Bowl XXXV: A game for the true football fan
GREG T. SPIELBERG, SPORTS EDITOR
Forget about the new Budweiser commercial. Forget about
the pre-game show and the half-time production. Forget about these things
because they're not football and you are a football fan. And despite what
some might say, Super Bowl XXXV was how football is meant to be played.
After nine years of championship games focused on the
offense, what we found in Tampa was a defense-dominated game. The scoring
machines of Dallas, San Francisco, and Green Bay have long since shut
down; now relegated to the middle of the NFL pack.
From the back of the shelves-their unattractive appearances
hiding true value- come the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants. No Troy
Aikman or Jerry Rice lead either franchise through the 2000-2001 NFL season,
but they managed to get to the big game anyway.
That's because it wasn't about offense during the season,
and it wasn't about offense during the Super Bowl. It was about the kind
of football you hear about from Ditka and Madden on NFL films late at
night. It was about two defenses that claimed nothing and got nothing…except
a chance to play for the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Fans who complained about a lack of smashmouth football
for years now suddenly turned their backs on the Ravens and Giants because
neither team has star players.
"No one wants to see Trent Dilfer and Kerry Collins
battle it out," they said. The ones looking for Eddie George and Randy
Moss seemed to forget that they were absent for a reason. The Super Bowl
So, while Raymond James Stadium was packed on January
29, the fans weren't watching what they really wanted to see. What took
place was a triumph of run-stopping and pass-coverage.
Nickels and dimes, stunts and blitzes foiled the deep
fades and quick tosses that tend to break games wide open. And whether
or not it was a disappointment to those at the game, it should have been
a delight to the true football fans.
Kerry Collins and Trent Dilfer are not spectacular names
and (despite what the Vikings may say) not great players. Tiki Barber
and Ron Dayne might have been legends in college, but they aren't enough
to support their team even in tandem.
No receiver on the Ravens caught over a hundred balls
or gained near a thousand yards, yet they both made it to Tampa. Through
defense and defense alone.
Throughout the regular season, Baltimore's defense embarrassed
opponents; each game they weren't supposed to, but they always did. Allowing
an NFL-best 10.3 points-per-game and 60.6 rushing yards will secure your
franchise a spot deep in the playoffs- even if you're quarterbacked by
Tony Banks and Dilfer.
Art Modell's five-year old squad's Super Bowl QB threw
for a glorious 1500 yards, eight touchdowns, eight interceptions and a
76.6 rating. In an era that has been dominated by the scoring game, these
numbers belong at home, watching-not playing.
On the opposing end, Collins had thrown for 3610 yards,
22 touchdowns, and owned an 83.1 rating. But these numbers are tricky,
coming against only one playoff team (the Eagles, twice) the entire year.
Both quarterbacks played the Phoenix role, restarting their own motors
in different cities. Collins dropped out of Carolina after damning his
team, and Dilfer was thrown out of Tampa for ruining the Bucs.
Through their defenses, though, they were they able
to land safely on the Super Bowl grass. The final NFL game became a microcosm
for what the entire season was: football dominated by linebackers, ends,
tackles, and the secondary.
Early in the second quarter, a series of plays further
showed the tone of the game. Jamal Lewis runs for no yards; Lewis drops
a pass in the flats. Dilfer throws past Jason Sehorn. Ravens punt. Penalty
against New York. Collins almost picked off. Giant first-down. Giant punt.
No offensive continuity was ever started due to the
play of both defenses. Ray Lewis and his record-setting corps bottled
up the often-used backfield of Barber and fullback Greg Comella until
New York changed it.
When Dayne came in to supply the feared "Thunder and
Lightning" combination, Tony Siragusa and the rest of the Ravens' line
closed the gaps before Dayne got the ball. Barber ended the game with
a grand total of 49 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
Raven defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis established
his run-defense so quickly, New York ran only 16 rushing plays all night.
This left (Giant offensive coordinator) Sean Payton calling passing plays
for a quarterback whose credibility balanced on his NFC Championship game
Though he did pass for 381 yards and five touchdowns,
Collins was more than fazed by the ever-changing formations of the Baltimore
defense. He was sacked four times and managed only 112 yards through the
air on 15 completions. Along with almost double the amount of wasted passes,
he threw four interceptions.
Giant coach Jim Fassell said, "It was a combination
of us not protecting him, which I think made him a little nervous, and
then he started forcing things."
On the other side of the ball, it was dead-calm. Brian
Billick strolled up and down the side-lines, not worrying about scoring
because he knew the Giants wouldn't. Dilfer and rookie running back Jamal
Lewis provided the groundwork for an unspectacular yet working offense.
In the first half, Baltimore receivers victimized cornerback
Jason Sehorn repeatedly. He was burned on outs and button-hooks, and then
finally on a post pattern by Brandon Stokley, a second-year receiver out
of Louisiana-Lafayette, for the first score of the game.
This turned out to be the only impact score by an offense.
While Jamal Lewis ran for a short touchdown late in the game, and Matt
Stover connected on two of three field goals for the Ravens, they didn't
affect the outcome of the game.
The sudden outburst of scoring that took place in the
third-quarter stemmed from spectacular plays, just not from the guy who
gets the snap. First, Collins dropped back to throw a simple out-pattern
of about five yards. Instead, Duane Starks came in strong from his coverage
position and picked the ball off, sprinting 49 yards into the end zone.
On the ensuing kickoff, rookie kick-returner, Ron Dixon
took the ball at his three yard line, broke through the Baltimore special
teams and put his team's only points on the scoreboard. This was the same
Dixon whose longest return during the regular season was 44 yards and
hadn't had a touchdown all year.
He had, however, run back the opening kickoff against
the Vikings two weeks earlier. While spectators and participants alike
reveled in the happenings of the past 14 seconds, Jermaine Lewis juked
his way to a touchdown of his own, taking the kickoff back 84 yards.
Three SportsCenter clips packed back-to-back-to-back
for the playoff football fans allowed all to fill their viewing
needs. Forget about them. Though they were heart-stopping, stand up and
cheer big plays, they weren't the essence of the game.
What you should remember are the countless times Collins
hit the grass; Chris McAlister picking off a near-touchdown pass; Ray
Lewis almost grabbing an interception- tipping it in order for a teammate
to grab the ball. Remember Trent Dilfer running for his career from linebackers
Michael Barrow and Jesse Armstead; Michael Strahan demolishing any run
to his side of the line.
So, in the end, Baltimore forced its way to a championship.
Or rather, they forced everyone else out. They rode an incredible 11-game
winning streak to the end of the line with a dominating defensive game
that has rarely been seen.
While Player of the Year, and Super Bowl MVP, Ray Lewis
(rightfully) draws most of the spotlight, the Ravens offense rightfully
gets little. For the true football fan, the Ravens exemplify the Football
spirit and embody the physical intensity we've been meant to see for years.