Ravens `D' readies rebuttal in `great' debate

Shutout could validate standing as best ever

January 25, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - In the perfect ending to a storybook season, the Ravens' defense would pitch a shutout Sunday and score a touchdown for good measure.

That's how linebacker Peter Boulware would script it, anyway.

"We go into the Super Bowl with the highest expectations," Boulware said yesterday. "This is the biggest stage of our life. We want to go in there with a shutout and we want to score on defense.

"People are labeling us as the greatest defense of all time. And I'm thinking in my mind, if the greatest defense of all time was in the Super Bowl, what would it do? ... I think it would be a shutout. I think it would be a score on defense. I think it would be some turnovers."

Labels will have to come after Super Bowl XXXV against the New York Giants, not before. The fact that there have been no shutouts in the 34-game history of the Super Bowl makes it an ambitious proposition, at least.

But then, the defense that allowed the fewest points and rushing yards over 16 games in NFL history is nothing if not bodacious.

This is a team that thinks big. It has since training camp, when coach Brian Billick traced the season schedule at a team meeting, right down to Sunday's date at Raymond James Stadium.

That got the attention of cornerback Robert Bailey, a 10-year veteran who signed as a free agent with the Ravens in the off-season.

"I've never been on a team that did that," said Bailey, who played in Super Bowl XXX with the Dallas Cowboys under Jimmy Johnson. "Jimmy's never done that. Brian Billick put up our schedule, and it went all the way to the Super Bowl.

"I'm thinking, `Whoa, I must be at the right place.' "

These Ravens don't want to simply win the world championship, they want to do it in unprecedented style. Before they discussed the shutout goal in public yesterday, they addressed it in private. Such talk was routine in the regular season, when the Ravens posted four shutouts, one shy of the Pittsburgh Steelers' post-merger single-season record.

"Being the type defense we are, the type guys we have on our team, that was mentioned," Bailey said. "And we have talked about that between ourselves. But if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. Every team we play, we go out to shut them out."

In three days of mass interviews this week, the Ravens have established a Super Bowl standard for braggadocio.

Asked how many points the Ravens needed to beat the Giants, cornerback Duane Starks had a ready answer.

"I think we only need 10," he said. "A touchdown and a field goal to seal things would be OK."

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis acknowledged the defense was happy to become the focal point of the media glare.

"Definitely, we want that," he said. "It's the last game. They can put everything on our shoulders, and we're going to ride. Our philosophy is, if they don't score, they don't win. Point-blank. If you want to give us three points, if you want to give us seven points, all we need is something. If we get that, we have the ballgame."

Bailey's 1995 Dallas team - with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin - had a similar swagger when it beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl.

"Up to this point, my most enjoyable year was in Dallas," he said. "I was playing with legendary players. To come here and make it to the Super Bowl with guys that people wouldn't even think would be here ... it just makes it that much more special."

The Ravens' confidence is overflowing. Billick didn't appear to mind that Lewis, in Tuesday's interview session, was willing to guarantee a Baltimore victory.

"If you don't think you can win this game in your heart, whether you verbalize it or not, you don't belong here," Billick said.

The Ravens are at home here. They are three-point favorites in the biggest game of the season, and they are as loose as if this were a regular-season game at PSINet Stadium.

"Looseness equals confidence," Bailey said. "I think our confidence built during the year. When we learned we could win the game through defense, that's when we knew it would be hard to beat us."

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