After all talk, it's time to walk tall

Viewpoint

January 28, 2001|By MIKE PRESTON

"When you go into the lion's den, you don't tippy-toe in. You carry a spear. You go in screaming like a banshee and say, `Where's the son of a bitch?"

-- Coach Brian Billick, after the Ravens defeated the Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional playoffs Jan. 7.

TAMPA, Fla. - The Ravens have come into Tampa screaming like banshees with spears again, and they better kill the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, or they're going to look like the most arrogant, smack-talking bunch of losers in America.

There can be no would-haves, could-haves or should-haves; it's just win baby, just win. The Ravens have talked the talk - oh, have they ever - and now it's time to back it up.

Or shut up.

If Ravens fans thought the national media had disrespected the team leading up to tonight's game, imagine if the Ravens lose. We're talking serious image problems here, from the City that Reads to the City that Weeps. This is a franchise whose image has already been tarnished by the move from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996, and from seeing its best player involved in a double-murder trial last spring.

"We've gained this image as a big, trash-talking, overconfident, cocky team in the NFL," said Ravens second-year cornerback Chris McAlister. "If we lose, then the media will say we talked too much, didn't handle the Super Bowl well. If we win, they'll say you guys were great, you handled yourselves well, talked but backed it up."

A lot of people can't wait to rip the Ravens, and you can't blame them. The Ravens have done the near impossible and turned a New York team into the sentimental favorite with all the brash talk.

Certainly, the Ravens have every right to be confident. They had to endure the trial of linebacker Ray Lewis, five of their first seven games on the road, a five-game touchdown drought around midseason and two of three playoff games on the road.

But sometimes they take it over the edge.

The New York Jets had only one player, Joe Namath, guarantee a victory in Super Bowl III against the Baltimore Colts, but the Ravens have had several players guarantee a win. Lewis. Shannon Sharpe. Lewis even mentioned the "s" word, shutout.

When Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary and cornerback Duane Starks were asked how many points the Ravens needed to win the game, they smugly replied: "Ten." McCrary even went as far as to say the Ravens' defense could beat a Pro Bowl team.

They better win.

"You retain this, believe me," Giants offensive tackle Lomas Brown said about the Ravens' confidence. "We won't say anything. All I know is that on Sunday, that game has to be played. We'll find out. We know everything they said. We've got it written down. That's the topic of breakfast in the morning. If they can talk and back it up, then they are a brash and very good team. If they can't back it up, then they will be the team walking off the field with their heads down."

That's the danger in talking with so much bravado. When it doesn't work out, people can't wait to stick it back in your face. The Ravens have been chirping ever since they got off the plane. The big bird himself, Billick, started the week off with a seven-minute monologue about the media sensationalizing stories about Lewis and his involvement in the murders of two young men nearly a year ago at the Super Bowl in Atlanta.

Billick called some of the media "ambulance-chasers" and found their coverage "reprehensible." It was contrived, as usual, with Billick trying to take some of the pressure off Lewis. To members of the Baltimore media, it was just like another Monday afternoon news conference with Billick. His comments would have drawn a few laughs and a few yawns.

It's just Billick. Again.

But the national media don't know him well. In Tampa, the words Billick, arrogance, cocky and conceited are synonymous. If the Ravens lose this game, some of the media will be screaming like banshees.

They'll be sharpening their spears.

They'll criticize Billick about his approach to the game. They'll second-guess him for arriving in Tampa a day later than the Giants. They'll critique his game plan.

The Ravens better win.

They better have more than a swagger tonight. It's a good sign they're talking so much because that's the personality of this team. If they weren't yapping, then there would be concern because that would indicate a tight team going into the big game.

"People say we have a chip on our shoulder, but how can they say that?" said Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett. "If we have a chip on our shoulder, then how come we're so loose and relaxed under these circumstances, the biggest media event of the year?

"We don't have an us-vs.-the world mentality. This is just the personality of this team. This is what got us here and I think a lot of our guys realize that, and that's just being confident. We've earned our way here. Sometimes the media twist confidence into success, and confidence is three-quarters of the game in the NFL."

Billick understands the profile of this team and hasn't put a muzzle on it, even though Sharpe's outburst last week defending Lewis was outrageous and well-orchestrated. He wants as much mug time as his brother Sterling, an analyst for ESPN.

But the Ravens need to understand that as long as Art Modell owns this team, there will always be some ominous clouds over the franchise. Coupled with Lewis' dilemma last spring and all the smack-talking this week, the Ravens haven't enhanced their image.

That's why the Ravens need to win tonight, and they probably will.

It's time to put the talking to rest and the Lombardi Trophy on the shelf.

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