TAMPA, Fla. -- Ravens go home.
A nation's fondest wish finally became reality Monday, although a full day too late to do the NFL, the sport of football, CBS, corporate America, the New York Giants and the city of Tampa any good.
The Ravens have gone back to Baltimore, where it is hoped they will crawl back into the cave from which they came, soon to be buried by the usual post-Super Bowl afflictions: free-agent attrition, coaching-staff defections, hubris, intrasquad jealousy, salary-cap constrictions and the demands of a new and improved regular-season schedule.
Atlanta '99, New England '97, San Diego '95 -- the landscape is littered with one-shot wonders sent crashing back to earth as soon as the NFL's parity-protecting software scanned the situation and tended to the necessary trouble-shooting.
Baltimore won't be back because defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, the real most valuable player of Sunday's Super Bowl, won't be back. Lewis is days away from his first NFL head-coaching assignment, almost surely in Buffalo. Raven Coach Brian Billick, resigned to that inevitability, has already tabbed linebackers coach Jack Del Rio as Lewis' heir apparent.
"After the game, I gave Jack a big hug," Billick said Monday. "I said, 'Congratulations. All you have to do is go to a Super Bowl and break the all-time scoring record, or they'll boo you and me out of town.' "
Lewis devised the defensive scheme--centered around well-disguised, rotating coverages -- that unmasked the Giants' postseason superhero and revealed him for what he was: Kerry Collins, nothing more, just as we suspected.
Ray Lewis won the MVP trophy -- a fitting choice for a Super Bowl everyone wants to forget -- but you could argue that the Ravens' notorious linebacker was only the third or fourth most valuable Lewis in the stadium.
Also worthy of consideration:
--Jermaine Lewis, whose 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the most significant play of the game, shattering the Giants' spirit seconds after Ron Dixon had given them a flicker of hope with his shutout-spoiling 97-yard kickoff return.
--Jamal Lewis, whose heavy pounding into the middle of the New York defensive line produced 102 yards, a touchdown and a too-weary-to-tackle Giant central defense.
--Marvin Lewis, this year's "hot" coordinator, just as Billick was the assistant coach of the hour in 1998 after directing Minnesota's offense to a league record for most points scored. Last January, that title belonged to St. Louis Ram offensive coordinator Mike Martz, having just established the 21st century template for winning football, or so we thought--so much in demand after the Rams' squadron assault on the Super Bowl that the Rams nudged Dick Vermeil into retirement in order to promote Martz and keep him in the organization.
The ramifications of that move are still being felt, most severely by Gunther Cunningham, who lost his job as Kansas City Chief coach when Vermeil let it be known that he hadn't really wanted to retire in the first place and it sure would be nice to come back without leaving the state of Missouri.
Marvin Lewis' next stop appears to be Buffalo -- and if you're looking for an early candidate to pull a Raven-like U-turn in 2001, start there. The Bills will have the benefit of a fourth-place schedule, already have one of the league's better defenses in place and--to Billick's envy--have a quality NFL quarterback on the roster in Doug Flutie, if they can keep him. Wade Phillips didn't play Flutie much in 2000, opting instead to cast his lot with Rob Johnson, which is why the Bills missed the playoffs and now have a coaching vacancy Lewis is about to fill.
The sad state of professional football 2001: Five of the six teams to have participated in the last three Super Bowls were non-playoff teams the previous season. The Ravens and the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, the Rams and the Tennessee Titans in XXXIV, the Falcons in XXXIII--all were .500 or worse the season before they had their 15 minutes on Super Sunday.
Next year, two more rags-to-riches stories will be trotted out, because no one in this league has been able to hold serve since John Elway retired.
In the NFC, Philadelphia, Green Bay and San Francisco are positioned to take the great one-year leap forward. The Eagles already have the foundation on defense; give Donovan McNabb a fit Duce Staley for a full season, add a wide receiver or two and Philadelphia will move beyond the NFC final four. The Packers and the 49ers have Pro Bowl quarterbacks in Brett Favre and Jeff Garcia -- and next season, will be milking fourth-place schedules.
In the AFC, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Kansas City have the right things falling into place. The Jaguars were the conference's biggest underachievers, followed closely by the Chiefs, and as a door prize, will receive a handsome fourth-place schedule, gift-wrapped with a half a dozen games against Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. If football teams assume the personality of their coach -- and in 2000, the Chiefs most assuredly did -- Kansas City will be decidedly less skittish under Vermeil than Cunningham.
The Chiefs were easily distracted in 2000, enough to prevent San Diego from finishing its season 0-16 ... and, say, there's another candidate for resurrection in 2001.
Yes, the Chargers.
In a league where New Orleans shot from 3-13 to the NFC West championship, what's to keep the Chargers from rebounding into the playoffs with a new offensive coordinator -- Norv Turner has been hired -- and a new quarterback? And there will be one--and probably more. The Chargers can draft Michael Vick for the future, acquire Trent Green or Flutie for the present, sign a running back, fine-tune their ninth-ranked defense and soon start turning those one- and two-point losses into victories.
In a league where Trent Dilfer can be called "champion," where Ray Lewis can be hailed as a "hero," anything and everything is up for grabs.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.