CBS: How the 2001 Baltimore Ravens are Hands Down My All-Time Favorite Team
[Ahhh, the perfect image of our own beloved Ex-Owner, Art Modell (who still owns one percent of the Ravens), holding up the Lombardi Trophy to appease the hungry masses.]
It was a very beautiful day the Baltimore Ravens defeated the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV. Especially for a Baltimore, MD native such as myself.
If your a big fan of the high-flying aerial attack with chunks of yardage gained all at once, receiving touchdowns and very little defense this was probably not the game or team you would have liked.
However, if your like me and have grown up watching your team primarily win utilizing a power running-game and a stout defense, this season was one for the record books.
At least for me, the ability to win the battle in the trenches and stay physical at all points of attack means much more than a 60-yard rainbow pass.
With one of the best, if not THE best, defenses of all time, a solid manager-type QB in Trent Dilfer and a monster of a RB with 4.4 speed in Jamal Lewis, the 2000-2001 Baltimore Ravens are by far my favorite team of all time, in any sport.
The 2000-2001 Baltimore Ravens Schedule Recap:
-Just a few quick notes, the Baltimore Ravens did not get to and win the Super Bowl purely on defense, as many people suggest. A number of times the offense actually managed to perform more than adequately, an example of this is the 96-yard TD Trent Dilfer threw to Shannon Sharpe in the AFC Championship game.
So the idea that our team got into the playoffs on pure defense is more fiction than fact.
The Super Bowl-bound Ravens were challenged and tested throughout the entire regular season. The ride started off relatively smooth as they raced out to a 5-1 record but this was mostly due to the team's smothering defense.
Trouble seemed to be brewing for the team as original starting QB-Tony Banks-was swapped out around mid-season for Trent Dilfer. This change along with some usual trouble with the Baltimore receivers led to a stretch of 5 games where the team did not score a single offensive touchdown.
They still managed to win twice. The team rode the coat-tails of rookie-RB sensation Jamal Lewis and his 1364-yards rushing to seven straight wins to round out the season. The team ended up with a regular season record of 12-4, just barely failing to grab a first-round bye due to Tennessee ending up with a 13-3 record.
Now this was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the season's total excitement factor. Sure the very successful regular season record had given us higher hopes and expectations for the playoffs but at this point a NFL team in Baltimore had not won a championship since the era of Johnny Unitas.
Going into the wild-card round, the team had the unity and momentum given to them by their 7-game win streak. The Ravens made short work of the Denver Broncos, 21-3. The defense by this point had set a single-season NFL record for fewest points given up in a 16-game season with only 165 points allowed, total.
Ray Lewis was named Defensive Player of the Year. Combined with All-World DB Rod Woodson and Pro-Bowl DT Sam Adams, they formed the backbone of the #1-ranked defense. Going on the road to battle Tennessee in the divisional playoffs, the defense and special teams again saved the day.
After being tied 10-10 entering the fourth quarter, a late Tennessee field goal by Al Del Greco was blocked and returned all the way down the field for a TD.
The straw that broke the camel's back came with a final Ray Lewis-interception, also returned for a TD, that finally put the game out of reach of the Titans. This put the Ravens one game away from securing a spot in the Super Bowl.
The 2001 AFC Championship Game was played against the Oakland Raiders, led by star-QB Rich Gannon. I fully believe that Rich Gannon was the last "great" Raiders QB, who we severely punished in this game.
The Ravens were never in any real danger throughout this game after Shannon Sharpe caught the famous 96-yard touchdown from Trent Dilfer early in the 2nd quarter.
Just to add insult to injury, the Raven's defense managed to knock Rich Gannon out of the game, perhaps contributing to his eventual career-ending neck injury. The Ravens won handily, 16-3 and earned a spot in the title game against the NY Giants.
Now at this point, we had beaten our playoff opponents by a combined 61-16 points. We were finally feeling pretty comfortable as our team went into the Super Bowl favored to win.
I personally was reasonably happy to have even gotten this far but just like my neighbors, co-workers and friends I was now readying myself for the Raven's to bring home a world championship.
On January 28, 2001, the Ravens faced the Giants in Tampa, FL for bragging rights in Super Bowl XXXV. Pitting a solid offense against a dominant defense, the game was almost in the books from the very beginning. I believe the following statistics that I gathered following the game will tell the tale better than I ever could.
1. Giants total offensive yardage: 152 yards.
2. Giants total offensive possessions: 16
3. Giants total turnovers: 5
4. Baltimore total sacks: 4
5. Giants total punts+interceptions: 16
6. Giants total first downs: 1
7. Super Bowl MVP, Ray Lewis's game statistics: 11 tackles, 6 assists, 4 blocked passes
8. Giants total offensive points: 0
9. Super Bowl XXXV final score: Ravens 34, Giants 7
I think you get the point. While watching the game, the key play for me at least was a simple halfback outside run by NY's star-RB Tiki Barber. Now anyone who has ever seen Tiki Barber play has seen how he just seems to manage to out-run and slip through would be tacklers with the greatest of ease.
On a field that includes 21 other players on any given down, Tiki usually just seemed to play a little bit faster then everyone else.
Anyways, on this typical play, Tiki made his way towards turning the corner without ever knowing that Ray Lewis was mirroring his moves and speed on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Amazingly, Ray Lewis dropped Barber for a 2 yard loss. It was at that exact moment that I knew that our wildest fantasies were coming true; The game was over even though there was still more than a half to play.
In the end, exactly that happened and the potent offense, led by star-QB Kerry Collins and Head-coach Jim Fassel, never threatened the entire game. The only points the Giants managed to muster were on a blown kickoff return, something the Raven's quickly rectified by responding immediately with Jermaine Lewis's own 84-yard kickoff return for a TD.
After the game, the tears began to flow as the alcohol and emotions ran through our minds in a near-frenzy. Not only had we kept the NY Giants offense, the same one that scored 41 points while shutting out the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship, from scoring a single point but Baltimore now held the world title for the first time in 30 years.
The reasons that this team, beyond any other, is my favorite sports team of all time in any sport. It's not because they won a world championship, although it was a pretty important factor. It's not because they won two out of five regular season games without even scoring an offensive touchdown.
The single most important factor in deciding this was my favorite team over my NFC favorite, the Philadelphia Eagles, my NBA favorite, the Washington Wizards, my MLB favorite, the Baltimore Orioles, is just there sheer willpower and execution on defense.
By the way, did you know that I also really enjoyed and loved the '85 Chicago Bears and Mike Ditka?
Our defensive lineage has been the Raven's biggest weapon for our entire slightly older then a decade team's history. From Marvin Lewis to Mike Nolan and finally Rex Ryan, our defensive coordinators have routinely applied and been taken for Head-coaching positions in the NFL.
For me, the defensive side of the ball is just as exciting to watch as any good pass. I find it hard to believe that corners these days are asked to somehow match their recovery speed against players who routinely have sub-4.5 speed. Just think about it, a reaction to anything is almost always going to be slower than the action.
So as far as defenses go, I would have to say that the '00-'01 Baltimore Ravens team would have to be the best. Think about it, they blew away even the previous record-holder for fewest points allowed, the '85 Bears with 198, by over 30 points!
In a day and age with much more open offensive schemes and rules made to increase both the offensive point and yardage totals, that feat is beyond staggering. Add in the fact that the Super Bowl MVP and defensive player of the year was Ray Lewis and you've got yourselves the best represented defensive team perhaps ever.
These are just some of the reasons why the 2000-2001 Ravens are my favorite team, in any sport, of all time.
-Michael, Wong_83@hotmail.com, who thinks there are many pretenders to the throne but only one defense that's the best of all time.
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