Next: Raiders' No. 1 running game

Rowdy Oakland fans may join the fray, too

January 08, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer's last trip to Oakland, Calif., left a lasting impression.

Although he didn't play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because of a fractured collarbone, Dilfer had a close-up look as the Raiders dismantled the then-NFL's top-ranked defense, 45-0, on Dec. 19, 1999.

Dilfer, though, doesn't anticipate a repeat performance on his return, when the Ravens play the Raiders (13-4) in the AFC championship game Sunday.

"I saw last year how good they were at home," Dilfer said. "The thing I'm confident about is that we'll find a way. We'll do something during the course of the game that's special."

But that's not to insinuate Dilfer is overlooking Oakland, which advanced to the championship game with a 27-0 rout of the Miami Dolphins on Saturday.

"I've watched them a lot this year," Dilfer said. "I really think they are the class of the NFL right now. It is us and them, in my opinion, the best two teams."

The Ravens now venture from one of the NFL's loudest stadiums - Adelphia Coliseum - to the league's rowdiest, Network Associates Coliseum.

The fans there have been known to fling batteries and coins at opponents during games. The Ravens won't need to wear the army fatigues worn yesterday to know they're entering a war zone Sunday.

"Maybe I'll come out in a biohazard suit," Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett said. "I'm going to Oakland. Those people are pretty scary."

The most hostile section of fans is located at one end zone and is named "The Black Hole." It's like the old Dawg Pound in Cleveland ... with leather.

"We are not playing `The Black Hole,' " Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We are playing Oakland, and they are a similar team just like the Titans. They ride off their running game.

"If I am right, they have the No. 1 rushing game in the league. And if I am correct also, we have the No. 1 rush defense in the league. So it will be a great battle."

The only way Oakland could have been host to the AFC championship game was for the Ravens to upset the Tennessee Titans. So the Ravens know the Raiders got what they wished for.

"They wanted us," Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams said, "and now they're going to get us."

Raiders coach Jon Gruden said he watched the Ravens-Titans game from his team's training facility in Alameda, Calif. The players had the day off, but Gruden was hard at work for next Sunday.

"You know, since I've been in football, I've never seen a team be as dominant for as long a period of time as the Ravens' defense has been," he said. "To yield just over 10 points a game for 18 games is eye-opening to me."

Gruden's highest praise was for Ray Lewis, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, whom Gruden called the best middle linebacker he has ever seen.

"He's everywhere. It's like there's three No. 52s out there," he said.

Gruden then was reminded that Ravens coach Brian Billick had said the Baltimore-Tennessee game would decide which AFC team will play in the Super Bowl.

"I know Coach Billick is a good coach, a smart coach," Gruden said, "but if I'm not mistaken, this next game decides it."

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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