BALTIMORE — The 28th. January 2001 will forever be the crowning achievement of the Baltimore Ravens’ defense.
In the spirit of the Ravens’ players, the 34-7 victory over the New York Giants during Super Bowl XXXV crowned the 2000 team with the best defense in a season in NFL history.
On this, the 20th day. This Baltimore defense, now in its 50th year, continues to stand out from the rest in every way – in records, in the postseason and, as the players proudly sing, in attitude.
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The Ravens, then known as a Cleveland transplant, did not win a season or make the playoffs in their first four seasons. In 2000, Baltimore’s identity was formed by 11 defensive hooligans who were not only prone to shutting teams down. They wanted to punish you every time you drove and swarmed behind the line of scrimmage.
Their NFL records for number of points scored (165) and running yards (970) in a 16-game season have never been in jeopardy. The only offensive touchdown allowed is the rarest of the four postseason games. The Ravens’ sloppiness also made jaws furrow at a record pace, though the NFL certainly isn’t keeping up.
Ray Lewis led an ultra-dominant defense in 2000 that 20 years later is still statistically the best in NFL history. John Beaver/SI/Icon SMI
The Ravens talked about going back and even an opposing anchor. For the AFC championship game, they gave the major to the Oakland Black Hole. With the Super Bowl just around the corner, the Ravens did more than guarantee victory. During press conferences throughout the week, they repeatedly predicted a shutdown (a promise they technically kept).
Was the Baltimore defense confident? By mid-season, the locker room routine of discussing a defensive plan before the end of games was over.
We didn’t care, former Ravens defenseman Tony Siragusa recalled recently. It was about the same: What dance will we do if we are intercepted? We don’t even talk about the game because we knew we were that good. We practice grenade drills where one guy throws the ball in the air and everyone falls backwards. I was thinking: This is crazy, man.
Ray Lewis, the best defender, was at center with linebacker Jamie Sharper on defense making four tackles. Up front, Siragusa and Sam Adams formed a 700-pound wall that held the teams to 2.7 yards per carry. On the sidelines, Peter Boulware, Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett went on to play quarterbacks and wondered why the saviors never wrote them thank-you notes when they came into the games. In high school, guards Rod Woodson and Kim Herring worked with young acquisitions Chris McAllister and Dwayne Starks to turn interceptions into touchdowns.
At the end of the season, Baltimore finished first in a half-dozen defensive categories. But the only way to be mentioned in the same breath as the Chicago Monsters of Midway and the Pittsburgh Steel Curtain is to win a championship.
In the Super Bowl, the Ravens made five turnarounds, sacked Kerry Collins four times and returned an interception for a touchdown.
I’d say it’s the best one-year defense in NFL history, Sharper said. They’ll compare us to a Steelers defense that worked for almost 10 years, and they’ll compare us to a Chicago Bears defense that didn’t have Free Agency then either. So it’s definitely the best defense in a year, and that shows in the stats we have left.
This is the story of the Ravens’ defense that made NFL history two decades ago, told by the people who lived through it:
The Ravens beat the Bengals by pushing Corey Dillon back so much that he often refused to get back in the game when asked. Michael G. Minardi/Getty Images
Tap the cap.
The Ravens started the season by knocking off three of their top five opponents. The defining moment of the first month of the season was Baltimore’s 37-0 victory over the Bengals in Week 4 when the Ravens forced Pro Bowl defender Corey Dillon to surrender after he managed just nine yards on 12 carries. Early in the fourth quarter, Dillon pulled away and signaled to coach Bruce Coslett to get back in the game. A day later, Coslet resigned.
McCrary: That was my move. It was a hit on the defensive line. Shiragusa runs at me and gets shot by a guard. If you succeed, the guard will get stuck on Siragus and try to get him in his sights. So I confessed. And literally, when Corey got the ball in his hands, I hit him. He got hit behind the line of scrimmage so many times during the game that he got tired of it. That’s him: This is ridiculous. What am I doing here? It was like, wow.
More to the point: We couldn’t believe he wasn’t there. We thought he was injured, but then other guys told us he just didn’t want to get back in the game because he was hit so hard. It was a bit of a shock, but we certainly scared a few riders. Then you realized we have a great defense: If the return of the race says: Okay, I’m not going back to the game. I can’t take a hit like that.
Woodson: Corey is a great player. We started hitting him. Ray beats him. Jamie Sharper beat him to it. Big Goose and Sam Adams lead the way. The secondary is where the licking takes place. After a while, just tap the hat. That was our motto. We’re coming down. We will meet you in the first, second and third quarter. Can you take the fourth trimester? Do you give up football or do you fight?
The Ravens’ defense was so strong that the team could not score a touchdown. John Iacono/SI/SMI Icon
The Ravens have yet to score a touchdown in all of October. It was during this drought of 5 touchdown games that many teams reached their lowest point. The defense refused to point fingers and contributed twice in extra time to the Ravens’ victory. For Baltimore, that’s where the Super Bowl team performs.
The courts: We had a period where we didn’t even score a touchdown, and I remember being in our defensive backfield. Maybe we gave up 9 or 12 points and Marvin scolded us and said: We have to find a way to score and we have to do better than that. And I am: Man, we’re damn good at keeping these teams where we are, but now our mentality as a defense isn’t just to keep people from scoring. It was the realization that we had something special on our side of the ball.
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Trent Dilfer: After Tony Banks became quarterback of the Ravens in Week 9, we were on the field after practice and Ray came up to me and we talked, probably like we always do, and he said: Yeah, but you saw this last week, right? They saw that nobody can score against us. And I am: Yeah, you don’t mean that. Ray says: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You’re the one. You got it. Let’s all play together. If we all play together, we’ll never be defeated. It touched me. They’re not just good, they’re great. And he’s right. It seemed logical to leave the ego behind. Leave the statistics and all that behind you. If we’re talking about a 3-0 win, that’s fine by me. Let’s make sure we don’t screw this up.
Woodson: After the drought], we went to the sauna and cold bath with Shannon [Sharp] every Friday. We went to Shannon and asked her: How many points are you going to give us this week? He said: We have 13. We’re like… If you give us 13, we’ll make it. We’re gonna win. His stitches were always close together.
After the Titans posted a sign before the game with some motivational slogan, the Ravens lived up to their claptrap with a brutal victory. George Walker IV / Tennessean / Magna.
Marked in Tennessee
The Ravens finished the regular season with a seven-game winning streak, ended the touchback drought and qualified for a playoff rematch against the Titans, who are ranked highest in the division. As the teams got ready for kickoff, the Titans displayed a montage on the stadium video board titled Special Message from Brian Billick and the Baltimore Ravens. It shows the Ravens celebrating a win in Nashville earlier in the season and already includes Billick’s comments on the Titans.
Billick: We came in and they put all these things we said on the bulletin board, and a lot of them were stupid. I remember looking up and saying: Okay, okay, here we go. And Goose walks past me and says: We got you, Coach. Then [the Titans] go the length of the field [for a touchdown on the first drive] and I say: We need to rethink all this.
Ray Lewis: You’ve come up with a good plan. This team knew us very well. They beat us early on with smugglers, and [Steve, the Titans’ quarterback] McNair made a couple of plays. I’ll never forget when Rod played Eddie George and he stood up and raised his hands. I said to him: You know what, they came here to fight. They really want to fight. When I went to the sideline, I looked at Coach [Billick] and he was yelling: Ray, Ray. I said to him: Not at the moment. Not at the moment.
Billick: I turned left at Gatorade and I said okay, Ray has it. I’ll stay away. It all worked out for the best.
Sam Adams: Titans] came out with more energy than us, they executed everything and they were ready. They wanted to prove they were men. You know what? It takes 60 minutes to prove it, not a single trip.
The Ravens did not give up another offensive touchdown in the final 112 minutes and 43 seconds of the postseason.
Tony Siragusa knocked out Raiders’ quarterback Rich Gannon to secure his way to the Super Bowl. Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images
Black Hole Revenge
The Ravens competed in the AFC Championship in Oakland, where Siragusa went as a free agent in 1997.
Siragusa: Al Davis brought me here and he sleeps until noon, so you’ll have to meet him in the afternoon. They take me there and say: We’re offering you a lot of money. So, as I am, I knew the tax situation in California was very bad. I wanted to talk to my accountants because [Davis] offered me something more [than the Ravens], but it wasn’t enough. So I go in the next day and say I got it, and he says: Well, Tony, every day is a new day. And it was me, wasn’t it? He says: I’m offering you $50,000 less than I offered you yesterday. I told him to give me a plane ticket. You. And I’m leaving.
Fast forward four years when Siraguza and the Ravens’ defense took on All-Pro quarterback Rich Gannon. At 10:55 at the end of the second quarter, Siragusa hit Gannon and put him out of commission after a poor finish.
McCrary: Oh, he crushed it, man. We joked with Goose that he hadn’t had a sack in 20 years, so he had to jump on it just to be sure. But what a great performance, because it’s not an easy match for such a big man. If you come alone and it’s just you and the quarterback, the quarterback can usually get away from the big men. People think it is an easy task, but it is an extremely difficult task.
The courts: I remember when Goose did it, I looked at Gannon and he didn’t get up. In my head, it’s me: We’re gonna win, we’re going to the Super Bowl. You can buy tickets to Tampa now. And all the defenders were thinking the same thing. It’s all over.
Siragusa: I didn’t want to hurt [Gannon], but I wanted to act like a Raider in a Ravens jersey. A few low blows wouldn’t be so bad. As I walk down the field – we just beat the Raiders and we’re going to the Super Bowl – I see Al Davis in the tunnel. I walk up to him and say: Hey, Al, how are you? It’s a good thing you saved the $50,000. I walked past him and headed for the locker room.
The Ravens faced the New York Giants, who won first place, beating the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 in the NFC championship game. Baltimore was not impressed.
Woodson: That’s the truth. When we saw the video of the New York Giants’ first game, we thought, They won’t beat us. I think we saw half of that game – and that was their best game: We’re much better than that. We knew we were going to win the game. We didn’t know how much. We challenged ourselves: They won’t live past 50. I think they went over the 50 twice [the Giants never got within 29 yards of the end zone the entire game].
Adams: I don’t think people have the courage to accept something like that. I remember in the Super Bowl, when we scored our first touchdown early in the first quarter [Dilfer’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stockley], the defense went crazy on the sideline because I remember saying : The game is up. We just won the Super Bowl. Because all we needed was a touchdown. All we needed was a point. And that’s how we felt. We’re shutting them out. They didn’t score any Super Bowl points either.
The defense held off Kerry Collins and the Giants’ offense, but New York prevented the shutout when Ron Dixon returned a 97-yard ball for a touchdown with 3:31 remaining in the third quarter.
Woodson: We were crazy. We were about to run our first game in Super Bowl history. So we were frustrated. Even if it’s not against us, it’s against us. It was a little frustrating that the backlash was against us.
The courts: My fondest memory of the Super Bowl is that it was probably one of the easiest games we played all year. It was a total failure. Going to Tennessee was hard. It was hard to get through Oakland. We beat the Giants 34-7.
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It wasn’t that easy for McCrary.
McCrary: I hit [Tiki Barber, the giant running back] in the ribs when I was trying to get the ball away and my hand bounced and hit Rod Woodson’s helmet. I look at my hand and it’s the size of three hands. I went into the tunnel with Bill Tessendorf, the coach, and they took my glove off. The bone slips through the ankle and breaks. He looked at me and said: Mike, you played a great game. I am: Oh, hell, no. We have two quarters left. They wrapped him in a cast. I went to get a sack and I forced a fumble on the Giants’ next play at the 1-yard line. So, yeah, I’m done playing for this team. But it broke into 28 pieces. The doctor told me after the operation: Yeah, you’re lucky. I don’t suppose anyone told you we were thinking of amputating your finger. We barely avoided it. So I can’t use my [right index finger], but I don’t need it. He’s just sitting there.
On the day of the Super Bowl, Siragusa was at the stadium six hours early because he was full of adrenaline. He flipped through the game schedule and saw a picture with all the different Super Bowl rings. He cut it out and stuck the page in everyone’s locker. If the Ravens got that ring, they would stay together for the rest of their lives, because it would bring back the band that won the first Super Bowl. He was right… On Thursday, the Ravens will hold a virtual gathering to celebrate their 20th anniversary.
More to the point: A lasting memory for me would be knowing what kind of family we were. I lived next door to Tony Siragusa for the first two years and I was single in college. Peter Bulware lived in my house for a while. I always came to Siragusa’s house and his wife only cooked for me because she knew I had no one to cook for. I was going to eat. My favorite was the wedding soup.
Adams: We all had our quirks and our different personalities that fought with each other. But I would die for Tony Siragusa, Michael McCrary and Ray Lewis. Our band made us special.
McCrary: When I talk to the guys, it feels like it all happened yesterday. The mentality, hard work and teamwork that allowed me to spend the rest of my life.
*… Crows… *
2013 super bowl, ed reed