Monday, January 15, 2001

XXXV outlook: More Roman numerals than points

Strong defenses meet for title

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

        Taking early predictions now for the final score of Super Bowl XXXV. OK, who all here wants 6-3?

        Nothing elegant about this match. The Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants are as stylish as a canoe paddle upside the head.

        The Super Bowl end zones might be used for extra RV parking. These two teams have played five postseason games and allowed 26 points. Between them.

        Flash forward to Jan. 28 at Tampa Bay. Somehow, you picture two elk butting heads for three hours over the same rock.

        Don't misunderstand. There is no question who the two best teams were Sunday. Not after 41-0 and 16-3. The defenses not only slammed the door, they did it on the fingers of the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders.

        The Ravens have won 10 in a row, the Giants seven. The championship game of the NFL will be played by the two hottest teams, neither of whom even made the playoffs last season. What could be wrong with that?

        What could be wrong with hard, willful, bitterly defensive football? It'll be like trench warfare from World War I. Three hours of futile thrusts and counterthrusts between the 30s.

        But whether anyone wants to watch it is another matter.

        Trent Dilfer has thrown 23 completions in three postseason games for Baltimore. And he's in the Super Bowl.

        “I may have to burn my BYU degree,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “I may never throw the football again.”

        Whatever happened to everyone wanting to be the St. Louis Rams?

        This much we do know.

        It will be a Super Bowl of Second Chances, with two stars reclaimed from the turmoil pile — New York quarterback Kerry Collins and his alcohol problem, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and his murder charge.

        And a Super Bowl of old school owners. New York's Wellington Mara and Baltimore's Art Modell, the latter the Cleveland refugee who has waited so long.

        And a Super Bowl with overtones from the past. The last time the cities of New York and Baltimore met in this game, Joe Namath guaranteed a Jets victory over the Colts.

        And a Super Bowl of ag grieved teams.

        Prepare to hear of slights, real or imagined. Both teams milk the get-no-respect cow like it was a contest at the county fair.

        New York defensive end Michael Strahan: “This is sweeter because when we were 7-4, everybody wrote us off. I don't think there's anybody in this room who can look me in the eye and say they expected us to be here.”

        Baltimore's Lewis: “Nobody picked us. But we're AFC champions.”

        Giants coach Jim Fassel: “People have underestimated us all year. I think we shocked a lot of people. We didn't shock ourselves.”

        Billick: “I keep trying to tell (the media) you don't know what you're talking about. No one believes me.”

        Somewhere, Mara read the Giants were supposedly the worst team ever to win home field advantage. “I'm happy to say,” he chirped Sunday, “in two weeks we're going to try to become the worst team ever to win the Super Bowl.”

        Baltimore's Shannon Sharpe: “All y'all have to eat crow today.”

        You can see where this is going the next two weeks, can't you?

        “Those that are the last standing,” said Giants linebacker Jessie Armstead, “everyone's got to write about you then.”

        No matter what, it is hard to imagine many points in Tampa. Collins threw five touchdown passes Sunday, but the Ravens don't allow that many in a month.

        Matter of fact, the Super Bowl has the whiff of a pitchers' duel. Gibson against Koufax.

        It may not appeal to the masses or the television cameras.

        But the purists ought to love it.

        And maybe soccer fans.


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