“They don’t know how fast we are. They don’t know.”
Those words were uttered by Ravens coach Brian Billick in the opening moments of Super Bowl XXXV 15 years ago, a game for which Baltimore had waited a very long time.
It had been 30 years since a team representing Charm City had played in the Super Bowl, a period of time that included the final gloomy seasons with the Colts before they left for Indianapolis in 1984 and the 12 years that followed without an NFL franchise. In their first four seasons, the Ravens were only known to the rest of the league as Art Modell’s renamed franchise that had broken hearts in Cleveland by moving to Baltimore in 1996.
Even as the team rose to prominence in 2000, the dark cloud of Ray Lewis standing trial for murder earlier in the year was all the rest of the country saw as the Ravens advanced to their first Super Bowl by winning the AFC championship in Oakland. The two weeks that followed consisted of media predictably rehashing the trial and then crushing Billick for lashing out at reporters for doing so. And despite the Ravens being the favorite in Las Vegas, many continued singing the praises of the New York Giants after their 41-0 demolition of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game.
But, finally, the day had come in Tampa.
The game on Jan. 28, 2001 wasn’t as much a challenge as it was validation for the Ravens and their fans. What the rest of the country saw as arrogance from the hated Lewis and his teammates was merely knowledge of the inevitable after the Ravens had beaten Tennessee in the divisional round, the game that proved to be the unofficial Super Bowl of the 2000 season.
The Ravens knew they were going to beat the Giants. Now was the time to show everyone else — whether they liked it or not — just how fast and how great they were.
The three-plus hours that followed showcased how special the Ravens defense was, holding New York without an offensive score and forcing five turnovers in a 34-7 blowout. Baltimore was back on top of the football world before Indianapolis had ever reached the pinnacle and after Paul Tagliabue had callously suggested the city build a museum when an expansion bid was unsuccessful seven years earlier.
The NFL commissioner was now forced to hand over the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
For Baltimoreans who remembered the Colts, the success of the Ravens had helped make their football history whole again. And younger fans now understood what they’d been missing all those years as their parents and grandparents shared memories of Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore and Bert Jones on lonely Sundays in the fall.
Those hugs and embraces with loved ones in the closing moments of Super Bowl XXXV were so special as was the celebratory parade in the pouring rainy just a couple days later.
It was a long wait, but the Ravens had finally shown the rest of the football world that Baltimore was good enough after all.