Keith Washington remembers the play as if it happened yesterday.
Twenty years ago, the Ravens were taking on the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the 2000 playoffs. The score was tied at 10 with less than 13 minutes to play in regulation, and Al Del Greco was lining up for a field goal to give the Titans a three-point lead. Del Greco already had a 45-yard field goal blocked by Washington (as seen in the photo above) and missed a 31-yarder, both in the second quarter.
This one was from 37 yards. Washington — a 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive end who played nine years in the NFL and four in Baltimore — said he used to always block field goals in practice. On this particular field goal, he lined up between fellow defensive linemen Larry Webster and Lional Dalton.
“So when they were lining up for the field goal, I told Webster to get head-up on the center, I told Dalton to get head-up on the guard, and I got skinny in between those guys,” Washington said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 7. “Right before the play, and this is the honest-to-God truth, I said, ‘Lord, please, please, please let me come up with this play.'”
And Washington did. He blocked Del Greco’s kick, which settled into the hands of Anthony Mitchell, who returned it for one of the biggest touchdowns in franchise history.
“As soon as I saw the center’s hand flinch, I got off on the ball,” Washington said. “And I got off so quick that when I got in the gap, all the center could do was grab my face mask. He grabbed my face. But I knew I had a couple of steps in the backfield, so I just jumped. I jumped and I raised my right hand, and I couldn’t see a thing because he had my face mask. If you go back and look at the footage, he actually ripped my helmet off.”
“I just held my hand as high as I could, and I just felt my hand explode,” he added. “Before I hit the ground I was like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God.’ And when I hit the ground, I looked up and I saw it floating into Anthony Mitchell’s hands and I was like, ‘Oh my God, thank you.'”
Washington played in the NFL from 1996-2004 and in Baltimore from 1997-2000. He accumulated 47 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 58 games as a Raven. He finished his career with 169 tackles and 10 sacks; he also played for the Detroit Lions (1996), Denver Broncos (2001-2002) and New York Giants (2003-2004).
He’ll always be best known for the field-goal block that proved to be the turning point of the Ravens’ first Super Bowl run. Washington said the block felt like just another play at the time, but he’s since realized how impactful that play was to the trajectory of the team. The Ravens had just six first downs and 134 yards of offense against the Titans in that playoff game, so a special-teams touchdown was sorely needed.
“As time has gone on, I do feel like, ‘Wow, that was a really defining moment. That really was a defining moment with our organization. It really was a huge, huge play,'” Washington said. “It’s just now dawning on me.”
The 2000 season was just the Ravens’ fifth in Baltimore. They had accrued a 27-39-1 record from 1996-1999. The Ravens began to establish a real identity in 1999, when they won five of their last seven games and finished No. 2 in the NFL in total defense and No. 6 in scoring defense.
That carried over to 2000, when the Ravens allowed just 165 points and 970 rushing yards, both records for a 16-game season. Though the offense went through a five-game stretch without scoring a touchdown in the middle of the season, the locker room never splintered.
“There was never any division in our facility,” Washington said. “And you know what, when I look at the Ravens over the years, now being away from it, one of the proudest things to me, though, is what we started. I see that in almost every Ravens football team since. I’m not saying that they all win championships, but the attitude, the desire, the grit, the hard-nosed [attitude], the city, I see it year in and year out. And one of the proudest things to me is feeling like I was a part of the legacy that started that grit and that fight.”
Washington grew up in Dallas, where he lives today. Even though he roots for the Cowboys now, Washington says he is “a Baltimore Raven through and through.” He attended Brian Billick’s Ravens Ring of Honor ceremony in September 2019.
“I love the team. I love the city. I love everything the team stands for,” Washington said. “I love everything that city stands for. I just wish Baltimore — the city, the players, everybody — the best going into the new year.”
For more from Washington, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens