Good things come to pass

1-29-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON

TAMPA, Fla. _ These Ravens are a tough bunch of birds to like. Ray Lewis' swagger. Brian Billick's arrogance. Art Modell's baggage.

But they also have some warm and fuzzy guys on offense like quarterback Trent Dilfer and wide receiver Brandon Stokley that you had to like after Baltimore's 34-7 clinic against the Giants here Sunday in Super Bowl XXXV.

"Trent Dilfer back in this town where everybody told him that he's no good," said defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, turning to find Dilfer at another post-game media podium. "Is it OK if I speak for you?"

"All the people who didn't think Trent Dilfer could lead us to a world championship, can kiss my butt."

Then Siragusa, realizing Dilfer's religion, offered, "There you go Trent. I know you can't say that, God bless you."

Dilfer blessed his long, strange journey with two passes he wasn't supposed to make.

Two passes that Giants quarterback Kerry Collins was supposed to make.

Two passes that gave the Ravens a 10-0 lead in the first half, insurmountable for a record-breaking defense.

A 38-yard touchdown pass to Stokley that made it 7-0 6:50 into the game. A 44-yard pass to receiver Qadry Ismail late in the first half that set up a field goal to make it 10-0.

With an assist to Jacksonville receiver Keenan McCardell.

McCardell spoke to Ravens receiver Patrick Johnson earlier in the week and gave the Baltimore wideouts tips on the Giants' secondary.

Tips Ismail wouldn't divulge.

"Insider trader information," Ismail said.

The Ravens' wideouts needed help, legal or illegal. They had only caught 12 passes in three playoff games and no touchdowns. The longest was Ismail's 33-yarder.

But believe it or not, Dilfer and his vertically-challenged Ravens thought they could throw all day on the Giants' top 5 defense.

"I loved the matchup of our receivers on their cornerbacks," Dilfer said. "And I like their cornerbacks. They're good. But our receivers like to get on top of you right away. They make you change your hips. That's the problem they looked like they had on film."

You remember Stokley?

Stokley was the Raven who came off the bench back on Nov. 5 in Cincinnati.

He hadn't played all year, but in the second quarter he was the man who broke the Ravens' record drought of five games without a touchdown when he caught a 14-yard touchdown pass in the 27-7 win at Paul Brown Stadium.

This one on Sunday, when he sped past Giants' All-World cornerback Jason Sehorn, was a little bit bigger. But not much.

"That was a big play for our offense," Stokley recalled of the play against the Bengals. "We were just trying to get some points on the board early. That was a big play for our offense. A little 'angle return,' and we caught them in the right defense."

Like that Nov. 5 play, Stokley lined up in the slot. But on Sunday, he had an option depending on what the Giants did.

"I got a middle field read," Stokley said. "Cover 2 or cover 8, I go in the middle. If it's cover 3 or cover 1 and they've got one safety back there, I go down the seam.

"Sehorn played outside technique," Stokley said. "So I just gave him a move outside and tried to freeze him and just ran down the seam. They had a safety in the middle (Shaun Williams) and I think Trent looked him off. I just gave Sehorn a move and Trent looked him off and made a great pass."

Dilfer dropped it down the middle over Stokley's shoulder and Sehorn had no safety help.

Dilfer completed just 12 of 25 passes for 153 yards. But he had no interceptions. He found eight different receivers. He bounced back from a mid-game X-Ray on his hand and finished what he started. The former first-round franchise quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally ruled Tampa.

"He played with great composure," Ismail said. "He wasn't perfect, an i.e. Phil Simms type of Super Bowl. But no question about it. He was the leader out there. No question about it. He played with a lot of composure and I'm very,very happy for him because he's making a lot of people look very silly right now."

Especially Sehorn, but it was the other cornerback, Dave Thomas, who gave up the 44-yader to Ismail, a soft Dilfer toss down the left sideline. Ismail made the play by blowing past Thomas' bump at the line. All he needed was a throw in stride and Dilfer gave it to him.

"A lot of people sleep on us as receivers," Stokley said. "All year long. They didn't give us the respect we're due. I think we wanted to come out here and make a statement and show people out here we can make plays. We thought we could run by them and that's what we did."

Stokley said the Giants were double covering tight end Shannon Sharpe, as well as collapsing on him in the slot as New York tried to take away running back Jamal Lewis.

Which meant Johnson and Ismail were one-on-one on the outside with suddenly vulnerable cornerbacks. Especially Sehorn, who looked lost getting beat three times in the first quarter.

But he lucked out twice because of a Johnson drop in the end zone and a Dilfer throw into the sideline.

"He made a great throw on the touchdown pass," Sehorn said. "He threw his best pass of the season and it happened to be against me. He put it out there exactly where he needed to and it was just a great pass and catch. He was very effective. He didn't turn the ball over, that's what he has done for the past 10 weeks."

Dilfer, who had the knock of not winning the big one,

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went 10-1 for the Ravens after taking over for Tony Banks only a few months after the Bucs cut him loose.

Dilfer doesn't even know where he'll be next year. He signed a one-year deal with Baltimore after telling the Bengals he didn't want to play in Cincinnati. So he basically traded places with former Raven Scott Mitchell.

The only place he knows he's going any time soon is Disney World.

"I didn't throw the ball very accurately in the first half," Dilfer said. "I felt great. I wasn't nervous, but I think I almost got too calm. I almost got lackadaisical because I knew my emotions could overcome me early and I really tried to stay relaxed all day long. When I came out, I was almost flat and I couldn't throw the ball with a lot of accuracy. So to hit the one to Stoke was big and after that I settled down. It was like all year long. We just did what ever it took."

It was Collins who made the throws that got Dilfer booted out of Tampa. The interception to cornerback Duane Starks for a touchdown. The throw into double coverage at the goal line when he had running back Tiki Barber over the middle that robbed the Giants of at least a field goal that could have made it 10-3 at the half.

Just before the bomb to Ismail, Dilfer told him as they broke the huddle, "Qad, if they press you, I'm going to you."

Stokley: "He was truly a leader out there."

One of the most likeable things about Dilfer is he basically admitted he was a jerk when he was younger and had no idea about quarterbacking an NFL team.

"I like Tampa. I really like the way I was treated here for the most part," Dilfer said. "When there are high expectations and you don't fulfill them, you're going to get your share of criticism. But the negative voice is always the loudest voice, and to depict Tampa as a city that hates Trent Dilfer isn't fair to the city. It lets those loudmouth, negative people become the majority, and they're not. So I think it's great to come back around a group of people you care about."

So here was Dilfer, once the poster child of the spoiled, selfish pro athlete, wrapping up this Super Bowl with, "It was simply about doing whatever I could in this football game for my team and not getting caught up in a lot of selfish things. I think one of the great things you can be as a person is unselfish. . .We decided that if we had enough guys become unselfish, we could win a world championship."

At least there was something warm and fuzzy about this one.

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