Before Lebron James’ infamous “Decision” to leave Cleveland, thereby becoming public enemy #1, nobody was hated more in Cleveland than Art Modell. On November 6, 1995 the Browns owner, citing Cleveland’s reluctance to fund a new stadium and Baltimore’s overwhelming approval and funding for such a project, announced that he would be moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore for the upcoming 1996 season. This move gave Baltimore its first team since the Colts left in 1983 and completely outraged Browns fans, prompting many to wear “Muck Fodell” T-shirts to the remaining home games of the 1995 season. While Modell is hated in Cleveland, he is revered in Baltimore: the Ravens have sold out every home game in their franchise’s young history.
After the Cleveland Browns relocated to Baltimore for the 1996 season, a contest was implemented to determine the new nickname for the franchise. Over 100 names were submitted to the contest and after much deliberation the list was narrowed down to 3 nicknames: Ravens, Marauders, and Americans. Finally, a fan contest drawing over 32,000 voters chose “Ravens” as the official team name.
The name originates the epic poem The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, who lived in Baltimore for the majority of his life. As a further tribute to Poe, the Ravens have three mascots: Edgar, Allen, and Poe.
Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, The Ravens become a perennial playoff contender. One of the main reasons for this sustained success has been because of the contributions of Ozzie Newsome. After a Hall of Fame career as a tight end for the Cleveland Browns, Ozzie joined forces with his former owner Art Modell to become the Director of Football Operations for the Baltimore Ravens. Due in large part to his success as a drafter, Ozzie was promoted to General Manager in 2002.
Ozzie’s philosophy has always been “Right player, right price,” always choosing to draft the best player available rather than drafting a player to fill a position. Let’s take a look at some of the successful first round picks in Ravens history.
1996: OT Jonathan Ogden (4th) and MLB Ray Lewis (26th)
1997: OLB Peter Boulware (4th)
1999: CB Chris McAlister (11th)
2000: RB Jamal Lewis (5th)
2001: TE Todd Heap (31st)
2002: S Ed Reed (24th)
2003: OLB Terrell Suggs (10th)
2006: DT Haloti Ngata (12th)
2007: OG Ben Grubbs (29th)
2008: QB Joe Flacco (18th)
2009: OT Michael Oher (23)
2011: CB Jimmy Smith (27th)
Of the 17 players the Ravens have drafted in the first round, 10 have made the Pro Bowl, 3 have won Rookie of the Year and 3 different players have won the AP Defensive Player of the Year (including 2 from Ray Lewis). This Group also features an AP Offensive Player of the Year (Jamal Lewis), three future Hall of Famers (Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed), and two others with Hall of Fame potential (Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata). Seeing this impressive list, I think we can forgive Ozzie for drafting Kyle Boller (17th) in 2003.
In a phone conversation with Cleveland Browns’ Linebacker Andre Davis earlier in the week, Ravens’ RB Jamal Lewis predicted that if he received 30 carries against the Browns that Sunday he would have a career game. Lewis proved to be correct, rushing for a then NFL record 295 yards on 30 carries in a 33-13 thrashing of the Browns. Lewis’s first rush of the game was an 82 yard touchdown run and from there he never looked back. After just his 2nd rushing attempt, Lewis already ran for over 100 yards, and by the end of the first half he had 180 rushing yards to his name. He then added a 63 yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter, and with 6:55 remaining broke the rushing record with a three yard run.
This game set the tone for what would be the best season of Jamal Lewis’s career. Adding another monster rushing game against the Browns (205 yards) late in the season, Lewis finished with 2,066 yards, the 2nd most rushing yards ever in an NFL season and just 39 behind Erik Dickerson’s record setting 2,105 yards in 1984. Lewis also went on to win the NFL Offensive Player of the Year honor that season (2003). While much of Lewis’s remaining NFL career was marked by his drug conviction and inconsistent play with both the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns, Lewis was voted to 2nd Team All-Decade, joining Edgerrin James, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Shaun Alexander as the top RB’s of the 2000’s.
Jamal Lewis’s 295 yards rushing on September 14, 2003 broke the previous record held by Bengals RB Corey Dillon, who in 200 ran for 278 yards. It has since been broken by Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who in 2007 ran for 296 yards in a game against the San Diego Chargers.
The NFL returned to Charm City for a regular season game for the first time since 1983, and the Ravens didn’t disappoint the home crowd. In front of a sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium (former home of the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Colts), the Ravens gutted out a 19-14 win against the Oakland Raiders. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde completed 19 of 32 passes for 254 yards and scored the first touchdown in Ravens history, a 9 yard scamper that put the Ravens up 7-0 early in the first quarter. After a couple of Matt Stover field goals for the Ravens and two touchdown receptions by Raiders’ wide-out Tim Brown, the Ravens found themselves trailing by 1 when RB Earnest Byner put the Ravens ahead in the 4th quarter. A late drive by the Raiders was halted by rookie linebacker Ray Lewis, whose end zone interception all but sealed the victory for the Ravens.
The crowd undoubtedly played a huge role in helping secure the Ravens victory. After the game, Lewis had the following to say about the fans: "Anytime you have a crowd like our crowd that hasn't had football in Baltimore for so many years, and when we come in and give them the kind of excitement that we give them, you can't do nothing but be glad. Anytime you start riding that train, everything just falls into place. Everybody was just really ready to play." Lewis, who finished with 9 tackles and an interception in his first NFL game, received one of the loudest ovations from the fans as he left the field. His play earned him the AFC Defensive Player of the Week honor and foreshadowed his Hall of Fame career that is still playing out as he enters his 17th season in 2012.
Putting together an All-Time team is always tough. To successfully build such a team, players accomplishments must be weighed, team circumstances must be analyzed, and eras must be compared. We battle against our inclination to “live in the moment” and try to remember the “glory days”, and we are always met with much criticism for the players that were “snubbed” from the team.
In creating the All-Time Ravens team, I was met with many challenges. The Ravens have only been in existence since 1996, and while this drastically reduces the player pool it often increases the competition, as you can only have so many “once in a generation” type players in less than 20 years. How do you leave out the Ravens All-Time leading rusher? Do you run the
4-3 defense, which led the Ravens to a Super Bowl in the 2000-2001 season, or do you stick to the 3-4, which the Ravens have run in recent years? All these and more are questions that will be answered, but first, here is a look at the All-Ravens Team.
BALTIMORE RAVENS WALL OF FAME
The Ravens haven’t exactly been blessed with great quarterback play in their young history (Kyle Boller, Jeff Blake, and Tony Banks are a few names that come to mind), so having a QB with Flacco’s ability to throw the football separates him from the weak competition. Additionally, Flacco has won a playoff games in each of his first 4 seasons and has the most wins in NFL history for a QB after 4 seasons in the league. These factors make him an easy selection over Vinny Testaverde, the lone Pro Bowl QB of the bunch.
The offensive skill positions are where things got difficult. Starting with the running back position, it came down to Jamal Lewis vs. Ray Rice. Jamal Lewis is the Ravens All-Time Leading Rusher, ranks 2nd in history in both rushing yards in a game and rushing yards in a season, and possessed the rare combination of bruising power and breakaway speed. Rice has proved himself as one of the most dynamic players in the NFL and is always amongst the leaders in yards from scrimmage. So why did I choose Rice over Lewis? Because Rice is more of a complete back than Lewis ever was. Both were/are great rushers and good pass blockers, but Ray Rice’s ability to catch the football (over 60 receptions in the past 3 seasons) separates him from Lewis, who had only 160 receptions over 7 years with the Ravens.
There are plenty of strong candidates at fullback, from Sam Gash to Alan Ricard to Ovie Mughelli to Le'Ron McClain to Vonte Leach (would have been my pick but he has only played in Baltimore for 1 season). The nod goes to Gash for two main reasons. In 2000, he was not only Lewis' lead blocker, but also was a mentor to the 21-year-old prodigy. The next season, when Lewis sustained a season-ending knee injury in training camp, Gash was a pivotal part in the Ravens' ranking 11th in the NFL in rushing with the likes of Terry Allen and Jason Brookins carrying the ball. Gash didn’t make the Pro Bowl with the Ravens like he did in Buffalo, but he made an impact on the Ravens running game that lasted after he left the team.
Derrick Mason was a shoo-in for the first receiver spot, which is probably the thinnest position in Ravens history. The 2nd position came down to Michael Jackson and Qadry Ismail. Both played 3 seasons with the Ravens, finished with the same amount of receptions, and were within 200 yards of each other. “Q” got the nod because he was the leading receiver in the postseason for the Super Bowl Champion Ravens. Rounding out the skill positions, Todd Heap, the Ravens’ All-Time Leader in Touchdown Receptions, easily beat out Shannon Sharpe, whose best days were behind him by the time he arrived in Baltimore.
Nobody ever likes to hear about the Offensive Line, and while I believe they are the most underrated part of a football team and deserve credit, I’ll respect the public and try to be as brief as possible. The left side of the line features future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden and his 7 counterpart Edwin Mulitalo, who together anchored the vaunted Ravens’ rushing attack. At Center is Jeff Mitchell, the center for the Ravens during their Super Bowl Run. The right side features Marshall Yanda, a young Pro Bowl Guard already regarded as one of the best in the business, and Orlando Brown, nicknamed “Zeus” for his incredible size.
Defensively, I decided to go with a 3-4 defense, mainly because the Ravens’ LB core is so deep. On the Defensive Line, I went with Haloti Ngata, Michael McCrary, and Sam Adams. After 6 years in the league, Ngata was recently voted amongst his peers as one of the 10 best players in football. At 300+ pounds, what makes Ngata so dangerous is his striking speed. A constant double-team drawer, Ngata excels in both rushing and passing defense. McCrary is the sack leader for Raven D-Lineman and was an anchor for the Ravens pass rush from 1997-2001, making him an easy choice to rush the passer. The nose tackle position came down to Tony Siragusa vs. Sam Adams. Because both played alongside each other and both were equally successful shutting down the run, this decision was extremely difficult. Siragusa boasted a longer tenure with the Ravens (5 years vs. 2) and has the most memorable moment between the two (knocking out Rich Gannon in the AFC Championship Game). Ultimately though, I decided to go with Adams. You can’t teach size, and Adams was a beast at 6’3, 350 pounds. Additionally, Adams was elected as a Pro Bowl starter during his tenure as a Raven, an accomplishment that Siragusa never achieved.
The Linebackers for this team were also a relatively easy choice. Starting with the OLB’s, Terrell Suggs and Peter Boulware, (who rank 1st and 2nd respect in sacks for the Ravens), were selected for their ability to get after the QB. Working our way inside, Ray Lewis, the best player in Ravens’ history, is a no-brainer. The 2nd interior linebacker position created more of a buzz, with Jamie Sharper, Ed Hartwell, Adalius Thomas, and Bart Scott all viable options. What I wanted was a versatile player alongside Lewis who could do all of the little things, so I eliminated Sharper (more of a run stopper) and Hartwell (whose best season was when Lewis was injured and never really produced after that). The choice came down to Thomas and Scott, and while Thomas was a more versatile player, I felt that Scott was a better linebacker of the two. Don’t worry though; there’s more about Thomas later.
The secondary was probably the easiest group to select. My #1 Cornerback was Chris McAlister. Though he never had great hands and often dropped interceptions, McAlister was a physical presence against the run and the pass. As a premier CB in the NFL throughout his career, McAlister earned 2nd Team 2000’s All-Decade Team. My 2nd CB was Duane Starks (Slight edge over Samari Rolle), who played alongside McAlister and had a pick-six in the Super Bowl. At Safety, Hall of Famer Rod Woodson and future Hall of Famer Ed Reed (Ravens career interceptions leader) were shoo-ins for their performance on the field and their leadership off of it.
Rounding out the team, we turn to special teams. At Kicker, nobody was more consistent than Matt Stover, who was the longest holdover from the Cleveland Browns. At times throughout his career, Stover was the Ravens offense and often carried the team to victory. He retired with the 5th most points in NFL history and is currently 10th All-Time in field goal accuracy. A 2 way battle between Kyle Richardson and Sam Koch for Punter ultimately went Koch’s way for his incredible knack for pinning opposing teams inside the 20. Jermaine Lewis was an easy choice for the return man, once returning two punts for touchdowns in the same game (and we cannot forget his touchdown in the Super Bowl). Finally, I chose Adalius Thomas (over Bennie Thompson, O.J. Brigance, Gary Stills, and Brendon Ayanbadejo) as the Special Teams player. I had to include this guy on the team because he was the most versatile player in Ravens history. Defensively, he lined up everywhere from Defensive Tackle to Safety. On Special Teams, he lined up as a 270 pound gunner. As far as Special Teams players go, he was amazing to watch.
Coming off a franchise best 8-8 season and sporting one of the best defenses in football, expectations were high for the Baltimore Ravens entering the 2000 NFL season. What ensued was the most successful season in Ravens’ history, culminating with a Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants. The road to victory was met with many challenges, including a struggling offense and a midseason quarterback change, but overcame them because of a historic and memorable season by the Ravens’ defense. Here’s a quick look at the Ravens’ regular season game by game.
September 3: Ravens 16, Steelers 0. The first of 4 shutouts for the Ravens, the defense manhandled the Steelers offense, giving up only 233 total yards for the game. Offensively, receiver Qadry Ismail led the Ravens with 7 catches for 102 yards, including a 53 yard touchdown.
September 10: Ravens 39, Jaguars 36. Quarterback Tony Banks rallied the Ravens from a 17-0 deficit by passing for 262 yards and 5 touchdowns, including a game winning drive in the last 2 minutes to secure a victory. The win was the Ravens first ever against Jacksonville.
September 17: Dolphins 19, Ravens 7. Terrible weather conditions contributed to sloppy play by the Baltimore Ravens. Banks was sacked 6 times in defeat.
September 24: Ravens 37, Bengals 0. This was the Ravens 2nd shutout of the season and pushed them to a 3-1 record at the quarter-mark of the season. In his first NFL start, Jamal Lewis rushed for over 116 yards. Defensively, the Ravens turned in yet another incredible performance, holding Cincinnati to 93 total yards, including a 9 yards on 12 carries for Pro Bowl RB Corey Dillon (who was completely intimidated by the Ravens defense and at one point refused to reenter the game).
October 1: Ravens 12, Browns 0. The Ravens became the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to post consecutive shutouts. The Ravens rushed for 188 yards but came away with only field goals. This game started a tough stretch for the Ravens offense, which would go 5 straight games without scoring a touchdown,
October 8: Ravens 15, Jaguars 10. Matt Stover kicked 5 field goals and the Ravens’ defense forced 6 turnovers in another physical, grind it out win for the Ravens.
October 15: Redskins 10, Ravens 3. Failing to score a touchdown for the 3rd straight game finally caught up with the Ravens, as Stephen Davis’s 33 yard touchdown in the 4th quarter sealed a Redskin victory. The Ravens moved to 5-2 with the loss.
October 22: Titans 14, Ravens 6. The Ravens offense, led by Shannon Sharpe’s 8 catches for 104 yards, outplayed the Titans but only managed 6 points. The Ravens’ defense continued its excellence, holding the Titans to 7 total first downs for the game. Still, the Ravens’ inability to score led to benching of QB Tony Banks in place of veteran Trent Dilfer.
October 29: Steelers 9, Ravens 6. New Quarterback, same result. The Ravens went a 5th consecutive game without scoring a touchdown, and the struggling Ravens moved to 5-4. This would be their last loss of the season.
November 5: Ravens 27, Bengals 7. Finally, the streak ends! Dilfer completed a 14 yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley early in the 2nd quarter to end the Ravens’ touchdown drought. Shannon Sharpe added 2 touchdown receptions of his own to give the Ravens a 24-0 lead at the half. The Ravens moved to 6-4 with the win.
November 12: Ravens 24, Titans 23. In the division’s marquee matchup, Dilfer recovered from a costly pick six (putting the Titans up 6 with 2:30 left) to lead the Ravens to a touchdown with 25 seconds left. RB Eddie George was held to just 28 yards on 12 carries as the Ravens rushing defense shut down yet another Pro Bowl rusher.
November 19: Ravens 27, Dallas 0. Ravens rookie Jamal Lewis rushes for 187 yards and the Ravens posted their 4th shutout of the season. The win pushed the Ravens to an impressive 8-4 record.
November 26: Ravens 46, Browns 7. Jamal Lewis gained over 150 yards rushing for the 2nd straight week and the Ravens offense amassed 461 total yards in another lopsided victory. The Ravens defense added 6 sacks.
December 10: Ravens 24, Chargers 3. The bye week could not slow down the Ravens, as their 5th straight win clinched the franchise’s first playoff berth. The defense was once again exceptional, holding the Chargers to 128 total yards and allowing the Ravens offense to hold the ball for nearly 2/3 of the game.
December 17: Ravens 13, Cardinals 7. Jamal Lewis rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown and the Ravens’ defense forced 4 turnovers as the Ravens won their 6th straight.
December 24: Ravens 34, Jets 20. The Jets outgained Baltimore 542-142, but thanks to a number of big plays the Ravens were able to come out on top. Jermaine Lewis returned punts of 89 and 54 yards for touchdowns and Chris McAlister ran an interception back 98 yards for a touchdown, giving the offense a much needed boost. Despite all of the yards gained by the Jets, the Ravens were able to force 6 turnovers. While the Ravens gave up 20 points in the finale, the defense still set an NFL record for the fewest points allowed (165) in a 16 game season, a record that still stands today.
With a 12-4 season the Ravens earned the first of three Wild Card Spots (there were only three divisions at the time and therefore three Wild Card bids) and the 4th seed overall in the AFC. They opened the playoffs at home against the Denver Broncos, led by 100 catch receivers Ed Mccaffrey and Rod Smith and the 2nd best rushing game in the league. The Ravens defense continued its dominance, holding the Broncos to 233 yards below their season average of 410 yards per game and winning the game 21-3. Particularly impressive was the defensive line, which allowed only 40 rushing yards on 15 carries to rookie Mike Anderson and added 5 sacks, including 3 by Michael McCrary. Offensively, the Ravens were led by Jamal Lewis, who finished with 110 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. TE Shannon Sharpe scored a touchdown of his own against his former team, a 57 yard reception that was deflected off of two players before landing in Sharpe’s hands.
The next week the Ravens traveled to face the rival Titans (13-3) in the AFC Divisional Round. The Titans, fueled by Chris McAlister’s comments that Eddie George “folded up like a baby” against the Ravens defense, came out firing, ending an 11 play-68 yard drive with a two yard touchdown run by George. The Ravens responded early in the 2nd quarter when Trent Dilfer connected with Sharpe for a 56 yard reception that set up a Jamal Lewis touchdown to tie the game at 7. Aided by Al Del Greco’s kicking miscues (he missed 31 yarder and had a 45 yarder blocked), the Ravens and Titans went into halftime tied. After trading field goals in the 3rd quarter, the Ravens got the big play they needed: early in the 4th quarter, Del Greco had yet another field goal blocked, but this time Ravens CB Anthony Mitchell returned it 90 yards for a touchdown, putting the Ravens up 17-10. Just a few moments later, Ray Lewis picked off Titans QB Steve McNair and returned it 50 yards to the house, all but solidifying a 24-10 Ravens win. It was yet another gut-wrenching, physical performance by the Ravens, one that prompted Coach Brian Billick to say the following after the game: “When you go in the lion's den, you don't tippy toe in — you carry a spear, you go in screaming like a banshee, you kick whatever doors in, and say, 'Where's the SOB?' If you go in any other way you're gonna lose.”
Heading into the AFC Championship game against the Oakland Raiders, Shannon Sharpe asked Defensive Coordinator Marvin Lewis how many points the Ravens’ offense needed to score in order to win the game. Lewis replied with confidence that only 7 points were necessary. Lewis could not have been more correct, as the Ravens dominated Oakland in a 16-3 victory on the road. The Ravens struck first early in the 2nd quarter and never looked back. Facing a 3rd and 18 from their own 4 yard line, Trent Dilfer hit Sharpe over the middle of the field and took it 96 yards to the house, the longest passing touchdown in NFL playoff history. On the ensuing drive Raiders QB Rich Gannon was knocked out of the game on a massive hit by 340 pound DL Tony Siragusa, a crushing blow (pun intended) to the Raider offense. Trailing 10-0 in the third quarter, the Raiders had an excellent scoring opportunity, a first and goal at the 2 yard line, but came away with only a field goal. The rest of the game was dominated by the Ravens’ defense, which had 4 interceptions and held the Raiders to 17 rushing yards and 191 yards overall. With the win against the Raiders, the Ravens earned a trip to Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa Bay, the first Super Bowl bid in franchise history.
Coming off a 16-3 defensive beat-down of the Oakland Raiders, the Ravens traveled to Tampa Bay to face the New York Giants, who were coming off a 41-0 romping of the Minnesota Vikings. After Ray Charles’ rendition of “America the Beautiful” and the Backstreet Boys’ performance of the National Anthem, the game was finally underway.
Both defenses dominated early as the first 5 possessions ended in punts (a Super Bowl record was set for most punts in a game with 21). The Ravens caught the first break of the game when return man Jermaine Lewis returned a punt 33 yards to the Giants 31. Just two plays later, QB Trent Dilfer hooked up with receiver Brandon Stokley for a 38 yard touchdown reception to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. After another slew of punts, Dilfer completed a 44 yard pass to Qadry Ismail, setting up a Matt Stover field goal and putting the Ravens up 10-0. The Giants drove down the field on the ensuing drive, reaching the Ravens 29 yard line, but QB Kerry Collins was picked off by CB Chris McAlister (the first of 4 interceptions Collins would throw in the game), ending the Giants drive and allowing for the Ravens to enter halftime with a 10-0 lead.
(As an aside, the halftime performance featured Aerosmith, NSYNC, Brittney Spears, Nelly, and Mary J. Blige. Will we ever have a halftime stage with as many big names? Unfortunately, I don’t think we will, especially after the Janet Jackson scandal.)
The second half picked up much where the first half left off when Ravens’ safety Kim Herring picked off Collins at the Giants 41. However, the Ravens were unable to capitalize, as Matt Stover missed a 41 yarder. After an exchange of punts, Baltimore defensive back Duane Starks intercepted a pass from Collins and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown, setting off a chain of events unseen before in Super Bowl history: three touchdowns on three consecutive plays in 36 seconds. On the ensuing kickoff, Ron Dixon returned the ball 97 yards for the Giants' first and only score of the game. But Jermaine Lewis returned the next kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown, making the score 24-7 for the Ravens. It was the first time in history two kickoffs were returned for touchdowns in the same Super Bowl game, and on back-to-back kickoffs. The remainder of the game was dominated by Baltimore. After a Jamal Lewis 3 yard touchdown run (Lewis finished with 102 yards rushing) Dixon fumbled the kickoff, leading to another Stover field goal and putting the Ravens up 34-7, where the score would remain.
The Ravens’ defense was as dominant as ever on football’s biggest stage, giving up only 152 total yards, recording 4 sacks, and forcing 5 turnovers. Appropriately, the MVP of the Super Bowl was their leader Ray Lewis, who finished with 5 total tackles and 4 passes deflected. Lewis became the 7th defensive player to win the Super Bowl MVP. For the first time in its young history, the Ravens were finally Super Bowl Champions.