Reliving Super Bowl XXXV glory means so much more to Baltimore

October 23, 2010 | Luke Jones

We’re always told not to live in the past in all walks of life, and the devotion to our sports teams is no exception.

It’s the same accusation we spew toward our adversaries in western Pennsylvania who constantly bring up their team’s six Super Bowl rings — particularly the four won in the 1970s — as a measure to claim their superiority over Baltimore and its fans. We should always be looking forward instead of celebrating past achievements in the rear-view mirror, right?

In contrast, Baltimoreans tend to romanticize the 2000 season in which the Ravens rose from relative anonymity in their fifth season to capture the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The feat emphatically recaptured Baltimore’s place in the National Football League after a 12-year absence had left the tradition-rich city without an identity — or professional football.

The lackluster offense and poor quarterback play that led to a five-game touchdown drought left those Ravens with a mortal 5-4 record before embarking on an 11-game winning streak to close the season as the top team in the NFL. It’s the ultimate case study that has provided hope in nearly every season since, as fans overlook the Ravens’ deficiencies — such as the current team’s lack of a pass rush and offensive struggles against the cover-2 defense — and point to the midseason struggles of the 2000 edition as reason for optimism.

Never mind that the 2000 team was perhaps the anomaly of all abnormalities in terms of NFL greatness, with a record-setting defense and an offense that simply succeeded in staying out of its own way. In many Baltimoreans’ minds, if lightning struck once, it can happen again, and the Ravens’ decade-long run of defensive dominance certainly contributes to that rationale.

But 10 years later, it’s clear to see how much that Super Bowl title really meant to the Charm City, in terms of short-term elation and the writs of passage it provided for generations of Baltimore football fans.

Entering the 2000 season, the Ravens had existed for four years but were more a civic novelty than an entrenched part of the local community. That’s not to say Baltimore hadn’t adopted the new football team immediately, but it was a new and different passion that had yet to be fully cultivated. Needless to say, the Ravens weren’t exactly a juggernaut in their early seasons and were just coming off their first non-losing season (8-8) under new coach Brian Billick in 1999.

Baltimore was still very much a baseball town as the Orioles were just finishing up their third straight losing season since playoff appearances in 1996 and 1997. The city had not experienced a major professional title — with apologies to the USFL’s Stars and the CFL’s Stallions — since 1983.

As we know, Baltimore’s feel-good story over the time period was the individual achievements of Cal Ripken, Jr., the local son and Hall of Fame shortstop who helped save baseball in 1995. It was a remarkable story in which the city took an immense pride, but it did not coincide with the championship success we all craved.

In retrospect, the timing of the Ravens’ championship march would prove perfect as the football team took its place as the toast of the town, with Ripken retiring less than nine months later and the Orioles slipping further into the abyss they’ve now painfully occupied for 13 years.

A new love affair was officially born on Jan. 28, 2001. (Video courtesy of the official site of the Baltimore Ravens)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNkzd4hZ9FE[/youtube]

The memorable plays and players have been immortalized through the magic of NFL Films and the current era of media in which we live, at times skewing our initial perspective because we’ve watched those moments again and again.

What we will never forget, however, is how that team and that championship made us feel — as a city and as individuals.

Watching Billick, owner Art Modell, quarterback Trent Dilfer, and Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis standing on that podium in Tampa to receive the trophy from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue — a major antagonist in Baltimore’s struggle to regain a team — was the ultimate source of restitution. It was a scene older generations of Baltimore fans thought they would never again witness and younger generations never thought they would enjoy at all.

It was for our grandfathers and fathers — or even ourselves — who had wept in the early morning of March 29, 1984 as the Mayflower vans left Owings Mills on their trek to Indianapolis. That championship did not erase the intense pain of losing the Colts, but it signified that Baltimore would be more than alright in the years to come.

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Ten years later, the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV championship also reminds us of our own mortality. Two members of that team, fullback Chuck Evans and offensive lineman Orlando Bobo, are no longer with us. Linebacker and special teams standout O.J. Brigance now suffers from ALS, but still inspires the current Ravens and the entire community with his immense courage.

On a personal level, we reflect on those we’ve lost in the 10 years since that wonderful experience. More than the dominating defense or the bruising running style of Jamal Lewis, I remember the giant bear hug shared with my father during the final seconds of that game as two generations celebrated the accomplishments of the Ravens.

Our football team.

Sadly, Dad passed away less than four years later, but that moment is forever entrenched in my soul, as I’m sure similar moments are shared by others throughout the region.

Other than the heartwarming story of last year’s Super Bowl champion Saints and what it meant to the city of New Orleans after the devastating fallout from Hurricane Katrina, you’d have a difficult time arguing that a Super Bowl title ever meant more to a city than that championship meant to Baltimore 10 years ago.

It connected generations of old Colts loyalists to younger fans who relished the stories but were desperate to have their own legacy in Baltimore football history.

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Super Bowl XXXV this weekend and welcome back that cast of characters that brought us so much joy, hopefully we cherish just how special that championship really was.

We’ll remember the upper deck shaking at then-PSINet Stadium as the Ravens completed an early-season 39-36 comeback victory over Jacksonville (a team they had never beaten in four years), an early precursor of glory to come later that season.

Flashing before our eyes will be the image of Jermaine Lewis running down the sideline — pointing to the heavens after losing his infant son Geronimo only weeks earlier — and removing any doubt that the New York Giants could stage a comeback.

Perhaps we’ll even remember the raindrops falling on our heads as more than 200,000 people flocked downtown for the victory parade just two days after the Super Bowl triumph.

Or maybe we’ll simply think of that long, euphoric hug like I will, perhaps shedding a few tears.

A decade later, it seems like only yesterday watching one of the greatest defenses in the history of the NFL do their thing.

But more than anything, we’ll never forget how that team made us feel.

To relive memories of the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV victory, visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear interviews with countless members of the championship team including Peter Boulware, Michael McCrary, Jamal Lewis, Matt Stover, Rod Woodson, Jamie Sharper, and many others!

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