Billick's new post-game face: Cat that swallowed canary

November 08, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

CLEVELAND -- Brian Billick got the last laugh, and something he treasures even more -- the last word.

The only way Billick would have been happier yesterday is if his post-game news conference had been broadcast live on Cleveland television.

"I'm just a frustrated rookie coach that's 2-5 -- excuse me, 3-5 -- that's just trying to survive here," the Ravens' coach crowed.

Three times, Billick adopted his tone of mock resignation after delivering one of the most satisfying victories in Ravens history.

Three times, he subtly invoked the words of Browns president Carmen Policy, who had jabbed Billick for saying that the Ravens wouldn't get a call and that the NFL wanted the Browns to win the game.

Sorry, Carmen. Sorry, Cleveland.

To the victor belongs the spoils.

Never mind that Billick went too far with his pre-game remarks, and would have been ripped coast-to-coast for inciting the enemy if the Ravens had lost.

The enemy was already incited. And rather than lose, the Ravens produced a 41-9 knockout that left an entire city down for the count.

It helped that the opponent was a sorry expansion team, but several Ravens said they detected the method to Billick's madness from the start.

Defensive end Rob Burnett: "When he did it, I kind of smiled. I knew what he was doing. He was taking the pressure off us, doing his job being the head coach, keeping all the media and fans kind of focused on him. That's his job. I think it was very smart."

Quarterback Stoney Case: "It certainly took the focus off Mr. [Art] Modell, off the team, off who's going to play quarterback. Whether it was his agenda or not, he did a pretty good job. It probably helped Mr. Modell more than anyone else."

Running back Errict Rhett: "I think that's the best thing [Billick] could have done. I hope he does it next week, too. We didn't get any calls [against us]. On average, we wouldn't have gotten those calls.

"When you put that pressure on a referee, they really watch what they do then. I think they refereed a great game, because of the comments that he made."

Well, the Ravens drew a season-low four penalties, same as the Browns.

But did Billick really have all this figured out?

"I'm not that intelligent. I had no other purpose," Billick said. "Again, I'm just a frustrated rookie coach that is not bearing up under the pressure real well."

Still with us, Carmen?

Billick apologized for his "lack of verbal skills" two days after his inflammatory remarks, but Policy showed him little mercy, and Browns owner Al Lerner also jumped in, saying, "I don't understand the whole concept of voluntarily misspeaking. Why don't you just keep your mouth shut?"

Informed of Lerner's comments yesterday, Billick cracked, "I think that's outstanding advice. I have not heard such sound advice from someone in a long time."

Alas, Billick can't help himself.

He said he might need a Popemobile to safely enter Cleveland Browns Stadium, and sure enough, a fan dressed as the pope showed up yesterday in the Dawg Pound.

"He can't have my car," said the pope, whose secular name is Blair Martin, and whose residence is Parma, Ohio. "I can't save Billick. My car can't save Billick. God can't save Billick."

As expected, the fans reserved most of their venom for Modell, but Billick seemed happy to take his share of abuse. He waved to a fan who taunted him with a plastic dog bone as he left the field, smirking with delight.

Yes, it all seemed part of his plan.

"You pick up the paper and on one corner there's [Tim] Couch and on the other corner there's me," Billick said.

"That's fine with me. Rather than our quarterback, our three-game losing streak, the focus was on me. So be it."

But was it worth an expected $10,000 fine?

Billick will have to decide that for himself.

He's no Ray Miller, misspeaking at every turn, talking himself into trouble. If anything, he bears more of a resemblance to Earl Weaver, who constantly kept umpires on edge, reminding them to be impartial.

"He's a man of integrity," proclaimed Art (The Silent One) Modell, whose megaphone has been stolen by Billick. "He didn't mean what he said."

At least not the way it came out.

All Billick needed to say was, "Hey, the crowd is going to be riled up. I hope the officials don't let it affect them." If he was trying to send a message -- something NFL coaches do all the time -- he could have shown more tact.

But then, this is a coach who asked for a "leap of faith" with Scott Mitchell. Bill Parcells would never have fallen into such a trap. Mike Shanahan would never provide an entire city with bulletin-board material. But Billick will be Billick -- with an exclamation point, thank you very much.

How did you like the officiating, Brian?

"Outstanding. Unbelievable. I couldn't have agreed more with every single call," Billick said.

Your impression of the fans?

"There weren't many of them left late [in the game]," Billick cracked.

He was in such a good mood, he even praised Tony Banks.

He got the last laugh. He got the last word.

Any thoughts on Jacksonville, coach?

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