I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I called.
For many of us of a certain age, the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV championship is the most significant sports moment of our lives. After spending my entire childhood without football, seeing a team win a Super Bowl was beyond comprehension. Winning a Super Bowl was an impossibility. We were literally just a few years removed from having the commissioner of the NFL dismiss the city altogether.
As I started touching base with the significant figures from that team, I enjoyed hearing those players share memories as significant as mine. But I couldn’t help but wonder if those memories meant the same to everyone.
“It’s not something I voluntarily talk about,” former Ravens quarterback Tony Banks said. “Because even after all this time, I’m still a little bitter about it, that whole thing.”
You remember the story. Mired in an offensive slump, head coach Brian Billick made a midseason quarterback change in 2000. He turned to Trent Dilfer despite Banks authoring the then-greatest win in franchise history just a few weeks earlier, throwing five touchdowns in a dramatic victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars. As we know, the decision worked out quite well for the Ravens.
“And Trent Dilfer winning the Super Bowl with what I felt was my team,” Banks said. “So yeah, there’s still some lingering bitterness.”
Despite it being the only time the quarterback even made the playoffs in his career, Banks doesn’t wear his Super Bowl ring. In fact, he doesn’t even have it. He gave it to his father, who keeps it in San Diego. (“My father takes a lot more pride in it than I do,” he said.) He doesn’t want people to ask him questions about it. He just doesn’t want to talk about it.
“No matter who you are, if you wear a Super Bowl ring, it’s a conversation piece because it’s gaudy, it’s huge,” Banks said. “Everybody notices it. … I just don’t like reliving that game ever, you know? There’s nothing about that game I want to relive.”
And it isn’t just that he doesn’t want to relive it. He wasn’t even able to enjoy winning a Super Bowl when it happened.
“I was immature and bitter,” Banks said. “I don’t think I was rooting for us as hard as I should. I remember my ex-wife and maybe Jermaine Lewis’ wife running onto the field and running all up on the stage where everybody’s trying to touch the trophy and I’m on the grass. I’m trying to get in the locker room while they’re running all over the place and happy. And I’m like, ‘Let me get outta here.'”
“Just me personally, with Trent Dilfer, he doesn’t possess the talent that I had at the time,” Banks explained. “It was hard for me to swallow that. He was such a good backup when he was my backup. I was a terrible backup when the roles got reversed.”
That’s the thing that struck me about my conversation with Banks. He didn’t come off as being unreasonably bitter or resentful. While he believes he was a better quarterback than Dilfer (and there’s a real argument there regarding ability and statistics), he says the only real issue was between him and Billick.
“Me and Coach Billick, we didn’t really like each other,” Banks said. “So I knew I was on a short leash.”
But here’s the weirdest part: Banks knows Billick made the right decision.
“The offense was totally different with me,” Banks said. “Coach Billick gave me freedom to change any play I wanted and I always changed it to pass plays. I would have never done what Trent Dilfer did. He would just run one way or the other direction. I would have never done that. I would have picked it up and thrown it. I would have never changed one run to another run. He was OK with throwing the ball 10, 15 times a game. I was not.”
Banks hasn’t been back to Baltimore since that season ended. He wasn’t there for the team’s big 10th anniversary celebration in 2010. But he’d be willing to change that if the Ravens were to invite him back for another celebration down the line.
“Definitely,” Banks said. “It’s not like I’m anti-Baltimore. [I’m] just, you know, not anxious to relive those memories as much as maybe some of the people.”
He’d even be up for chatting with Dilfer.
“I don’t hold any ill will,” Banks said. “It’s not anything he did. It’s just the situation. … He’s a good dude.”
But as far as patching things up with Billick? He doesn’t think that’s likely.
“I’m never gonna be a huge Brian Billick fan and he’s never gonna be a huge Tony Banks fan,” Banks said. “He couldn’t wait to get me out of there. He didn’t like the way I walked, he didn’t like the way I called plays. He wanted his quarterback buttoned up and at that time, I was not buttoned up.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens