Before I begin, let me start by making a few simple statements.
#1. I always read Drew’s blog because I find it consistently insightful and entertaining.
#2. While I don’t think he’s Vince Lombardi, or even Jimmy Johnson, I think Brian Billick has been a very good NFL head coach. I know that he was labeled as an offensive genius, which has certainly never demonstrated itself in Baltimore, and the “leaps of faith” that he has asked Raven fans to take with his quarterbacks has consistently turned out to be more like a walk of the plank. The truth of the matter is that someday Billick will be able to bounce a grandchild on his knee and say that he was the winning coach in a Super Bowl, and that is and will always be a very exclusive club.
With that all being said, the Trent Dilfer decision was the biggest mistake Billick has ever made.
Drew wrote in a recent blog “The debate about whether or not the Ravens were right or wrong for letting Dilfer go will NEVER be settled. Ever.”
I couldn’t disagree more. The Ravens were a Super Bowl champion. Trent Dilfer was, as Drew called him, “the missing piece.” Then Billick decided after the season to jettison “the missing piece” and bring in someone new. The Ravens haven’t sniffed the title since.
I’m sure some people say “that’s not that big of a deal? We won one Super Bowl. Isn’t that enough?
The fact is that if you go back twenty years to 1987, and look at every Super Bowl winner since, you see something right away. Teams that won the Super Bowl returned either the next year, or very shortly there after. Sometimes they won and sometimes they lost, but they always went back. In fact, there are only two teams in the last twenty years who have won the Super Bowl and never made it back: The Buccaneers of ’03 and the Ravens.
So actually, the Ravens fall from dominance in quite unique. Most teams, when very good, stay very good for a few years. Not the Ravens. And the question is why?
It’s hard not to say that getting rid of Dilfer had something to do with it. Hey, I know that Dilfer was no Peyton Manning, and I appreciate the fact that dumping the quarterback from a Super Bowl winner took balls on Billick’s part. But with the decision to dump the quarterback comes consequences, and in a world where most of us believe in the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Billick tried to fix something that wasn’t broken and made it worse.
We will never know how the Ravens would have done with Trent as quarterback in the Fall of ’01, but you don’t judge the intelligence of the move by looking at Trent’s lack of success since he left. The Ravens don’t base their business on the success and failures of former players. They base their business on wins and losses. Trent was a guy that won here. Trent was a guy that the players believed in here. Trent won a Super Bowl here. I don’t care if you say that he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl or you say that he was the quarterback who didn’t screw up the offense so the defense could win the Super Bowl, it doesn’t really matter. He was the right guy at that time for that team.
I saw an interview once with Sparky Anderson, talking about his days managing the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. When asked why they didn’t become more of a dynasty, he said that trading Tony Perez after the ’76 season was the beginning of the downfall. He didn’t talk about home runs or RBI’s or Tony’s hall of fame resume. Sparky said that Perez was the guy who held the team together. He was the leader in the clubhouse and Sparky didn’t realize how important he was until he gone.
I know Dilfer wasn’t a great quarterback, but maybe his value to the Ravens lay somewhere other than his ability to throw the deep out. I think he really was the missing piece. The problem was the he was missing from the roster the next season.
Honestly, looking back, wouldn’t you have loved to see that team take the field again with a chance to defend its title with Trent under center instead of Elvis?