OAKLAND, Calif. - Baltimore football fans are going to have to bone up on their Roman numerals over the next XIV days, because the Ravens are headed for Super Bowl XXXV.
The Ravens scored a historic 16-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders at
Network Associates Coliseum yesterday to join the National Football Conference
champion New York Giants in the Jan. 28 championship showcase at Raymond James
Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Shannon Sharpe on a record-breaking 96-yard touchdown pass in the second
quarter, and the Ravens' smothering defense did the rest, roughing up Raiders
quarterback Rich Gannon and holding the NFL's best rushing team to just 24
yards on the ground.
There were a few tense moments in the final minutes of the game, but for
every offensive foray by the Raiders, there was a decisive, dramatic answer by
a Ravens defense that has earned a place among the greatest in NFL history.
What a day for Charm City, which last toasted a Super Bowl team in 1971,
when the Colts defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, for the NFL title.
What a day for venerable Ravens owner Art Modell, who will crown his 40th
year as an NFL owner with his first Super Bowl appearance.
Modell won an NFL title in 1964 - two seasons before the NFL and the
American Football League hooked up for the first Super Bowl - but the
Browns-turned-Ravens franchise was one of only nine NFL teams that had never
played in pro football's signature event.
"I'm doubly honored," Modell said during the American Football Conference
trophy ceremony after the game. "I'm gratified by the great support we have
gotten from the fans in Baltimore, and I want to thank my friends in Cleveland
who supported us for 35 years."
The emotion was written all over his face. He had endured so much criticism
- so much heartache - in the wake of the move from Cleveland to Baltimore in
1996 that it figured to take a trip to the Super Bowl to make things right.
"I can't imagine what this means to the Modell family," said Ravens
owner-in-waiting Stephen J. Bisciotti, who attended the game with his family.
"The respect that they engendered through the last 40 years - to be treated
the way they have been - it's a nice vindication for a guy who didn't deserve
to be vilified in the first place."
The road was long, in many ways. The team had to travel from Cleveland to
Baltimore to acquire the financial wherewithal to regain its place among
football's most storied franchises.
Modell said at the time of the move that in five years, the Ravens would be
a team to be reckoned with, but the Ravens had to travel another hard road to
make that prediction come true.
The Ravens had to go to Tennessee to upset the defending AFC champion
Tennessee Titans last week, then travel coast-to-coast to face another 6-point
favorite in one of the league's most intimidating venues.
`Black Hole' hype
The notorious Raiders fans were as raucous as usual, but the "Black Hole"
(the most infamous cheering section in the stadium) turned out to be so much
silver-and-black hype - falling eerily silent after Sharpe broke away on his
record touchdown catch and run.
"When we did that, we covered up the hole," Sharpe said.
It was hard for the Ravens to resist a few parting shots at the Raiders
faithful after being peppered with coins and debris when they took the field
before the game.
"An astronomer once told me that a black hole, technically, is a star that
has burned out," said receiver Qadry Ismail. "You can read into that whatever
The 96-yard touchdown also went a long way toward restoring the reputation
of Dilfer, who went on to throw for 190 yards and earn a trip back to the city
where he spent most of his sometimes star-crossed NFL career.