It's impossible to go through the 2000 Super Bowl season without remembering the Ravens' divisional playoff win over the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
There is no better game in team history. I covered it live and have watched it six times on tape. The game was exciting, exhilarating and exhausting. There were more subplots and story lines than a TV reality show, and as much drama and theatrics as any prime-time event from World Wrestling Entertainment.
In that 60-minute period, a season was played out in microcosm as Ravens coach Brian Billick milked every ounce of energy and passion from his players, and from himself.
Final score: Ravens 24, Titans 10.
The tone of the game was set minutes before kickoff, when the Titans aired a video on their JumboTron of Billick talking to his team in the locker room after the Ravens had beaten the Titans, 24-23, in the regular season.
The tape fired up the then-record Adelphia Coliseum crowd of 68,527, and Billick was clearly irritated as he paced the sideline, running his fingers through his hair numerous times as he muttered to his players, "Well, it's out there now; you've got to back me up."
It was on.
Tennessee scored a touchdown on its first possession, and the crowd was on Billick. But when the Ravens scored early in the second quarter, Billick faced the Tennessee bench and the cameras caught him dropping some forceful expletives.
It was a 60-minute dogfight, like the old footage of "The Flintstones" where the cavemen take turns pounding each other over the head. It was vintage Baltimore football.
The Ravens had no offense that season and none in that game. They had the ball for only 19 minutes, 31 seconds, and gained only 134 yards of total offense. Their only time inside the red zone came on a 56-yard pass from Trent Dilfer to tight end Shannon Sharpe, which was followed by a 1-yard touchdown run by Jamal Lewis.
But that's how the Ravens won that season. They were scrappy, a team that bonded together after the double-murder trial of star middle linebacker Ray Lewis in the summer. Even some of the no-names contributed in that game, like defensive end Keith Washington, who blocked two field-goal attempts by Al Del Greco, one resulting in a 90-yard touchdown return by defensive back Anthony Mitchell.
Poor Del Greco. One of the best kickers in NFL history, he missed three field-goal tries in this game, including a 31-yard attempt that hit the left upright.
It's a good thing he did, because the Ravens had trouble stopping the Titans, who finished with 317 yards of total offense. But on four trips inside the 20-yard line, the Titans managed just one touchdown.
The game belonged to Lewis. He drove Steve McNair, the Titans' quarterback, into the ground in the second quarter, injuring his shoulder, and stole a pass off the hands of running back Eddie George that he turned into a 50-yard, game-clinching touchdown with 6:41 left.
Lewis and George were great friends, but on this day, Lewis destroyed him numerous times. It was no contest. But what was touching was George's walking into the Ravens' locker room after the game and the two players hugging.
It was a great day for two gladiators with mutual respect for each other.
But the final moment belonged to Billick. It was warm on that January day in Nashville, and at the post-game news conference, sweat poured off his face and his hair was matted to his head.
A reporter asked Billick about the Ravens' trash-talking before the game.
Without hesitating, Billick said: "When you go into the lion's den, you don't tippy-toe in. You carry a spear. You go in screaming like a banshee …"
In that one moment, Billick captured the soul of every fan in Baltimore who heard him. Heck, I wanted to play for him that day.
In our business, after so many years, we often become cynical and unappreciative of what we do because we do it every day. But that was one game I'm glad to say I was at. It was that thrilling, that entertaining.
I'll never forget.
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