In mere 18 seconds, Lewis also returns control to Ravens

84-yard kickoff run for TD, after New York's runback, deflates comeback hopes

Ravens 34, Giants 7

January 29, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

TAMPA - When Ron Dixon returned a kickoff 97 yards for the New York Giants' only points in Super Bowl XXXV, they were left with a 17-7 deficit and dreams of coming back on the Ravens.

Jermaine Lewis extinguished that hope.

The Ravens' return specialist needed just 18 seconds to snuff what little momentum that New York had gained, as his 84-yard kickoff return pushed the Ravens' lead back up to 17 points, 24-7, with 3:13 left in the third quarter. After the first successive kickoff returns for touchdowns in Super Bowl history, Baltimore was never challenged again.

"That stuck a little dagger in them," Lewis said of the Giants. "I knew it was over at that point. They couldn't move the ball, and a score on special teams, that did it for them. I thought that Dixon might have given them a little momentum, but the same guys who are on that kickoff return are also on kickoff coverage. I figured that they would be tired, and that I could take advantage of them."

Weren't some of Lewis' blockers also pulling special teams double duty? "Our guys were tired, too," Lewis said, "but it's harder to tackle somebody when you're tired than it is to block."

Lewis was physically fit, but emotionally drained. He had spent the week discussing the son he and his wife, Imara, had lost Dec. 13, when Geronimo Lewis was stillborn. When Lewis returned two punts for touchdowns on the New York Jets in the regular-season finale 11 days later, he raised a finger to the sky in a tribute to his son. He did the same when he reached the end zone last night, but declined to say if the gesture was for his late son.

"It's been an emotional week," Lewis said. "I hope this ends up putting closure on that."

Lewis did wear the words "Geronimo Lewis, Rest in Peace" on his wristbands.

Lewis made NFL history in that Jets' game, when he raised his punt return average to 16.1 yards, the highest ever for a player with at least 30 returns. It gave him six punt returns for touchdowns in the past four years, but he is not known as a kickoff return man.

He returned just one kickoff in the regular season, when he volunteered for that duty, and had a combined three kickoff returns in the AFC playoff wins at Tennessee and Oakland. Fact is, the fifth-year pro out of Maryland could not recall returning a kickoff for a touchdown.

In 96 kickoff returns over his first four years in the NFL, his longest kickoff return was 51 yards. Lewis was too valuable a wide receiver for the Terps to return kickoffs, and he couldn't remember pulling that duty at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt.

"Maybe I took one back in pee-wee ball," Lewis said.

The touchdown was not the only Lewis return that hurt the Giants. His 34-yard punt return - some of that was lost to a holding penalty - set up Trent Dilfer's 38-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley that opened the scoring. He returned the second-half kickoff to the Ravens' 46, but that, too, was called back because of a Ravens penalty.

Lewis said that the return was set up as "wedge right." One of his heels was clipped near the middle of the field. He veered to the right sideline, right in front of the Ravens' bench, where Kim Herring gave him a good block. Some nice footwork kept him in bounds, and on his way to the end zone."

"Once I got through the initial hole, I focused on staying on my feet," Lewis said. "Somebody hit me, but I knew before the game that if I could stay on my feet, I could bring one back. When I got outside, I knew it was over."

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