The Ravens took a couple of years to find their feet following their arrival. Ted Marchibroda, a former Baltimore Colts head coach, led the team for three seasons but never put together more than six wins. He was replaced by Brian Billick, who went 8-8 in his first season and won the Super Bowl in his second, on the strength of one of the most dominant defences in the history of the game.
The 2000 Ravens defense had four shut-outs in the regular season and allowed 20 or more points in just three games. They set records for fewest rushing yards and fewest points allowed in a season.
In the Super Bowl the defense didn’t allow a touchdown (the Giants’ only points came on a kickoff return for a TD) and forced five turnovers against a team that had destroyed the Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship game.
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Jermaine Lewis returns a kick 84 yards for a TD in Super Bowl XXXV.
Meanwhile, Ozzie Newsome, who would run the team until the end of the 2018 season, was establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best GMs, with an ability to maximise draft value and snap-up undrafted talent.
His draft highlights include: Peter Boulware (1997), LB, AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and four-time Pro Bowler; Jamal Lewis (2000), RB, 2003 Offensive Player of the Year, 2,000-yard rusher and Pro Bowler; Ed Reed (2002), S, 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year, eight-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famers; Terrell Suggs (2003), LB, AP DRoY, 2011 NFL DPoY, seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro; Haloti Ngata (2006), DT, five-time Pro Bowler; Marshal Yanda (2007), G, six-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro; Joe Flacco (2008), QB, NFL Rookie of the Year, Super Bowl XLVII MVP; CJ Mosley (2014), LB, three-time Pro Bowler and first Ravens rookie to reach the Pro Bowl.
On the field, the Ravens had developed a rivalry with the Jacksonville Jaguars, formed a year before them, in 1995. However, divisional realignment in 2002 moved the Jaguars to a new division and the Steelers became the team’s major rivals.
There was still plenty of animosity towards Indianapolis. When the Colts first played the Ravens in Baltimore, Colt legend Johnny Unitas was on the Ravens’ sideline, cheering them on. A statue of him stands outside the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium. Typically, whenever the Colts return to Baltimore, the scoreboard does not show their nickname, as it would for other visitors, and instead reads “Away” or “Indy”.
Billick coached for seven more seasons and went 1-3 in playoff games. After the 2007 season saw the Ravens finish 5-11, he was sacked by owner Steve Bisciotti, a Baltimore businessman who bought a minority share of the team in 2000 and then bought out Modell in 2004
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Joe Flacco was MVP in the Ravens’ second Super Bowl win.
The new man was John Harbaugh, the Philadelphia Eagles special teams coach, whose brother Jim started 12 games as the Ravens QB in 1998. John arrived along with something Billick never had: a franchise QB. The Ravens hired Harbaugh in January 2008 and drafted Joe Flacco – along with running back Ray Rice – in April. The team would have perhaps its strongest offense to date, to go alongside an ever-competitive defense.
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The difference was immediate. Having played just two playoff games in the previous six seasons, the 2008 Ravens went to the AFC Championship game, where they lost to arch-rivals and eventual Super Bowl winners, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The next two seasons saw bitter losses to rivals in the Divisional round – first to the Colts and then the Steelers.
In 2011, the Ravens returned to the AFC Championship game, this time in New England. The Patriots edged it, 23-20, after a close finish that had seen Ravens receiver Lee Evans almost haul in a touchdown only for the defender to strip the ball away and then kicker Billy Cundiff miss the field goal that would have sent the game to overtime.
The 2012 Ravens had a good case to be the proverbial team of destiny. There was the 4th and 29 that they somehow converted in San Diego on the way to a vital overtime win. There’s the fact that they reached the playoffs despite losing four of the final five games – including a 34-17 battering at the hands of the Broncos. There was Ray Lewis announcing his retirement on the brink of the playoffs and the unlikely double-overtime win in a frozen Denver in the divisional round.
The Super Bowl pitted Harbaugh against his brother Jim’s San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore jumped to a 28-6 third quarter lead, led by an exceptional Joe Flacco, who was a post-season for the ages. Then a power outage in the stadium held up the game for more than half an hour. When play resumed, thoughts of an easy Ravens win were extinguished as the 49ers scored 23 points in just over 12 minutes of game time, cutting the Ravens’ lead to 31-29.
A nervous finish saw the Ravens add a field goal, make a goalline stand against a determined 49er offense and then concede a tactical safety on the way to a 34-31 win and the franchise’s second Super Bowl.
Top photo: Keith Allison