The championship team of the 2000 season will always hold a special place in the hearts and minds of Raven fans.
But to anyone else outside the city limits that group was remembered for it’s star linebacker who had run afoul of the law, it’s arrogant coach that questioned the media’s ability to do its job and for a record setting defense that not only loved to punish the opposition but also wasn’t shy about telling you how good they were.
The Sports Illustrated cover summed up the national view of our champions.
They didn’t like us. Our offense was an ugly smash-mouth mess led by a rookie bulldozer in the backfield, a scrap heap quarterback formerly from Tampa Bay and a Pro Bowl receiver who loved to talk and talk and talk. Our defense was one of the league’s best and perhaps one of the best in history but often the focus was on off the field transgressions more than what happened between the lines.
But I don’t think any of the Ravens fans cared, in fact I think many people enjoyed rooting for the media villains. (I know I did) Baltimore football had been robbed years ago and no one seemed to flinch. The city was made to jump through hoops for an expansion team that never came. Then finally when the NFL returned the media questioned how Baltimore fans could support gaining a team in the same fashion in which they had lost one.
Baltimore needed some swagger and they got a big dose of it with the team that produced the city’s first pro sports championship since 1983. They needed to vent all that frustration from all those years of loss and heartache.
But for all the boasting that became a Ravens trademark it didn’t always produce victories during the Billick era. After Baltimore returned to the playoffs that following season the rest of Coach Billick’s tenure seemed to follow a roller coaster path.
A Divisional crown one year, out of the playoffs the next. It started to become a familiar pattern. The bragging by some teammates led to division in the locker room when things did not go as planned. More times than not a team that was packed with Pro Bowlers often played recklessly and was among the league’s most penalized year after year.
So when Steve Bisciotti made his most critical decision in his four years as owner of the Ravens and decided to let go of the winning-est coach the franchise had ever known it was a move that was bound to controversial. Bisciotti’s next hire would have to be someone special and it would have to be someone who could bring the veteran group together after a disastrous 5-11 campaign in 2007. But the owner wasn’t just looking for a coach, he was looking for someone who would help change the culture of the team and the perception of how Baltimore conducts business around the league.
“You have to be willing to do things that the masses wouldn’t do, or I don’t think you will be able to separate yourself from the masses.” Bisciotti said as he unveiled the untested Special Teams Coach John Harbaugh to the media.
Bisciotti said a lot with his choice of Harbaugh. He wanted a young, energetic coach who would not be afraid to hold his players accountable. He wanted someone to unite this group of very talented players into a team that consistently competed for the playoffs every season. He wanted his franchise to be like Pittsburgh. (Gasp. Imagine what that sounds like now) A consistent winner and a model for the league to follow.
Rex Ryan was never really under consideration. He’ll always be popular among players and fans for his colorful quotes. But the decision had nothing to do with football knowledge but more about image. It was time for Baltimore to turn the page.
Harbaugh, in his two seasons at the helm is 20-12 and 3-2 in the playoffs in two consecutive appearances and if key players can stay healthy there is no reason to think that Baltimore couldn’t make it’s third consecutive playoff appearance. (1st in team history)
I’ll admit I laughed a little bit at the P.R. campaign of “Play Like a Raven”. It sounded like some kind of cheesy college chant or something that would sell a fe wt-shirts and not something that professionals would grab onto. But maybe it’s become the mantra for the entire organization. Ozzie Newsome always talked about finding players who “Play like a Raven” so why not make that the embodiment of the franchise.
I also guess what I’ve also noticed is that not only are the Ravens settling into a level of success but that the off-seasons seem to be all about football or how players are making a difference in the community.
Just read the headlines.
It’s refreshing and exciting to see the team and the players that we cheer for staying out of the scandal rags and doing right by people. It only adds to the civic pride that when you can support a team that you can truly feel proud of on and off the field. It’s time to let go of that old negative image.
During the midst of this public image makeover the Ravens have been by no means perfect. The Terrell Suggs saga ended with the suit being withdrawn but was still a disappointment in a rough season for the defensive end. The recent signing of Dante Stallworth was almost met with skepticism and debate due to his past.
Overall the positives still outweigh the negatives and in general the team appears focused on football. The latest buzz surrounding last week’s mini-camp should be evidence of that. Players and fans alike can all hope that the jewel of this makeover results in a second Super Bowl trophy to be hoisted in Arlington.
Maybe then some franchise out there might say, We want to be like Baltimore.