A 1994 first-round draft pick by Tampa Bay, Dilfer led the Buccaneers to the playoffs in 1997 and won four straight starts last season for them before fracturing his right clavicle, ending his season and ultimately his Bucs career.
Tampa Bay decided not to exercise his $4.6 million option and cast away Dilfer with the label as a quarterback who couldn't lead a team to the Super Bowl.
"I don't think that the coaches had a mind-set that that was something they wanted to ever find out anyway," said Michael Sullivan, Dilfer's agent.
As a free agent, Dilfer looked for a team that would give him more freedom at quarterback. He landed with the Ravens, who provided a twist of irony at midseason.
The Ravens' identity became fixed on a strong defense and a reliable running game, a profile used by the Buccaneers and the one Dilfer wanted to escape. But Dilfer sees himself far from trapped in the same system, with the Ravens' multiple formations and occasional deep throws downfield.
Still, it's been tough for Dilfer to shed his Tampa past.
"It would be awfully ambitious to think that Trent in a relatively short period of time, half a season, has had ample enough opportunity to exorcise all the ghosts from Tampa," Billick said. "That's probably not possible. Trent can take us to the Super Bowl and win it. In doing so, there are still going to be people that question his abilities, his talents and his future."
Dilfer backed that sentiment. In fact, he still gets bashed on the radio shows in Tampa.
"There was a perception about me, which I was very aware of throughout the media mainly in Tampa but also nationally, that I couldn't win the big game, or lost poise," Dilfer said. "Anytime something bad happens, that's going to follow me. That's going to follow me the rest of my career."
Controlling the future
Dilfer thrives on emotion.
He cried after the finest comeback of his career, in the Ravens' visit to Tennessee this season. He cried at the movies watching "Remember the Titans."
On the sideline and in the huddle, he's a walking pep talk.
"He's `Leave it to Beaver,' " center Jeff Mitchell said. "He's wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. When we're standing on the sideline trying to catch our breath, he's like, 'Come on guys, let's go.' It's aggravating as hell."
He motivates. He wins. He's on the spot.
He's the Ravens' quarterback today, but the team won't promise tomorrow. The rumors persist linking the Ravens with Johnson, who played five seasons under Billick with the Minnesota Vikings.
But if Dilfer handles the present right, he may control his future.
"I think there was no thought whatsoever about his future in regards to this game," Sullivan said. "I think Trent realizes that he has a chance of being the starting quarterback on a Super Bowl team. His whole focus is winning this game. If they win, that's all that Trent cares about."