Dilfer back in town but in brown

Cleveland quarterback aims to show true colors vs. Ravens


When Trent Dilfer returns to Baltimore on Sunday, he will find his old team on the ropes, his old coach under siege and a city wondering how it all happened.

With great theater like this, who needs a playoff contender?

This week, it's the jilted quarterback facing down the coach who banished him after they won a Super Bowl together five years ago for the Ravens.

Dilfer, now with the Cleveland Browns, and Brian Billick, under fire for a 1-3 start, said all the right things yesterday about their impending reunion at M&T Bank Stadium.

But to appreciate the dynamics of this relationship, all one has to do is listen to Dilfer in separate interviews this week.

On Monday, answering questions in Cleveland about his return to Baltimore, he said: "This one's obviously got a little extra something for me. It'll be fun to prepare and play."

Forty-eight hours later, Dilfer softened his stance significantly. "There really isn't anything extra," he told Baltimore reporters yesterday. "I had an opportunity to go there a couple years ago with the [Seattle] Seahawks. It was my first time back since the Super Bowl, and I think that was probably a little more emotional."

Monitoring Dilfer's emotions in this AFC North rivalry is Romeo Crennel, the first-year coach of the Browns. He will give his quarterback only so much leeway in what could easily be construed as a grudge match.

"I think that the human nature side of him says that he will be emotional," Crennel said, "but because of his experience, he will be able to control that. Then, if he is not able to control it, I will try to control it for him."

Quickly, a recap: The Ravens signed Dilfer before the 2000 season as a backup to Tony Banks. When Banks suffered a midseason meltdown, Dilfer became the starter. He lost his first game, then won 11 straight, finishing with a rout of the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

But by early March, Dilfer was gone, the only quarterback to win the Super Bowl and lose his job before the next season. After missing out on Brad Johnson, the Ravens jumped at Elvis Grbac as Dilfer's replacement.

The logic? The Ravens didn't feel they could win it all again on defense, and Billick wanted a more accurate passer.

"There was disappointment," Dilfer said. "I think the greatest disappointment was not getting to go back and be with those guys I had grown so fond of and had developed a bond with, and go through the challenge of trying to repeat."

If Dilfer holds resentment toward Billick, it was not apparent in any of the interviews he granted this week. Yesterday he called Billick a great football coach who "probably knows more football and has more experience in his small finger than I do totally."

"Obviously, I disagreed with the [decision]," Dilfer added. "I've never shied away from saying that. But it wasn't my decision and all I can do is disagree and move on."

Dilfer, 33, moved on to Seattle, where he made 12 starts in four years, and Cleveland last spring, where he was reunited with ex-Ravens personnel executive Phil Savage, the Browns general manager.

With the 2-2 Browns, he has played well despite not having tight end Kellen Winslow, running back Lee Suggs and losing rookie receiver Braylon Edwards last week. He has thrown for more than 275 yards twice, and is completing 66.7 percent of his passes. Last week, after throwing two early interceptions, he threw two late touchdown passes to beat the Chicago Bears, 20-10.

Crennel wanted Dilfer's leadership and experience for the team, and he hasn't been disappointed.

"I think Trent has played pretty well overall," Crennel said. "There were a couple of times that we wanted him to be more consistent, but I think he has done a good job of leading this team and doing the things that we need him to do."

Billick raved about Dilfer's early season performance and made one concession he previously had not made.

"Trent looks great," Billick said. "I have not seen Trent throw this well in a long time. He's efficient, he has complete grasp of the offense, he's played very, very well for them. ...

"I regret that the circumstance that presented itself that Trent Dilfer was not with us going forward [in 2001]. He's an outstanding young man."


Browns@Ravens Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13 Line: Ravens by 5 1/2

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