Dilfer tosses aside `bitterness'

Ex-Ravens QB makes public apology to Billick

October 04, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

Although he still disagrees with the Ravens' decision to let him go after winning the Super Bowl, quarterback Trent Dilfer now wants to make amends for his long-standing grudge against coach Brian Billick.

"I want to use this opportunity to publicly apologize to Brian for that bitterness," Dilfer told Baltimore reporters in a conference call yesterday. "I'm going to make a point to see him on Sunday. He's been the man in this deal and I haven't. I've been the childish one, and I want to end that right now."

Dilfer, who replaces injured quarterback Alex Smith for the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, will make his second start against the Ravens since winning the 2001 Super Bowl.

His anger toward Billick dated to March 2001, when the Ravens decided to sign Elvis Grbac without extending a contract offer to Dilfer. He remains the only quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl and lose his starting job before the next season.

At this year's Super Bowl in Miami, Dilfer expressed years of bitterness about Billick's decision to replace him, saying he never wanted to speak to the Ravens coach again.

Now, Dilfer wants to use this game as a turning point.

"I recognize they had a tough decision as an organization. I disagree with it still to this day," Dilfer said. "[But] just because I disagree with it doesn't mean I can't let it go. This is a great opportunity this week to let it go."

Asked for the reason for the sudden change of heart, Dilfer said: "I think I've grown up as a man. You're always trying to get better. As my parenting becomes a lot more serious, I feel hypocritical because I feel like I'm trying to teach things that I haven't done on my own."

Since capturing the NFL title in January 2001, Dilfer said, he has not had a substantial conversation with Billick.

Before Dilfer made his comments yesterday, Billick said he would like to reach out to his Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

"I would love to talk to Trent," Billick said. "I'd love to say hello to Trent and wish him well and see how he is doing."

Dilfer went 11-1 as the Ravens' starter after replacing Tony Banks midway through the 2000 season but struggled at times with his accuracy.

In his first five winning starts for the Ravens, he completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns with six interceptions. In his other seven starts, he completed 48.3 percent for four touchdowns with five interceptions. He completed 47.9 percent in the postseason.

That prompted the Ravens to sign Grbac, a Pro Bowl quarterback, instead of Dilfer, who eventually became a backup for the Seattle Seahawks that season.

But the decision wasn't made by Billick alone. The Ravens chose to make a change at quarterback after extensive personnel meetings headed by general manager Ozzie Newsome. Billick later said he met with several team leaders after the Super Bowl, and they reinforced his decision to go in another direction at quarterback.

"You see what your team is about, your organization decides what your options are and you pursue them," Billick said. "That's exactly what we did."

Some players felt otherwise.

Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis, two of the four remaining starters from the Super Bowl team, said yesterday that they wished the Ravens would have brought back Dilfer.

"I was among the people that thought he probably should have gotten a shot," Ogden said, "but I'm sure there are a lot of people who thought that way."

Lewis called Dilfer "the ultimate team player."

"I don't think it's right when you let a person who takes you to the Super Bowl - and then win it - to let him go," Lewis said. "I definitely don't agree with that."

Some former Ravens, such as Rod Woodson, contend the team would have won another Super Bowl with Dilfer.

"It's been very flattering to hear since that they all feel the same way as I felt - partly cheated because I didn't get the chance to go through the tough times of repeating," said Dilfer, who wears his Super Bowl ring only at speaking engagements and corporate events.

After winning the Super Bowl, Dilfer bounced from Seattle (2001-2004) to Cleveland (2005) to San Francisco.

His only previous start against the Ravens was two years ago, when he struggled for the Browns. He completed 16 of 30 passes for 147 yards and one interception.

"I think in '05, when I went in there with Cleveland, I didn't think it would be hard or an added distraction," Dilfer said. "But as hard as I tried not to let it capture any of my focus, it did. Walking into the stadium - the memories it brought back - I didn't play my best football because of that. This time around, my focus is much more on me and the things I can do to help us win and less so [about] the Baltimore Ravens."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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