Just about every football fan has a signature moment, team, or player that initially got them to fall in love with the game. Maybe your hometown team, or one you adopted, won your heart during a special season. Maybe all it took was to watch how a star or an unsung hero played each and every Sunday.
For me, it wasn’t just one player. It was 11 of them.
As we approach Ray Lewis’ Hall of Fame induction, it made me want to reminisce about the first group of players that led me to truly appreciate the violent brilliance of football: every heat-seeking missile that played defense for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
After the Ravens beat down the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, I was enthralled. I begged my mom to order the Sports Illustrated VHS tape that they put together each year for the Super Bowl champion, and I promise I watched that tape well over 100 times during that summer. The relationship between quarterbacks Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer was a gripping story in its own right. So was Jamal Lewis having a breakout rookie year. Going 12-4 and finishing with the four seed en route to a Super Bowl victory was another reason this team was so memorable.
But it was their all-time great defense that stole the show.
Ray Lewis wasn’t the only stud performer
Lewis, Peter Boulware, and Chris McAlister were the shining stars of the defense, but their dominance was partly created through the presence of an overwhelming defensive line. Sam Adams (6’3, 350 pounds) and Tony Siragusa (6’3, 330 pounds) essentially acted as offensive linemen for Lewis, allowing him to roam the box unimpeded.
Take this simple, short run from that year’s AFC Wild Card game against the Broncos. The Denver offensive line is so overwhelmed with the sheer strength of the Ravens’ defensive front, that they aren’t able to get to the second level where Lewis and the safety come in clean for a tackle.
The Ravens allowed a stifling 2.7 yards per rush and just 60.6 rushing yards per game. The Tennessee Titans (4.2) were the only team to allow a fewer yards per play mark than the Ravens that season (4.3), but the Ravens allowed 26 fewer points than the Titans did all season.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were one of the few defenses in NFL history that had no real weak spots. Even the forgotten players like Duane Starks, Kim Herring, and Rob Burnett were significant contributors for their Super Bowl run.
The issue at quarterback
Perhaps the most incredible feat of the 2000 Ravens was the fact they were able to win the Super Bowl without a competent passing game. Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer were their two quarterbacks for the season and they both struggled.
Tony Banks (eight starts): 150/274, 1,578 yards, eight touchdowns, eight interceptions
Trent Dilfer (eight starts): 134/226, 1,502 yards, 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
Not great, Bob!
On the flip side, it is a great deal easier to carry the burden of a poor passing game when your defense can turn every quarterback it plays into a below-average passer. That’s exactly what the Ravens did as they terrorized opposing quarterbacks for the season.
Opposing quarterbacks: 295/528, 2,997 yards, 11 touchdowns, 23 interceptions
As a whole, the Ravens finished with a passer rating of 72.7. For what it’s worth, the league average passer rating in 2000 was 76.2. In every single passing statistic category, the Ravens were below the league average for that year.
Of course, having a young, healthy Jamal Lewis in the backfield helps significantly, but as we sit here in 2018 fresh off of a Super Bowl shootout for the ages, it’s hard to imagine a dysfunctional passing game winning it all.
That’s how impressive the Ravens were in 2000. The only team to really compare recently was the 2015 Denver Broncos, who overcame a struggling Brock Osweiler and an aging Peyton Manning to win Super Bowl 50.
The Ravens’ dominant pass and run defense led to them giving up a league-low 165 points for the 2000 season — or just over 10 points per game. But it was the symbiotic relationship between all 11 players on the Ravens defense that really set them apart from just about every other defense in the history of the NFL.
Looking back, the 2000 Ravens were what initially piqued my interest in football. The rise and fall of Michael Vick starting in 2001 made me an addict for the game, but Ray Lewis and Co. were the first football loves I had.
What or who turned you into a football fan? Reply in the comments or shoot us a tweet @SBNationNFL.