The self-acclaimed leader in sports has finally decided to spotlight the greatest defense that the league has ever seen. Last week, ESPN announced that they are starting production on their acclaimed 30 For 30 series featuring the 2000 Baltimore Ravens team. As a lifelong Ravens fan, I was too hyped to read the exciting news.
That 2000 team was special. It holds a special place in the heart of Charm City. As much joy as this will bring the Baltimore fan base, it will most certainly open old wounds. The tragic events that occurred merely a year earlier at Super Bowl XXXIV will be brought up. ESPN has a penchant for politicizing things to broaden the appeal of their programming.
To address the elephant in the room, Ray Lewis and his legal issues should not overshadow the greatness of this historic team. Unequivocally, Ray Lewis is NOT a murderer. Did he get charged with obstructing justice? Yes. That is a common charge given to uncooperative parties in a crime. That being said, these events set forth what would come to be the Baltimore Ravens’ path to their first Super Bowl championship.
What Needs To Be Included
You can’t mention the 2000 Baltimore Ravens without acknowledging the greatest defense ever assembled. From the front four to the secondary. Baltimore’s defense defined the word smothering. They allowed 188 points all year! Averaging out to 9.4 points per game, including the playoffs.
Opposing teams wanted no part of this vaunted defensive unit. Corey Dillon literally refused to come back on the field at the end of the game in their first meeting with Cincinnati. Walked into the Black Hole and destroyed a very good Oakland offense. Overcame a very tough Tennessee team that had the drop on the offense thanks to an alleged stolen Trent Dilfer playbook.
Alongside the historically great defense was absolute stellar play by the special teams unit. The unit was headlined by legendary kicker, Matt Stover, punter, Kyle Richardson, and return man Jermaine Lewis. When the offense hit a wall and went without a touchdown for five games, Matt Stover kept the Baltimore Ravens in those games with his steady and reliable kicking leg. Kyle Richardson did his best to pin teams deep in their own territory so the defense could cause more havoc.
Jermaine Lewis made, arguably, the greatest special teams play of the season. On Christmas Eve of 2000, Jermaine Lewis sealed the season finale versus the New York Jets with a 54-yard punt return for a TD, just a week after losing his newborn son. He would put a cherry on top of the day with another punt return for a TD in the fourth quarter, this one going for 89 yards. Ravens fans rallied around the mourning Lewis and in return, propelled the team into the playoffs.
The Importance Of The QB Switch
With the Baltimore Ravens offense fledgling versus the Tennessee Titans in week eight, former head coach Brian Billick made a change at quarterback. Tony Banks had just tossed his third interception of the game. Billick made the decision to put back up Trent Dilfer into the game. Even though the Ravens lost the game, Dilfer proved to be a better game manager.
Though he did not set the league on fire, quarterback Trent Dilfer guided the Baltimore Ravens to a 7-1 record in the second half of the season. Dilfer led the team to a victory in Tennessee 24-23, marking the Titans’ first loss in their new home stadium. With Trent at the helm down the stretch, the offense put up 27 points versus Dallas in week 12, and 44 points the following week versus the Cleveland Browns.
To be fair to Tony Banks, Dilfer’s numbers were not that much better. Dilfer threw 12 touchdowns to Banks’ eight touchdowns. Tony threw eight interceptions while Dilfer threw eleven. The biggest discrepancy in their numbers was the fact that Dilfer completed 60% of his passes while Banks completed 54% of his passes. Trent led by efficiency, even if he tossed three more interceptions than Banks. Billick made a critical in-game decision, but the risk brought the reward of a lifetime. The Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Brian Billick, The P-Word, And Festivus
Leading the tight-knit 53-man roster was former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick. Just a year prior, Billick was picked to replace the franchise’s first head coach Ted Marchibroda. Brian Billick was pegged to elevate the Baltimore Ravens offense to the next level. After witnessing Daunte Culpepper, Cris Carter, and future Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss light up the league, Baltimore was expecting fireworks.
Brian Billick had his work cut out for him. With the help of general manager Ozzie Newsome, Billick was able to bring in some key veterans that went on to be instant contributors on both sides of the ball. One of them being tight end Shannon Sharpe. During the Super Bowl season, Billick leaned heavily on Sharpe and free agent free safety, Rod Woodson. Not only for on-field play but also for the off-the-field guidance of Ray Lewis, who was just entering his prime.
One of the craziest rules that Brian Billick would instill during the 2000 season was the ban on using the word “Playoffs”. He believed it was a distraction and that the team hadn’t earned the right to speak about the playoffs. He laid out an undisclosed fine if he heard the “P-word” mentioned in his presence or in the media by any of his players. One phrase that rose out of the ban on the P-word and into Ravens folklore- Festivus.
It was a one-word phrase that everyone who spoke of it knew its significance. It spread like wildfire in Baltimore. The fans adopted the phrase as well as the players. It was on hats and t-shirts throughout the stands. Even the Super Bowl was referred to as Festivus Maximus. Hopefully, these tidbits of our history are not forgotten by the folks creating the 30 For 30 film.
From The Ravens Players Themselves
Throughout the last eighteen months, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a half dozen of the players from this 2000 championship team. Hosting a Baltimore-based podcast since Christmas of 2020 afforded me the opportunity to interview them and forge lifelong friendships. I had the chance to speak with them and get their thoughts on what should be included in the 30 For 30 film on ESPN, slated for a projected February 2023 release (Thank you, Bobby Trosset).
One of the first players I got to know was defensive tackle, Larry Webster. I had the pleasure of interviewing for the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute – Poly for Baltimoreans – Junior Varsity football head coaching vacancy in 2010. Webster, at the time, was Poly’s varsity head football coach. I ended up not getting the job. Fast forward eleven years later, our careers crossed paths and our friendship was rekindled like there wasn’t a decade gap in the middle.
I had the chance to sit down with “Big Web” and ask him what should be in the film. He stated, “Emphasis on the defense and what was truly the greatest defense ever to set foot on the field. The bond that was shared by the guys in the locker room. A lifelong bond that will never be broken.”
During the first season of my podcast Bearded, Wholesome, & All Things Baltimore (cheap plug), I had a chance to interview the 2000 Ravens swiss army knife Obafemi Ayanbadejo. “Femi” was one of my more memorable guests. He was high energy and enthusiastic.
Late last week, I asked Femi what he would like to see in the 30 For 30 film. Femi stated, “The subtle effect of Denny Green on the culture created by Brian.” Green was the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Ayanbadejo played for Green and followed Brian Billick to Baltimore. He elaborated stating, “Billick’s collaboration with players. Rest. Shorter and more strategic practices. Accountability on the players’ end. Knowing our roles. Trusting our teammates.” He would end it with, “That started with Denny. I saw and heard the similarities but with Brian’s own philosophy and approach.” Billick certainly placed his own emphasis on the team and its structure. The Minnesota Vikings and Denny Green connection would be a fantastic addition to the 30 For 30.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Baltimore’s 2000 offensive right tackle Harry Swayne late last year on my show. Harry is currently the NFL Players Association Baltimore chapter President. I mentioned to him the probability of ESPN making it about Atlanta/Ray and not what is truly important. When asked for a quote about the 30 For 30 announcement, Harry stated, “I believe he(Ray) is smart enough not to make it about that. He wouldn’t let them make it about that night. We’ve been steering the narrative of that season since we were twenty-somethings. I’ll keep my faith in Christ Never failed” Harry offered a faith-based perspective that is hard to argue against.
I have had the chance to form a friendship with Anthony Mitchell, former Ravens safety and special teams ace through this venture of writing for Stadium Rant. I wrote an article on the Top Five Greatest Ravens Undrafted Free Agents a few weeks ago. He had made my honorable mentions list and found the article through his former teammate Marques Douglas.
I called Anthony when the news of the ESPN 30 For 30 was announced. He was excited. I told him my feelings and thoughts on the announcement as well as my worries about what will or will not be included. I asked him what he thought should be included in the film. He stated, “The impact that the special teams unit had on the entire season. What we were able to accomplish while the offense couldn’t score. Even when cooler heads didn’t prevail, we held the team down and created huge plays throughout the year. I hope they include my touchdown return on the blocked field goal” followed by a chuckle. Mitchell was a vital piece to the defense and special teams unit. His blocked field goal return for a touchdown sealed the Tennessee Titans AFC Championship game.
I had the chance to ask Jermaine Lewis what his thoughts were on the 2000 season. Lewis, arguably, the greatest Baltimore Ravens kick/punt returner, had this to say- “I remember as a kid one of my favorite times was winning four straight pop Warner Super Bowl type games. So when I accomplished my dream of being drafted to the NFL I thought- Ok this should be easy too. I had no clue. I soon learned the type of dedication, hard work, and perseverance that it would take to make this dream come true.
The 2000 Super Bowl team was built by a top-notch organization that crafted a unique system with more than just talented players – with WINNERS. That’s what it took to win the big game. People wonder why we are such a phenomenon but it’s not rocket science. When you get players of such caliber as Ray Lewis, Shannon Sharpe, and Rod Woodson. Put them all together, you’re bound for greatness. And I’m blessed to be a part of that history too.” Jermaine certainly etched his place in the history of the organization. Myself, along with many other Ravens fans, were sad to see him leave Baltimore via the expansion draft in 2002 with the Houston Texans. “84” will always have a place in the heart of this city.
What to Expect
It’s truly a mixed feeling for me right now. ESPN has put out some fantastic content in the form of their 30 For 30 films. My hope as a fan is that they leave the scandal and politics out of the project. They often don’t and can’t seem to help themselves. The urge to virtue signal is all too real for the four-lettered conglomerate. Hopefully, they do right by us in Charm City. We will see in early 2023.
If you are in reading this on May 23rd and are in the Baltimore metro area, The Baltimore Ravens are celebrating the 2000 Super Bowl Team at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 PM Eastern Time. See you there!