The Tennessee Titans thought they had gained an edge last Sunday when they showed the Adelphia Coliseum crowd a video of incendiary quotes from Ravens coach Brian Billick about his team's last victory in Tennessee.
It got an emotional response, but from the wrong team. As the video was playing, Billick was seething and pacing the sideline, telling his players they had to cover his back.
"I told the players, 'I've put it out there. You've got to back me up now,'" Billick said.
And the Ravens delivered with a 24-10 win over the Titans to advance to today's AFC championship game against the Oakland Raiders at Network Associates Coliseum.
There was a clear message to be learned from last week: Billick is the heart and conscience of the Ravens, and they play with as much passion and emotion as he displays on the sideline.
He is one of the boys, and they have the same confidence and smugness that sometimes borders on arrogance.
"He is very passionate, into the game," said Ravens outside linebacker Cornell Brown. "He has a fire, and guys like that. We feed off his fuel. The days of the non-emotional coach are gone. Billick's attitude and approach to the game is the same as ours. You know he is going to fight for you, and in turn you're going to fight for him. He has a way of building things up to the right tempo."
Oh, does he ever.
After only two seasons as Ravens coach, Billick is becoming one of the most controversial in the league. He's getting as much face time in the national media as President-elect George W. Bush. In the past three weeks, he has insulted the New York media; publicly confessed that Denver's Mike Shanahan was better at X's and O's, a move that may have taken some pressure off his own team; and been booed by nearly 70,000 fans in Nashville.
"He does a lot of things by design," said Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett. "He is a pretty sharp guy; he is not your typical football coach. He'll take the fire from the media. He'll say some off-the-wall things to get everyone's attention so we can focus."
Brown said: "He's the man. He likes the attention; he wants to be the center of attention. He is a controversial guy. At times, he is outrageous."
Who else would have the audacity to say that the league wanted the Cleveland Browns to win last year when the Ravens met them for the first time since moving to Baltimore? Who else would challenge the integrity of officials by intimating they might be intimidated by a hostile crowd?
And there was this beauty last week in reference to all the Ravens' trash-talking before the Titans game: "When you go into the lion's den, you don't tippy-toe in. You carry a spear," Billick said. "You go in screaming like a banshee and say, 'Where's the son of a bitch?'"
And you wonder why the Ravens' defensive players talk so much and beam with such confidence?
Billick exudes it.
Ego and confidence
He is intelligent, at times intimidating and articulate enough to speak on almost any subject from foreign policy in the Middle East to the stock market. He believes he has learned from one of the best in former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh, and that approach, the "West Coast" system, is a proven winner used by other coaches such as Shanahan and Seattle's Mike Holmgren.
Billick has critics who believe he is call him arrogant, but he calls it confidence. He admits to having a huge ego, but only in the truest sense of the word.
Billick will explain. Hold on.
"If you're a president, mayor, senator or entertainer, when you're out in front of people like we are, you're going to do something, say something that people don't like," Billick said. "There is a stereotype of what a head coach should be, but when you're a little bit different, good or bad, people are uncomfortable with it.
"The word ego, in its purest definition, is wanting to distinguish yourself from others. That's not particularly negative. I have a big ego because I strive to distinguish myself from others in the way I carry myself and do my job. If that carries over into being self-centered, self-absorbed, then I've taken it too far. I hope I'm not those things.
"If arrogance is someone who is confident in himself, confident in the people around him and wanting anybody who is working with him to carry that same confidence, then I'm arrogant."
Preparation pays off
Billick is usually prepared for everything, from media statements to training camp. That's one of the characteristics the players like about him. On Day One, he hands out a schedule of the entire training camp. He never deviates in training camp, or during the regular season.
Camp is relatively easy compared to those of other NFL teams, but the pace is frenetic. His meetings aren't long, just to the point. The turning point of him winning these players over came He won these players over in November and December of last season, when the Ravens won six of their final nine games to finish 8-8.