First taste sweet for veterans

Burnett, Siragusa, Stover making their Super Bowl debuts

3 combine for 33 seasons

Ravens' greybeards out to take advantage of this opportunity

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens vs. Giants

January 19, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The Ravens have spent the past month answering queries about Art Modell and the poignancy of his finally reaching a Super Bowl. The owner is one of the angles that will dominate the hype on the road to Raymond James Stadium, but some greybeards in uniform are also among the Ravens' Super Bowl rookies.

Rob Burnett, Tony Siragusa and Matt Stover have combined for 33 NFL seasons and drawn paychecks for some 600 games. All entered the league in 1990. Their photos could be listed in Webster's under "veteran" or "wily," but when it comes to the Super Bowl, they have as much experience as Jamal Lewis, the Ravens' 21-year-old running back who is a first-year pro.

"This has been my goal since my first day in this league," Burnett said.

The defensive end immediately shifted gears and proceeded to talk about Modell and what Super Bowl XXXV means to the people of Baltimore.

The game, however, carries considerable personal significance for veterans who have never been there. The distinguished firm of Sharpe, Swayne and Woodson was secured to give the Ravens some Super Bowl rings and postseason savvy, but veterans on the downside of their careers and their hunger to reach pro football's ultimate game have provided an equally important intangible in the team's success.

The Ravens have seven players with more than a decade in the NFL. Shannon Sharpe and Harry Swayne each won two Super Bowls with Denver. Rod Woodson got there with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of the other four, John Hudson is a journeyman long snapper, Burnett is coming off of his first conference championship game, and Siragusa and Stover landed painfully close to previous Super Bowls.

Siragusa, the meaty defensive tackle, was one Hail Mary pass away from Super Bowl XXX, when Indianapolis was unable to convert a last-play heave into the Pittsburgh end zone in the AFC title game. Who was working in the Steelers' secondary that day? Woodson, whom Siragusa sought out Monday morning, as the Ravens shook off the cobwebs of their 16-3 whipping of the Oakland Raiders and a cross-country flight.

"I talked to Rod Woodson," Siragusa said. "I told him, `You know, man, I'm so mad at you.' He asked why. I told him, `You kept me from this in 1995.' He and [defensive coordinator] Marvin Lewis were on that team. If I knew it [the Super Bowl] was this great, I would have started fighting people or doing whatever more I could have done."

Stover was drafted by the New York Giants in 1990, the season they last won the Vince Lombardi Trophy. He spent that year on injured reserve, and was a wide-eyed observer when the Giants beat the Buffalo Bills, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV, in Tampa, no less.

"I love it, absolutely," Stover said. "How many opportunities have I had in the 11 years since, and I didn't even play in the first one? I've told some of the younger guys to enjoy this, realize where you are, because it may be the only time you get to the Super Bowl.

"I'll never forget Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms before the NFC championship game against the 49ers. They said, `If we don't do it here, we'll probably never get another chance to go back to the Super Bowl,' and that's exactly what happened. At this point in my career, this could be it for me, but who knows? We could go back for some more."

Sharpe has spoken - at length, of course - on how the Super Bowl validates a player's career, a sentiment appreciated by Siragusa.

"A lot of guys, for years they're in the NFL," Siragusa said. "You show up, say, `Yeah, I played in the NFL for 10 years.' A guy says, `OK.' If I sit in that bar and say, `Yeah, I played for 11 years,' and when that guy says, `OK,' I say, `OK, how about this?' with a nice, fat ring. That guy is going to buy me a couple of drinks."

Game data

Ravens (15-4)

vs. N.Y. Giants (14-4)

When: Jan. 28, 6:18 p.m.

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3

Fast fact: The team ahead at halftime has won 26 Super Bowls. However, the Giants are 2-0 in the Super Bowl, even though they trailed both games at the half.

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