BY GEOFF HOBSON
TAMPA, Fla. _ Round one, Giants.
The Baltimore Ravens arrived here Monday afternoon for Super Bowl XXXV with all the aplomb of the police car that hit their bus on the way to the airport.
While Ravens head coach Brian Billick ranted against the media like a Nixon press secretary at the height of Watergate, Giants quarterback and recovering alcoholic Kerry Collins calmly and openly addressed for the first time publicly the charges that he's a racist.
Billick, the former 49ers public relations assistant from 22 years ago, went back to PR 101 in defense of his Pro Bowl linebacker.
Ray Lewis is not only the NFL Defensive Player of the Year this week. He's the man who stood trial on two charges of murder in an Atlanta court last spring before the charges were dropped and he pled to obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor.
"Evidently there are those among you that are either new to the story, or whatever reason – I equate it to an ambulance chasing mode _ decide that you want to take on a certain sensational aspect of it," Billick said Monday. "Nothing that you are going to hear or find is going to crystallize the situation or unearth any information that has not already been brought forth."
Billick said the charges were dropped because witnesses absolved Lewis of the accusations and then Lewis offered to testify.
"Those are the facts," Billick said. "You can stir it up, you can talk about it, but you are not going to change the facts. . .As much as some of you want to, we are not going to retry this. It is inappropriate and you are not qualified. Ray will address this tomorrow in the way that he sees fit and that will be the end of it in terms of our conversations regarding it."
Do you think the NFL is a little nervous about Lewis? Those quotes never made the original Billick quote sheet. Only when a group of reporters complained did the quotes see the light of day.
Meanwhile, across Tampa Bay, Collins reflected on how his days as an alcoholic in Carolina and New Orleans led to his becoming a Super Bowl quarterback.
"The hype that is going to be surrounding this game (is) based on a lot of things that have happened in the past," Collins said. "I figure that to do this in this kind of setting, to talk about things, to give you an opportunity to ask the questions you want to ask, rather than throughout the week, differrent things coming up at different times, I thought this would be a better venue."
One product of his drinking was his reputation for being a racist after one particularly ugly incident.
"I didn't mean for it to be taken the way it was taken," Collins said. "I've always had black friends, I've had friends of all nationalities. I believe in equality and it goes back a long, long way for a lot different reasons."
SHARPE TONGUE AGAIN: If Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe is in the game, you know a verbal shot against the Bengals is coming at some point during the week.
So here was Monday's edition.
When Sharpe was asked about an arbitrator's decision that upheld the Bengals' right to marry the NFL's loyalty langauge from a standard player contract into a signing bonus clause, Sharpe said, "The only way I would play for the Bengals is if they gave me about $20 million to sign and not put my name on the back of the jersey because I didn't want (anyone) to know."
MORE BILLICK:** The Ravens won't have a curfew here this week and here's why:
"We have had curfews on the night before the game. We have had curfews in training camp. We have never had a bed check," Billick said. "I trust these men. They have not in two years given me one instance to indicate that I need to do other. As long as they act like men, I will treat them like men."