Chain-gang work links Stokley to ultimate

Receiver suddenly rises from scout team to bowl

January 17, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Ravens wide receiver Brandon Stokley was inactive for the first half of the season, playing catch with quarterback Trent Dilfer on the scout team.

On Sunday, he was playing catch again, this time grabbing an important 13-yard pass on third down, among others, right in front of the Oakland Raiders' sideline in the third quarter of the Ravens' 16-3 AFC championship victory.

In two Sundays, Stokley - who epitomizes the Ravens' season as well as anyone - will likely start in Super Bowl XXXV.

And though Jim Fassel said his New York Giants, the Ravens' opponent in Tampa on Jan. 28, are living out the American Dream, the same could be said for Stokley.

"Unbelievable. For me, I just really can't imagine that," said Stokley, a second-year pro out of Southwestern Louisiana. "It's a dream you don't even think is possible, and here it is, being fulfilled.

"It's a lot of dedication and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, knowing that if you keep working hard, you'll get the chance. That's what I did."

For every Ray Lewis and Shannon Sharpe, there are more players like Stokley who help complete the makeup of a championship team. They are always prepared to take advantage of opportunities.

That's Stokley, a 5-foot-11, 197-pound fourth-round draft pick who caught 11 passes for 184 yards in seven regular-season games.

"For the first half of the season, he wasn't active very much, then he steps up and is a big part of a championship year," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's what this team is about: depth, character, quality, and when it's my time, I'll step up and do the job."

In Stokley's first playoff start on Sunday, he had three receptions for 31 yards, twice grabbing balls on third down to give the Ravens a new set of downs.

It was after the Raiders got their only points - a field goal after a Ravens turnover in the third quarter to cut the lead to 10-3 - that Stokley caught Dilfer's 13-yard pass for a first down past midfield. The 51-yard drive, lasting five minutes, ended with Matt Stover kicking a field goal to answer Oakland's challenge.

"Third down is the money down. If you get the first down, you get three more downs and a chance to put more points on the board," Stokley said. "I just try to make sure I get past the markers and try to make a play for the team."

Dilfer counts on that.

"Stokes is a guy who's very talented, first of all, and also has a great feel for the game," he said. "I think we hit it off with the scout team and kind of developed that special timing. You've just got to be able to trust guys and know where they're going to be. Stokley is there for me."

Trivia question: Who caught the score that ended the Ravens' five-game touchdown drought?

Answer: Stokley.

Timing can be everything. Stokley said it wasn't as difficult watching when the team got off to its good start. "But then we started losing," he said, "and that's when it starts wearing on you a little bit, because you want to be out there trying to help the team along."

He was out there on Nov. 5, in the first minute of the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals, just barely getting into the end zone down the right sideline to finish off a 14-yard touchdown pass from Dilfer. Touchdown drought over, the Ravens won, 27-7, and they haven't lost since.

"He's done a great job. He works hard in practice, knows what he has to do when he gets in the ballgame, and Trent has a lot of confidence in him," Sharpe said. "Stokley has made some big plays, but I'm not surprised, because we see him make those plays every day in practice."

There's one more game left to practice for this season, and Stokley seems confident the Ravens' offense will once again find the necessary means.

"It's been great helping the team win, feeling I'm a part of helping us get to the Super Bowl," he said.

"A lot of people look at our offense and don't think we're good enough to get it done. But our defense is playing so well, we know what it takes on offense to win, and that's what we're doing."

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