Billick, media laugh it off

Final news briefing gives coach chance to mend hard feelings

On Lewis, `I'll leave it alone'

N.Y.'s Fassel defends counterpart's tenor, discounts ego label

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens vs. Giants

January 27, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. -- When the talking finally ended yesterday, Brian Billick left them laughing.

After a week of trading fire with the media, the Ravens coach turned diplomatic, and often humorous, in his last news briefing before Super Bowl XXXV.

Asked about reports that star linebacker Ray Lewis would be passed over for the obligatory post-game Disney World commercial -- even though he might be deserving -- Billick steered clear of controversy.

"There's a lot of things going on during the week that I don't think [are] particularly fair or right," he said, "but when I bring it to light, you all get in a tizzy, so I'll leave it alone."

That was in contrast to his opening news conference on Monday, when Billick lambasted the media for their continued interest in Lewis' murder trial last spring. Charges against Lewis ultimately were dropped in exchange for a plea bargain of obstruction to justice.

Several times yesterday, Billick addressed the perception of him as an arrogant, egotistical coach.

"You don't do this job unless you're confident [and] self-assured," he said. "You don't stand up in front of 53 players ... and say, `Guys, follow me because I kind of think I know what I'm doing.' It doesn't work -- that's not one of the great Gipper speeches.

"You've got to stand up there and say, `Guys, this is the way it's going to be, and this is the way we're going to do it,' for no other reason than there's got to be a singular direction.

"I'm confident with my reaction to the media. ... Some misunderstand what I'm trying to do with that. If that cumulative effect is some people think I'm egotistical or arrogant, there's not much I can do to control that. As long as that doesn't mean that I'm self-centered, self-serving; I hope I'm not those things."

Billick drew a round of laughter moments later when asked if he'd had fun this week.

"I tell you what," he said. "I haven't had as much fun as I had at that opening press conference in a long time."

New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, one of Billick's best friends and tomorrow's opponent, discounted the image of Billick as being egotistical.

"I know Brian real well," Fassel said. "When Brian and I get together, he doesn't come across to me that way. ... We have some pretty good back-and-forth, no egos involved, no brash [talk], no nothing. We're just enjoying life with one another."

Fassel and Billick both said they had already agreed that whoever wins tomorrow's game at Raymond James Stadium will pick up the tab for their next dinner.

Neither team was expected to get to Tampa. The Giants (14-4) capitalized on home-field advantage in the NFC to make it. The Ravens (15-4) arrive as an AFC wild-card team and three-point favorites.

Billick reiterated that a season filled with adversity had tempered -- and even pushed -- his team in the drive to get here.

"This team is clearly an overachieving team," he said. "This is a team that's been through an incredible amount of circumstances over the years. ... At every turn, we've faced that challenge, and truly facing those challenges has made us stronger. They really have.

"I don't know, quite honestly, if we would be here today if we didn't have to collectively and individually face some of the challenges that we've been facing in the entire last year, because there is that bonding effect."

Both coaches acknowledged the emotional highs that will come during the long day tomorrow. Retired quarterback John Elway, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos, advised Fassel at a private dinner Thursday night about one of those highs. Fassel spent two years as offensive coordinator in Denver.

"John and I were sitting there having dinner, and he said, `It will hit you when you walk out of the tunnel [onto the field], where you are and what's going on,' " Fassel said.

Handling those emotions will be important. With a handful of veterans who've played in the Super Bowl, Billick has tried to educate the rest of the squad.

"Pre-game warm-up is another experience that the veterans who have been here will tell you is an amazing experience," he said. "Because the stadium is full and the energy is already high. And that leads into it for a full hour going into the kickoff.

"So you tell them about it, you try to school them about it, but until they live it, I don't know that you can really help them any more than that."

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