No rest for the weary winners

Personnel changes, pressure to repeat pose big challenges

January 30, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - Savoring the moment, Ravens coach Brian Billick stepped boldly into the new world his team had created.

"Well, if you thought I was arrogant before, whoa," he said yesterday. "Wait until you get a load of me now."

The morning after the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV, Billick supplied the comic relief. The headache of living up to their new-found success will come sooner, not later.

Billick's quarterback is technically a free agent. His defensive coordinator has interviewed for the head-coaching job with the Buffalo Bills. And for the next year at least, the Ravens will wear a bull's-eye whenever the team takes the field.

After Sunday's 34-7 victory over the New York Giants, Billick went to linebackers coach Jack Del Rio, who would become defensive coordinator if Marvin Lewis leaves.

"I said, `Congratulations, all you have to do is go to a Super Bowl and break the all-time scoring record, or they'll boo you and me out of town,"' Billick said. "And he had the observation that maybe we can preserve a shutout at the Super Bowl, because we didn't get that [in Tampa].

"That's what the team has to deal with, the level of expectations next year. ... We'll set our own agenda, recognizing that the bar is pretty high right now. But that's the price you pay when you get to this point."

In Billick's second season, the Ravens went 16-4 and finished with a flourish. They won their last 11 games. They were so dominant down the stretch they hadn't trailed in the fourth quarter of a game since Nov. 12 in Nashville, Tenn., a game in which the Ravens scored a watershed victory over the Tennessee Titans.

They outscored four playoff opponents by a combined 95-23 to become the fourth wild-card team in history to win the Super Bowl. They became only the fifth team in Super Bowl history not to allow an offensive touchdown.

The bad news? Only three teams in the past 20 years have won back-to-back Super Bowls - the 1997-1998 Denver Broncos, the 1992-1993 Dallas Cowboys and the 1988-1989 San Francisco 49ers.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the National Football League's defensive player of the year, knows what comes next.

"When you're crowned world champion, coming into next season, you're going to have no other outlet than to be the hunted," he said after he received a Ford Explorer for being named most valuable player of the Super Bowl. "I think we're prepared for that."

Lewis earned the car with an invigorating performance that featured four tipped passes, one that led to an interception. That performance also led to a poignant moment with his son, Ray III, after the game.

"It's amazing that my 5-year-old knows everything," Lewis said when asked about his strongest image of the night. "It's amazing, and I think the best was when he told me last night, `I can't believe you dropped all those balls.' Because I tell him all the time to catch every ball that I throw him. But when he told me that, wow ... I think that was probably my proudest moment."

Despite his heroics, Lewis was passed over by the Walt Disney Co. for the traditional "I'm going to Disney World" commercial at game's end. That honor - and trip - went instead to quarterback Trent Dilfer.

Where Dilfer goes after that is up for debate. He is one of 14 unrestricted free agents with the team. Starting March 2, he will be eligible to sign with the team of his choice.

In response to the persistent speculation that free agent quarterback Brad Johnson will rejoin his former mentor, Billick, in Baltimore, the coach said he expects Dilfer to be back.

"At this point, I'd have no reason to think otherwise," Billick said. "But we're coming into a time where in free agency, it's kind of up to Trent and his representation. It's a free-market system. Yeah, I would love to have Trent back. But there are a lot of things to happen between now and then."

Dilfer, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Ravens after leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was one of seven free agents who made the Ravens roster last summer.

The Ravens went into the last off-season with 19 unrestricted free agents. They re-signed nine and lost 10. Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, and Billick will begin to make evaluations on this year's cast of free agents shortly."It would be ambitious to think we're going to keep everybody," Billick said. "But we'll probably keep a little more than you might think.

"One thing I've always told my team members is, `If you're a free agent, I don't expect anybody on this team to take a financial hit for the sake of the team. You have a right to go out and better yourself. There's a time for pay, there's a time for play.

"This team, from the beginning of training camp to [Sunday], focused on one thing: the play. Now it's the season for pay. We'll try to hold on to the integrity of this team, but it is a challenge."

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