Ravens are poised to recapture glory

Focus: Fans, celebrities and wannabes party the nights away in Tampa, but the players from both teams are seldom seen. For them, it's all about The Game.

January 28, 2001|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,SUN COLUMNIST

TAMPA, Fla. - After months of giving pre-game pep talks to his players and a week of serving pithy sound bites to the international media, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick went to the tape last night.

He scheduled the last, pre-Super Bowl team meeting at 9:45 p.m. in the Ravens' hotel - away from party-happy, pirate-friendly, celebrity-infested, downtown Tampa - to show a four-minute videotape. Having run out of words to inspire a team that won the American Football Conference championship in its fifth year of existence - and only his second as coach - the usually verbal Billick opted to show a montage of great plays made in Super Bowls past, when his 20- and 30-something Ravens were boys watching the big game on television.

Billick's point: One Raven - or a group of them - could make the next great Super Bowl play. Who will it be? Step up to the challenge.

It wasn't the first time Billick used a video to enhance a pep talk. Two weeks ago, on the eve of the AFC championship game against the Raiders in Oakland, he had admitted to being "out of material, fellas" and showed his players a tape of highlights from their 2000 season. See how good you are? "You belong here," he'd told the Ravens. And they proved it.

The rest is history - in the making.

Thirty years after Baltimore's beloved blue-and-white Colts won Super Bowl V, the purple-and-black team that replaced the city's storied NFL franchise heads into the world's glitziest sports spectacle tonight, hoping to defeat the New York Giants and recapture the glory that once marked Baltimore as a city of champions.

The Ravens were to meet for breakfast this morning at 9, break into small groups for brief meetings with assistant coaches, attend the usual Sunday prayer service, then sit for the pre-game meal at 2. The first bus leaves the Hyatt for Raymond James Stadium at 2:30 p.m. All players must be in the Ravens locker room by 4:15 p.m., about two hours before kickoff.

When the Ravens are introduced before the game, the defensive team, hailed as one of the greatest in NFL history, will get the call - media-adored defensive tackle Tony Siragusa comes out first, media-villified middle linebacker Ray Lewis last.

Seventy-two thousand fans, some paying thousands of dollars for a brokered ticket and many arriving in stretch limousines, will see Super Bowl XXXV here. So will Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and scattered contingents of Ravens fans lucky enough to have scored tickets. Millions of people around the world - and thousands of Ravens fans across Maryland - will watch on television.

The game promises a battle of strong defensive units. And it has already revived memories of the "Greatest Game Ever Played," when the 1958 Baltimore Colts beat the Giants in sudden-death overtime to win the league championship. It marks a confrontation of old-friend/old-guard NFL team owners: Wellington Mara of New York and Art Modell of Baltimore, formerly of Cleveland.

Mara has been to the big show and seen his Giants win. Not so Modell, now in his fifth decade in the NFL.

"The Ravens getting to the Super Bowl is huge for Baltimore," says Bob Leffler, whose agency handles advertising for five NFL franchises, including the Ravens and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "It gives the city a huge lift in terms of its national image."

And it recaptures lost gold- or silver.

Not since the Baltimore Colts played the Dallas Cowboys in January 1971 has a football team from the banks of the Patapsco had a shot at the Tiffany-made Vince Lombardi Trophy. But there it was Friday morning - in Billick's hands for a photo opportunity inside one of the many Tampa hotels that have been a swirl of cell phone-toting corporate executives, rock stars, ticket hustlers and media celebrities. They've been drawn here by the hyper-hype of Super Bowl, and treated not only to its attendant schmoozefests but also to Tampa's Mardi Gras, the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, which brought hundreds of thousands of beer-drinking, bead-adorned tourists and college students downtown yesterday.

There are parties all over - Tampa this weekend looks like Spring Break on Treasure Island - but there have been few Ravens sightings at any of them, even though Billick imposed no curfew or bed check on his players until last night, when they had to be in their rooms at the Grand Hyatt Westshore by 11 p.m.

"I haven't seen any of the guys," says Tony Agnone, the Baltimore-based sports agent who represents both Ravens and Giants players and circulates, schmoozes and cell-phones with the best of them. "Between Ybor City [Tampa's nightclub strip and site of countless Bud Bowl beer bashes] and all the places the players could be - even the NFL-sanctioned parties - I haven't seen hardly any guys at all."

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