Though Brandon Stokley played in the NFL for 15 years, he was an unlikely hero for the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. A fourth-round pick by Baltimore in 1999, he had caught just 12 passes in nine regular-season games entering the 2000 playoffs.
Still, Stokley was the one who broke the ice in the Super Bowl. With a little less than seven minutes left in the first quarter and the ball just inside the Giants’ 40-yard line, Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer took the snap from under center and launched a throw down the right seam to Stokley, who had beaten Giants safety Jason Sehorn. Stokley caught the ball in stride at about the 10-yard line, and Sehorn couldn’t bring him down until he was in the end zone.
“I remember the defense. We had gone over it, saw it, knew how I wanted to attack the defense and did it,” Stokley said. “Everything was working out perfectly. [I went from] just running down and seeing that ball in the air thinking, ‘Just don’t drop it, don’t drop it,’ to not quite sure how close I was to the end zone and then catching it and feeling Sehorn kind of grab me and then just kind of fall in the end zone like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just scored a touchdown. This is unbelievable.’ And just being so excited, looking for my family in the stands and getting to the sideline.”
Stokley said after rookie receiver Travis Taylor broke his collarbone in Week 9, he began getting on the field in three-wide-receiver sets with Qadry Ismail and Patrick Johnson and sometimes in two-wide sets with Ismail. On his touchdown catch against the Giants, the Ravens were in a three-wide set.
That year, Stokley had only played in seven regular-season games — all after Taylor’s injury — and caught 11 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. He had caught four passes for 39 yards in Baltimore’s three playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl, and then he caught three passes for 52 yards in the Super Bowl.
“I had a really good week of practice heading into that game and felt ready confident, comfortable. Just felt really good,” Stokley said. “The warm weather certainly helped. It was a good feeling all week long for me. My legs were feeling good. You’re never quite sure when some plays are going to come up and when the coaches are going to call them. Then sometimes they’ve got to play the right defense for you, and everything just happened perfectly [on the touchdown].”
Stokley said he has the ball from his touchdown (it’s the centerpiece of his office). His jersey from that night is framed in glass and is in his office, too; it’s unwashed and the grass stains are still visible. He made it to the playoffs six more times in his career, but his lone ring was won in January 2001.
Stokley left Baltimore as a free agent after the 2002 season to sign with the Indianapolis Colts. He had the best season of his career with Peyton Manning in 2004 when he caught 68 passes for 1,077 and 10 touchdowns. He later played for the Denver Broncos (2007-2009), Seattle Seahawks (2010) and New York Giants (2011) before closing out his career by returning to Denver (2012) and Baltimore (2013).
Stokley didn’t exactly have a 15-year career in mind during the 2000 season.
“I was on the bubble of being cut or being on the roster. I made the roster, but I was inactive for the first nine games that season,” Stokley said. “Show up to game day and put on my sweats and mozy out there and watch the team play and then just go on home. … And then all of a sudden Travis Taylor broke his collarbone, I started getting opportunities, taking advantage of them, but certainly every year was just, ‘Hey, try to make the football team, try to prove my game and get better every single year.’ I would’ve been thrilled if I could’ve made it five years in the NFL.”
Stokley also touched on a few other topics …
On whether he wanted to face the Giants or Vikings in the Super Bowl:
“I was pulling for the Giants in the NFC championship game. I just felt like it was a better matchup. You looked across and you saw Minnesota and what they could possibly do offensively and it scared you, with Randy Moss and Cris Carter and those weapons that they had. It was like, ‘I’d rather play the Giants,’ so I certainly felt like that was a better matchup. But it’s a football game. You just never know what’s going to happen. … The mindset was just going to play our best game and not overlooking anybody because it was maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of us.”
On the job Brian Billick did keeping the team together while the offense struggled:
“This is kind of when coaches separate themselves is when you face some adversity, and certainly we faced a lot of adversity that year with the defense playing so great and offensively us not playing [well] at all, just playing terrible football, and the head coach is an offensive guy. That’s a tough thing to navigate throughout the course of a football season, trying to keep everybody together. That team certainly could’ve splintered, so you give Brian Billick a lot of credit for that, and also you give the leadership on the defense a lot of credit because it would’ve been really, really easy for those guys to kind of look at us offensively and say, ‘Get your stuff together. This is ridiculous,’ and there be some issues there, but there were never any issues. We just kept kind of plowing forward.”
On if he knew at the time how important the Super Bowl run was to Baltimore:
“I think coming back from the Raiders game and going through the airport and seeing the crowds there and just seeing the passion of those fans, you kind of realize. And then heading to the Super Bowl, the send-off party, it’s just like, ‘Wow, this means a lot to this city.’ But it’s one of those things where it was really, really cool for me to see how much love and how much passion that the fans still had for the old Colts. I thought that was really awesome and talking with those guys, I loved it. I loved it. They were so nice to me. I always remember those guys: Art Donovan, Johnny Unitas, Bruce Laird, the list goes on and on and on. So you could sense that, but [I was] just a young football player that didn’t quite have a grasp on everything that was going on.”
For more from Stokley, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens