There are simplistic ways to answer the question, “How did the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV?” The defense, led by breakout star linebacker Ray Lewis, was historically dominant, and quarterback Trent Dilfer was capable of managing an offense that relied on hard-running rookie Jamal Lewis.

But the question is so much more significant than that. Even among Super Bowl champions, this team was remarkable. The previous iteration of the franchise was one of the most snakebitten in American sports history. The Ravens were in only their fifth season of existence. They didn’t have one winning record in their first four seasons. Even in 2000, they went five straight games without scoring a touchdown and made a quarterback change.

So, how DID the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV? As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of that magical season, PressBox reached out to numerous prominent members of the team with the question, “When did you know the 2000 Ravens had a chance to win the Super Bowl and why?” Here’s what they told us.

All memories were told to Glenn Clark unless otherwise noted.

Head Coach Brian Billick

I think the Dallas game, only because they weren’t a very good team at the time, frankly, so it’s not like, “OK, we beat this great team so now we know we are good,” but I commented [at] the time that Dallas had the pedigree. I mean, they were America’s Team. Troy Aikman was still playing. And they were kind of holding the mantle even though they weren’t that good at that time. That meant something, I think to us, that we dominated. We absolutely dominated them. It wasn’t even close. And I think that game gave us a sense of, “Yeah, we are that good. We can do this.”

And of course we had banned the P-word — all that good, fun stuff we had where they couldn’t say playoffs because they had to earn it. After we beat San Diego, who was a good team … in the locker room we said, “OK, it’s time to lift the P-word [ban].” And we had fun with that. I said, “But now more importantly, it’s time to flip the switch. It’s time to go to a Super Bowl.”

And the next day, in the team meeting, I presented the team with a minute-by-minute, practice-by-practice, week-by-week outline in detail of between then and going to the Super Bowl — playoff practices, meetings, time off all the way to the end. I wanted them to know we’re not just now saying, “Oh, OK, we can go to the Super Bowl. Now what do we do?” We have a plan, and there has been a plan in place and here it is. When the players saw that, that’s when, for them, it was, “Whoa, this is real.” They could look at it. They could see it. They could touch it.

Defensive Tackle Sam Adams

I was a free agent that year and to be honest with you, when I went on my visit I thought we had a chance to win the Super Bowl because of the way that they played defense, plain and simple. I knew that the opportunity to be able to play for them and to be able to add to what they were already doing, I told my wife from there on the visit, “Hey, I want to play in Baltimore because we’re going to win the Super Bowl. The defense is just too good and explosive.” Come to find out, we were what I thought we were. … It was obvious in training camp that we were going to be really good, and with the way we were flying around and making plays, I hadn’t seen anything like it. I haven’t seen anything like it since then, and I don’t think it’ll ever be duplicated.

Fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo

I think the game for me that really kind of solidified everything — and I was actually hurt, I was in a boot, I had to have surgery — was the game that Dallas came here and we just destroyed them. Jamal [Lewis] rushed for [187 yards]. We just dominated. It was toward the end of the season. There were a couple games that kind of made me go, “OK, yeah, we’re really, really good.” You have a little bit of a stumble and you lose a little bit of confidence but you still think that you’re good.

But it doesn’t really matter how good you think you are until you go out there and win games. There were so many games. The Tennessee game at Tennessee [during the regular season], that was incredible. I think we were the first team to ever beat Tennessee [at then-Adelphia Coliseum] — they hadn’t lost a home game. We beat them there, and then I think the Dallas game. There’s a couple games that did it for me. I can’t put it on any one game necessarily. But I think the Tennessee win later in the season and the Dallas win made us go, “Yeah, we’re for real.”

Outside Linebacker Peter Boulware
Via the Ravens

I knew we had a pretty good team but I was never sure we could win a Super Bowl. So many things have to go right for your team in order to win. It really wasn’t until we beat Oakland in the AFC championship that I thought that we could actually win the Super Bowl.

Defensive End Rob Burnett

When we got to Tampa, we knew. We knew. We had been through so much. We had watched enough tape on the Giants, no disrespect, but they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Once we got there, it was just like, “OK, let’s get this going.” Before that, though, it was game after game. That’s what [defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis] always preached. Don’t get ahead of yourself. The fact that we were able to control a game defensively and keep points down during the offensive struggles, it just gave us confidence. We were also a very close team. No one ever shamed the offense. We stayed together. We could have easily done it, but we didn’t because we were a mature team. That’s what fractures a lot of teams in a locker room when you’re like, “Ah, we’re doing our job. What are you doing?” We didn’t do that.

Defensive Tackle Lional Dalton

I think it was the Tennessee game [in the playoffs] for me. For [the Titans] to go ahead with the field goal — and I jumped offsides. [Al Del Greco] missed the field goal and everybody screamed at me. The next play, Keith Washington came in and blocked the field goal. He blocked the field goal and for some reason I thought it was just fate for us to win this year. After the Tennessee game, I just knew we were going to win the Super Bowl. I did because of the way we were playing and everything was just happening. We had all the good bounces. Everything was going our way.

Quarterback Trent Dilfer
As Written To PressBox

When I got there in training camp. I just came off the NFC championship Bucs team. Second week of training camp I saw the leadership and veteran experience and the horsepower personnel-wise. I realized we were way better than the team I just left. Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Rod Woodson, Tony Siragusa, Chris McAlister, Kim Herring, Jamie Sharper, Duane Starks, Michael McCrary, Sam Adams, Rob Burnett, Corey Harris — literally anyone that came through Baltimore that year on defense, the whole two-deep. Dudes on defense. The single best defense of all time.

Think of the coaches on that side of the ball: Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, Rex Ryan, Mike Smith, Steve Shafer and Donnie Henderson. Practicing against them was harder than playing on Sundays. Special teams, we were excellent — Russ Purnell coordinating everything, and Jermaine Lewis single-handedly won us the Jets game. Offensively, we understood who we were. We knew what championship football looked like complementary football-wise. We had some really good players who executed at a high level.

Trent Dilfer
Trent Dilfer during Super Bowl XXXV (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

Right Guard Mike Flynn

I guess maybe that San Diego game when we clinched. There was a lot of buildup to that, having not been in the playoffs, and when we finally clinched, you kind of had that off the table. “All right, we’re in the playoffs.” Let’s start looking at the landscape of the league and who you’re playing and you realize, “Holy cow, we have a chance.” Certainly, we had the best defense in the NFL, and by that point we had gotten established with Trent [Dilfer] in there and realized we were going to run the football with Jamal [Lewis]. … That was probably the first time that I noticed that we had a chance to win everything. As it went on, confidence built. And especially the league that year — we were built to win and we matched up well against teams that we were going to have to play.

Fullback Sam Gash

My wife kind of tells me the story. I had just gotten cut from Buffalo after making the Pro Bowl two years in a row, so I was kind of in shock still. I got there and it was about a week into training camp. I think Chuck Evans got hurt. He hurt his arm or elbow or something. I’m not sure what he hurt. But they brought me in and I had played against a lot of those guys just from being in the AFC. We knew of each other, but it was more like whenever I got to training camp and I saw how hard and how smart these guys were on the defensive side of the ball and then I knew the horses that we had on offense with Jamal [Lewis] and Priest [Holmes]. I was always in the mindset of, “Hey, play defense and run the ball, you can win a championship.” And I would always help with the aspect of trying to run the ball. That was a mentality that I think we all shared. It was just a fun feel. I just knew that we were going to be good the whole time.

Running Back Priest Holmes

When we knew something was special about that particular year was in training camp prior to the season starting. There were several captains that they called up to address the team while we were in training camp. It was the likes of Ray Lewis, Tony Siragusa. And one of the things that happened for me was that I actually was one of those individuals as well that they called up to address [the team]. … We all talked about going to the Super Bowl. And I think that that was pretty special because Coach Billick had just called up captains. No one had gotten together previously to talk about what they were going to say, and everybody gave their story. They talked about perseverance. They talked about overcoming obstacles. We know that offseason, everything that Ray [Lewis] had to come off of with the trial. It was one of those things where we knew that there was something special about the team.

Wide Receiver Qadry Ismail

That moment probably wasn’t until the AFC championship game because it literally was like, “Oh hey, we won. Oh hey, we won again. Oh, look at this. Hey, whoa, we won. Oh my goodness, we won again.” That attitude was like, “Oh, what do we do? We just keep winning.” So what’s the final analysis? “If we win the divisional round, we go to the AFC championship. And if we go to the AFC championship, then what is that? That means that we go to the Super Bowl? Oh, wow, OK! Hey look, we’re in Oakland. Look at this, oh my God! Those are the Raiders. Gosh, there’s a thing called the Black Hole and there are people over there with these funny uniforms on and they don’t even play. But they look silly! We won. Oh wow, we get some swag. What swag is this? This is that AFC championship swag!” So I was like, “Hold on, wait a minute here. That means we’re going to what? Oh, snap.” Yes, that was my mindset.

Defensive End Michael McCrary

I think at the beginning of the season because we had accumulate at putting these stats on the board. And we could see consistently we were just improving in all categories. We started adding even more stats to that board and on the rear wall of the meeting room. We looked at those stats and we could just see year after year, these stats just kept improving to the point of, wow, we were just amazed. We were like, “We can just continue this.”

You have to give it to the Ravens. They kept the defense together to allow us to continue to grow together and expand on our game plans and our playbook. So it was that combination of having that defense intact and keeping those players every year. It was just the Ravens and Ozzie [Newsome] doing a great job of doing that and the fact that Marvin put stats up. In literally every game, we were tracking stats and we just kept watching this improvement year over year over year to the point where the Super Bowl year, we knew we were capable of doing something special.

Center Jeff Mitchell

You know, what always sticks out to me with that season is the three-game losing streak and [the five] games we went without scoring a touchdown — and the way [Brian] Billick handled it. Brian would come in there and say, “Hey guys, it’s going to end one day! We’re going to score!” That’s really what stuck out to me about that year, because our defense was so spectacular — especially for that five games, it was brutal just trying to get through that without scoring a touchdown.

… That’s what was really different about that team: Everybody seemed to get along. There’s a lot of mutual respect even though we went five games without scoring a touchdown. I can tell you one thing — if I played defense, I’d get a little impatient with us. It was just different, the way that they all handled that. … Tennessee was one of those teams that always felt like as an offensive player that there were 13 guys on the other side. They had a great defense as well. I would say if there was a boost, it was winning that [playoff] game.

Cornerback Chris McAlister
Via the Ravens

I think it was the time period that we went through a stretch of five games without scoring an offensive touchdown and we won three. Normally teams tend to go at each other’s throats or start pointing a finger at each other, but we didn’t do that. We came together, we became better, we became stronger and went on to win 11 straight games after that.

Left Guard Edwin Mulitalo

My perception of the Super Bowl starting to [come to] fruition didn’t happen until the playoffs for me. … For me, being young, I was tired. I had hit that wall even though it was my second season in the NFL. I had hit that wall toward the end of that season as a young player, and I was ready to be done. My attitude, when we played Denver, I had thought, “OK, if we lose to Denver, maybe you start getting ready.” My body was aching at that time. So we beat Denver. That’s a good feeling. I was like, “All right, OK.”

Now, if we lose to Tennessee, “OK, all right, we’ll chalk it up, great season.” But then as the game changes — and you see it a little bit with the Ray Lewis hit against Eddie George — and we win that game, all the sudden my mind switches. That was the day where I thought, “We can win this whole thing.” That was to me, as a young player, that’s what I saw. The whole season coming up to that point was a long season, as I was a young player. But then once we beat Tennessee, I started to think, “We can take this whole thing.”

Kick/Punt Returner Jermaine Lewis

After [losing three straight], we just went on a run where we didn’t lose. I remember at the end of the season, I kept saying, “The season’s over because the season’s over.” There wasn’t anybody else to play. … I think really for me, after the Jets game, I was like, “Man, I’m in a little zone.” I had a lot going on. There was a lot going on. I was just kind of numb to the whole situation, just keep your head down and play every game and just see where it takes you. But I felt like just because we were on that winning streak, we didn’t want to give that up. … Looking back on it, and even at the time, it was like a family, that whole group that we had together. It was just a tight group of guys. Every position was close — individual positions — and as a team we were close. I think we were ready to fight and battle for each other.

Ray Lewis at Super Bowl
Ray Lewis celebrates Super Bowl XXXV (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

Middle Linebacker Ray Lewis
As Written To PressBox

It was after the Washington game. Trent [Dilfer] was put in a meeting with Coach Billick and several leaders. We walked out and said nobody can beat us.

Left Tackle Jonathan Ogden
As Written To PressBox

For me, I didn’t even think about the Super Bowl until we clinched a playoff spot. We had never even made the playoffs in our organization’s history! After we clinched and Coach Billick said, “The time is here, it’s time to win a Super Bowl,” that’s the first time winning the big game entered my mind.

Jonathan Ogden
Jonathan Ogden during Super Bowl XXXV (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

Punter Kyle Richardson

The only time I could tell you the Super Bowl was probably going to happen was after the Oakland game. Rex Ryan on the bus afterward said, “You realize you just won the Super Bowl?” I didn’t quite understand what he was saying, but we didn’t quite match up as well against the Minnesota Vikings that year. But it just so happens the Giants took care of the Vikings for us, hence Rex Ryan’s reference that we just won the Super Bowl. Two weeks later, that’s exactly what happened.

… Getting to the playoffs, that was the goal, right? We got into the playoffs, and once you got into the playoffs then it became, “You know what? We just dominated that Denver game.” That’s when it started snowballing and you started to think, “Man, we could run this out.” But there wasn’t any preconceived idea that that was going to happen because it’s just so tight on those playoff games, you never know where it’s going to go. But the one moment, if I can remember anything, is on the bus after the Oakland game and Rex Ryan saying that to me before we had even played in the Super Bowl.

Tight End Shannon Sharpe

I think the thing is that we had some veteran guys — myself on the offensive side, Trent [Dilfer] came in and started starting, and then you had Ray [Lewis] and Rod Woodson. I remember telling Ray and Woody, “Guys, you’ve got a Super Bowl defense. But they don’t just take one team’s defense and leave the offense at home. If we’re going to the Super Bowl, we’re going as a unit.” And I said, “We’re going to get our side fixed. We’re going to carry our weight. Just give us a little time.” Because scrimmaging and practicing against them and seeing them in training camp, you knew what you were up against. And I’m like, “Hold on, guys, we can move the ball a little bit against them, so we should have no problem getting 14, 17 points on someone else. If we can get a touchdown against them, that’s 17 points against anybody else’s defense.”

But [what] was great is that we understood we had a sincere liking for one another. We wanted the best for one another, and we understood we were a team. And in order for us to have success as a team, there couldn’t be no infighting, there couldn’t be no finger-pointing. It would’ve been easy because when you’ve got a defense that’s playing that well and an offense that’s not carrying their end of the weight, it’s easy to finger-point. But they didn’t do that. They understood that if we were going places, we were going as a team. We stuck together and we got it done.

Shannon Sharpe
Shannon Sharpe scoring a 96-yard touchdown in the AFC championship game. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

Outside Linebacker Jamie Sharper

One specific point would be when Coach Billick came in and talked to us during the preseason saying that we could be one of the better defenses. Hearing that from the head coach, more than just our D-coordinator Marvin Lewis, definitely put something in our minds like, “All right, let’s start putting in the work.” And then I think we got our second shutout [against the Bengals in Week 4]. That’s when we kind of realized, “All right, we don’t have to worry about how many points we can score. We’ve just got to keep the other kids, the other team, from scoring.” So I think it was a combination of those two things for me is what made me realize that we can go as far as we want to, no matter what. Just keep the other team from scoring points.

… [Week 4] might’ve been the game that we made Corey Dillon quit, where he didn’t want to go back in the game anymore. That was the year that we made him actually just stop wanting to go out and [run] the ball. He was always a tough running back, so when we made him do that, it was kind of like, “All right, we can definitely be an impressive and a good defense.” That game, we shut him out and we made him quit and not want to run the ball anymore. That’s when we realized that we could do big things. I think that was the definite point for me.

Defensive Tackle Tony Siragusa

Probably toward the end of the season when before a game, we would usually go over game plans and stuff like that. Maybe the 12th game of the year, 13th game of the year, we were like, “Wow.” We weren’t even talking over the plays or anything like that. We were worried about what we were going to do when we get our interception. Were we going to hand it off? What dance were we going to dance? What were we going to do? So it was crazy. I’m going, “We’re talking about when we’re going to get an interception because we know that we’re that good.” Everyone was just doing their job and it was all clicking. It wasn’t work. It was just easy. … Every guy knew what he had to do. Everybody knew what their job was and everybody knew what [the job was for] the guy next to them. And we didn’t try to do more than we had to do.

Cornerback Duane Starks

I think when we went [five] games without scoring an offensive touchdown, I think that gave us all the confidence at that time, and we realized that all we had to do was get about nine or 10 points on the board to win. So I think that was the turning point in our season. … Just the confidence when Coach Billick, when he knows that the offense is struggling, came into the defensive meeting and said, “Hey guys, as long as we can get you guys 10 to 13 points, we know we can win.” I think everyone just started believing that and we just kept it true to what it was. … Getting by the Titans, that was a rival game for us. We always played those guys tough, and just to beat them twice, [including] in the playoffs, that was amazing. I know once we got past them, Oakland wasn’t going to be a problem, and the Giants, we were pretty confident about winning the Super Bowl at that time.

Wide Receiver Brandon Stokley

I was a young football player — second year in the league. The Super Bowl to me was just like on a whole other stratosphere, so my mind couldn’t even go there. And obviously we weren’t favored going into the season. I don’t know what the odds were for us to win the Super Bowl, but certainly we probably weren’t in the top 10 or so. So that wasn’t ever the talk. Really, it just kind of happened. So for me, no, I wasn’t looking ahead.

… I don’t know — 23, 24 years old, just a really young football player that was living in the moment. Like we’re in the playoffs, I thought that was awesome. We’re having success and, “OK, we just beat the Titans. Now we’re going to the AFC championship game. We’re playing Oakland. OK, that’s cool.” But that’s kind of where my thought process was this whole time, just enjoying the moment and enjoying the experience.

Kicker Matt Stover

When we discovered that our defense was as good as it really was when no one was scoring on us very much during those [five games where] we didn’t score a touchdown. But the three that we lost out of the five, we discovered, “Man, all we’ve got to do is score 10 points and we’re going to beat these teams,” that type of thing.

So we discovered our identity at that point. [Brian] Billick made the difficult decision to bring in a quarterback that was going to manage the game better and not turn the ball over. We were getting beat during that time because we were turning the ball over. Once we stopped doing that, we maintained ball control, we did a little chess game with field position because Kyle [Richardson] was punting everybody inside the 20 and our defense was holding them to [no] yards. Our offense got the ball back, moved it 20 yards and kicked a field goal.

That wasn’t the only formula, but we knew all we had to do was get three at a time, and that was because our defense became our strength. Billick made the decision on the quarterback, and I think that nobody during that time was pointing fingers at each other offensively, defensively. You know how easy that could have been. We could have been very upset with one another, and I think that’s because we had enough veterans and people who had experienced losses and wins in the NFL — Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe and me and Ray [Lewis] a little bit because he was only in his fifth year. … We didn’t panic. It was all right. I think that was it in a nutshell for me.

Right Tackle Harry Swayne

Offensive line-wise, we were still confident even through that [five-game drought without a touchdown]. We didn’t so much have an up-front issue where we were just getting physically beat, and we had some smart coaches so we weren’t getting outcoached. It just wasn’t happening. Either that or [Matt] Stover was praying and he was like, “Everything on me.” I could make a case that because of those five games without a touchdown, that really solidified us as an offensive team because if you’re going to come apart at the seams, you’re going to come apart somewhere in there.

We just really did the opposite. We just totally believed. Even though we didn’t score any touchdowns, it felt like we scored a bunch of touchdowns. … It just had the opposite effect on us where it just kind of solidified us — as an offense, anyway. When we did score — and I think it might’ve been against the Bengals — then it was like, “Yay, the hex is off.”

Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox, Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens

Issue 265: October/November 2020

Originally published Oct. 14, 2020


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