Mike Preston: ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 ‘Bullies of Baltimore’ encapsulated 2,000 Ravens, but here’s what they missed
Perhaps no moment in ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 documentary “Bullies of Baltimore,” which aired Sunday night, captured Super Season 2000 more than coach Brian Billick holding up the cover of Sports Illustrated declaring the Titans of Tennessee the best team in the NFL.
“Maybe they are, but not today,” Billick told his players as they shouted, shouted and celebrated an upset 24-23 win over the host Titans in Week 11. The Ravens won the Super Bowl, beating the New York Giants, 34-7, in Tampa, Fla., but that game against the Titans, along with a 24-10 playoff win over Tennessee, were the defining moments of one of the most fascinating teams in the league.
The documentary captured the flavor of this team. The Ravens were bullies because they beat their opponents, holding them to an NFL record 165 points in 16 regular season games, including four shutouts and seven other games in which they held opponents to a touchdown. or less.
On the way to the title, the Ravens backed up every word with an undeniable swagger that the film summed up well.
As center linebacker Ray Lewis said, “If they don’t score, they can’t win.”
But the documentary also focused on some of the characters on the list. Watching and listening again to the late Tony Siragusa was priceless. There were times when he was direct and charming, and times when he was rough or vulgar. The locker room was his domain.
There will never be another Shannon Sharpe. He was the voice the Ravens needed on offense. The tight end talked trash while trying to gain a psychological advantage.
In the first “Hard Knocks,” which featured on the 2001 Ravens, Sharpe was hilarious and stole the show. Linebacker Tim Johnson impersonating him was unforgettable, but his best line was just before the Ravens faced the Titans in the divisional playoffs the previous year.
There was a lot of talk between the teams, and the Ravens’ pregame quotes had become bulletin board material in Tennessee. During pre-game introductions, the Ravens were heavily booed.
“Everything they said, we said, we said,” Sharpe shouted on the sidelines.
That summed up the 2000 Ravens: they didn’t apologize and went through with their trash talk.
The Ravens’ playoff win over Tennessee is still my all-time favorite because it had everything you’d want in a win-win game. Billick had become public enemy No. 1 with his locker room rant following the Week 11 victory, and it was broadcast on the Jumbotron ahead of the game. Billick and Titans coach Jeff Fisher didn’t like each other, and neither did their players. Tennessee opened the game with an 11-play, 68-yard drive that was followed by swearing from the crowd at Billick.
The Ravens responded with a four-play, 57-yard drive to open the second quarter, and Billick yelled curses at the crowd. It was a grueling and punishing game, but the Ravens scored a 90-yard return by Anthony Mitchell in the fourth quarter and Lewis took the win with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Afterwards, Billick gave the “banshee speech,” one of his best postgame press conferences, and Titans running back Eddie George came into the Ravens locker room to hug Lewis in his arm.
It was that kind of moment, that kind of game, and Lewis was simply the best player in the NFL at that time. Due to the team’s dominant defense and Lewis’ involvement in a double murder case in Atlanta following a Super Bowl party on January 31, 2000, the Ravens were hated outside of Baltimore. Lewis eventually negotiated a plea and was eventually convicted on a misdemeanor charge of obstruction.
This national hatred only fueled the Ravens, who went on to beat the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship Game before defeating the Giants for their first title.
The 2000 Ravens didn’t just beat teams; they took away the desire of opposing players to compete with them. Ask Cincinnati running back Corey Dillon, who opted out of a Week 3 game at Baltimore that season. Bengals coach Bruce Coslet resigned the next day.
The Ravens had a chance to repeat in 2001, but those ambitions were dashed early in training camp when running back Jamal Lewis and right offensive tackle Leon Searcy suffered knee injuries late in the season. The Ravens also tapped Elvis Grbac to replace starting quarterback Trent Dilfer, a move that drew criticism but was desperately needed.
The documentary touched on these topics but missed other major contributors during this season. I would have liked to see defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis get more credit. He changed that unit from a run-and-react style under former Browns coach Bill Belichick to an offensive style here in Baltimore. The defense was loaded with characters and Marvin Lewis kept them all in check.
ESPN also missed the defensive line and how they were the heart and soul of the team. Besides Siragusa, there was moody tackle Sam Adams and ends Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett. McCrary was the overgrown kid who flew with the laser-jet backpack and drove army tanks, and Burnett was the quiet, underappreciated strongman.
The Ravens had two dynamic passing throwers in McCrary and outside linebacker Peter Boulware, and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks specialized in media coverage. Special teams also stood out with machine gunner Billy Davis and kicker Matt Stover, who scored his 30 extra points, 35 of 39 field goals that year and was a first-team All-Pro.
There was also no mention of Ted Marchibroda, the late former Ravens coach who couldn’t win in Baltimore because the team had no cash. But he deserves credit for lining things up for Billick, especially considering offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, Boulware, Ray Lewis, receiver Jermaine Lewis and weakside linebacker Jamie Sharper were drafted under his guidance.
All in all, ESPN could have made it a three hour movie. Instead, they captured the spirit and passion of a city that’s always in love with football and holds a special place in NFL history. They brought back some of the characters that made the Ravens’ 2000 playoffs special.
And they captured the flavor of it all pretty well.