On to Tampa

Super Bowl: Ravens soar on cohesion, awesome defense and hard-to-define virtue.

January 17, 2001

RAVENMANIA came late to Baltimore. Throughout the season, it was confined to true football fans, an audible but distinct minority.

Not till the second post-season victory, over Tennessee, did the fever sweep over the population. And now, we're going to Tampa. Suddenly the town is purple.

The point is that the Ravens' triumph is the people's collective distinction. All Baltimoreans are somehow ennobled, made taller and more virtuous. Fate guided the arm of Trent Dilfer, destiny blocked for Shannon Sharpe.

There is virtue in winning the American Football Conference championship without flash or stars, at least not the usual marquee scorers.

With no soloist, the conductor of this symphony is that passionate, articulate, numerate, intensely focused intellectual of the game, Coach Brian Billick. Behind every mountainous pile of human aggression on the field is a multitalented nerd on the sidelines.

It would be pleasing to find easy moral meaning in the season. Would that life were so. Less than a year ago, middle linebacker Ray Lewis was national poster boy for the highly compensated athlete as thug, defendant in a murder case in Atlanta. Try as one might, he could not be portrayed as nice.

But, his debt to society paid, Mr. Lewis was doing what he did better this season than anyone else in the National Football League. He's defensive player of the year, the Raven who lifts his teammates. The sermon does not easily flow.

It is strange what communities find for unity and pride. Baltimore was known for murder and teen pregnancy (high) and literacy (low) but these figures are coming about. Now, Baltimore means the underdog that won, the vindication of those who kept the faith.

Standing in the path of righteous conclusion will be the New York Giants. Giants? Ah, the bigger they are, the harder they ... Have faith. Justice and the tough defense will prevail.

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