was out of the league [1994]." Now there's a glowing endorsement for you.)

Dilfer, to his credit, has taken all the bashing with great equanimity. He insists he still loves Tampa, has "great memories" of his six seasons with the Bucs and blah, blah, blah. Being in the Super Bowl "isn't about vindication," he says. "For me, it's [about] simply going somewhere else and trying to develop as a player and a person. [Former quarterback] Frank Reich told me something a few years ago that I'll remember the rest of my life. He said, 'You know, as I've watched people play and retire and go through this NFL thing, whether they're superstars or nobodies or guys in between, 99 percent of them retire bitter.' And I just decided that I wasn't going to end that way. I'll make sure, when I leave the game, I truly can appreciate the opportunity God has given me to play in the greatest league in the world."

The closest Dilfer comes to criticizing his former team is when he talks about the Ravens' second game against Tennessee this year. With less than three minutes to go, he threw an interception that the Titans returned for a score to take the lead. "I went in the huddle [after the kickoff], and there were 10 guys looking back at me, believing we were going to do something special in the last 2 and 1/2 minutes to win the game," he says. (Which they did, driving 70 yards for the winning touchdown.) "I never had that in Tampa. I maybe had eight, maybe seven [supporters] sometimes one." He smiles. "Mike Alstott always believed in me."

After the season, Dilfer may very well go back to being a backup. There's talk of the Ravens signing Brad Johnson he played under Billick in Minnesota and rookie Chris Redman has shown promise. But Trent is trying not to think about that stuff. He's just enjoying the ride one so wild and improbable it belongs at Disney World.

Trent Dilfer, thrown on the scrap heap by the Bucs a year ago today, is in the Super Bowl. He just might win it, too. Or rather, he might be on the winning team.

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