- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. If you're looking for a feel-good story a tale about a team that has exceeded expectations with a "we're just happy to be here" attitude then the Baltimore Ravens are not your team.

The Ravens, whether they are at home or on the road, have developed an insatiable appetite for playoff victories.

It wasn't enough to humiliate the Denver Broncos at PSINet Stadium in the AFC wild-card game. A 24-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Adelphia Coliseum in the AFC semifinals was sweet, but left the Ravens wanting more.

Baltimore has Super Bowl fever and this particular week the Oakland Raiders the Ravens opponent in the AFC Championship game on Sunday at Oakland's Network Associates Coliseum are in the way.

"Is winning at Oakland tougher than winning at Tennessee?" Ravens coach Brian Billick asked. "We don't know. We'll find out. We're going there believing that we have the ability to win. The Raiders believe they can't be beaten there and they've won seven in a row at home."

However the Ravens take an NFL-best, nine-game winning streak and a 14-4 overall record to Oakland to face the Raiders (13-4).

The Raiders may have the scariest fans in the league, but the Ravens are not intimidated playing in a hostile environment. The Ravens went 7-2 on the road this season and have won nine of their last 12 road games.

Recent history in the AFC Championship game suggests that the Ravens have a good shot at going to Super Bowl XXXV Jan. 28 in Tampa, Fla. Since 1995, the visiting team has won three of the past five AFC titles.

"O.J. Brigance [Ravens reserve linebacker] and Billy Davis [backup wide receiver] played there before and they said it's like nothing you've seen before," Ravens fourth-year linebacker Jamie Sharper said of Oakland. "The crowd is all dressed up in face paint and yelling. They yell from the beginning kick and that's for a regular-season game. Now for the AFC Championship game, they are really going to be crazy. We know that. The main thing is for us to go out there and play our ballgame."

Preparation said Sharper is the reason the Ravens have been so successful on the road this season.

"Our coaches do a great job of preparing us each week in knowing our opponent, so there is no game that we've gone into that we haven't known exactly what the opponent has done in the past and what they might do," Sharper said. "We've seen it all. It's been four years of playing defense together. We've seen everything anybody can throw at us. So, we're never shocked or scared when somebody has a different formation or whatever."

Meanwhile Billick has a healthy respect for Raiders coach Jon Gruden and Oakland's Pro Bowl quarterback Rich Gannon. Billick and Gruden exchanged high-technology information when both worked in northern California years ago.

"I guess Jon and my first interaction was when he was a general assistant at the San Francisco 49ers and I was at Stanford," Billick recalled yesterday. "It was a time when we both interacted a little bit together because we took both organizations towards a 'you know what, some of this computer stuff might be useful', and we interacted at that level. The thing you have to appreciate about Jon he's got that look that everybody talks about you realize, no that's not an intestinal problem. That is Jon. What you see, that is Jon Gruden. That intensity, that steely-eyed focus, you have to admire Jon."

As for Gannon, Billick coached the 38-year-old journeyman quarterback when he was the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator. In fact, Billick tore his Achilles' tendon against Gannon during a friendly racquetball game some years back.

"There may not be the dominant quarterback like a John Elway or a Brett Favre in these championship games, but Rich Gannon comes as close to that as any of the four. He has seen everything a defense can throw at a quarterback and he makes the big play from the broken play."

The Raiders and Ravens have a history and its all been good for the Ravens.

The Ravens got their first franchise win when they defeated the Raiders 19-14 in the season opener on Sept. 1, 1996 at Memorial Stadium. The teams have played one other time since then, on Nov. 8, 1998, and the Ravens came out on top again 13-10 when Matt Stover's 30-yard field goal snapped a five-game Raiders winning streak.

Beating the Titans for the second time this season in their own home stadium on Sunday has the Ravens believing they can win anywhere. The Titans are 16-2 at Adelphia Coliseum with both losses came against the Ravens.

"If we can survive these two places back-to-back, we'll certainly earn a trip to Tampa," Billick said.

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