Anyone who’s read the papers over the past 10 days—or for that matter, the past 20 years—knows about the pre-super bowl media blitz. With two weeks between the conference championship games and the big one, football writers are as much involved in making the news—through pronouncements, predictions, and maudlin prattle—as covering it. And that is especially true when a team from New York, the media capital of the world, is involved in the game. What are the real stories behind the Giants-Ravens matchup? Here’s a look at the hard facts buried beneath the Super Bowl hype heading into this weekend’s game.
The Headlines: “Giants’ ‘D’ Taking Offense” (Daily News, Jan. 18); “Appetites for Destruction: Ravens’ Defense Is Making a Case for the Greatest of All Time” (The Washington Post, Jan. 21)
The Hype: The Ravens’ defense is the best of all time. If they dominate the Giants on Sunday, Baltimore-based pundits believe, they will win the game.
The Hard Facts: Duh. Anyone can look at the numbers and see that both teams have great defenses. Baltimore finished second overall in total defense this year, allowing a stingy 60.6 yards rushing and 187.3 yards passing per game. They pitched four shutouts in the regular season, second most in NFL history, and they allowed the fewest points ever over a 16-game schedule. They also allowed the fewest rushing yards ever over 16 games. And no one could possibly overlook the Giants’ defense either; they finished fifth overall—second against the run, and 15th against the pass.
The real story of this game, though, is the teams’ offenses. While the Ravens have struggled to score all year—at one point going four straight games without an offensive touchdown—the Giants seem to be getting better as the year goes on. Big Blue averaged 336 total yards per game during the regular season, 125.6 rushing and 210.4 passing. And they are fresh off a 41-0 thrashing of the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. They may not score as big this weekend, but they aren’t likely to fold either.
“Obviously, this is going to be a different kind of game than it was [against the Vikings],” QB Kerry Collins said Friday. “We’re playing a better defense, the best in the NFL this year. We’re really going to have to play our best game of the year to do anything against them. We’re going to go out there and try and do the things we do well and see what happens.”
The Headlines: “Super Bowl Opponents Pulling Out All the Stops: Among the Similarities: Tough Defenses, Recycled QBs, Run-Oriented Attacks” (Baltimore Sun, Jan. 15); “Dilfer Still Hears Boos From Tampa” (New York Post, Jan. 19)
The Hype: Both teams feature great “D,” great runners, and QBs trying to rebuild their careers.
The Hard Facts: The first two points are true, but to compare Dilfer and Collins is crap. Sure, Collins has had his personal problems, but he’s always been viewed as a talented player. Meanwhile, Dilfer, during his stay in Tampa Bay (where he spent the first six years of his career), was famous for being one of the few NFL QBs worse than erstwhile Giant signal-callers Dave Brown and Danny Kanell (statistically).
This year, Dilfer was still his mediocre self—1502 yards, 12 TDs, 11 INTs in eight starts—while Collins came alive—3610 yards, 22 TDs, 13 INTs. Collins has the ability to win a game as the QB, whereas Dilfer, as Giant cornerback Jason Sehorn said last week, is told to “just go out there and implement the game plan. He doesn’t need to win the game for them. That’s the difference.” On the other hand, “Kerry is evolving into an elite quarterback in this league,” Giants head coach Jim Fassel said after the NFC Championship Game. “There’s no limit to him. He’s got tremendous talent.”
The Headlines: “All the Rage: Team Behind Brash Coach” (Daily News, Jan. 20); “Keith to Ravens: Talk ‘Til There’s Blue in Your Face” (Daily News, Jan. 21)
The Hype: From the coach on down, Baltimore likes to talk the talk. Fassel’s charges prefer to walk the walk.
The Hard Facts: As Sehorn says in that cloying Schwab TV spot, “Shannon Sharpe . . . he’s always talking trash.” The same could be said of many of the tight end’s Baltimore teammates. The Ravens and their coach, Brian Billick, have a reputation for talking.
Though friendly with the Baltimore coach, Fassel has a different philosophy. An implicit gag order was part and parcel of his now famous playoff Guarantee in November, and his players have avoided giving opponents any bulletin-board material since. Instead, they have watched as other teams made mid-week promises they couldn’t keep on Sundays.
The Daily News has reported that Raven defensive back Chris McAlister said last week that their offense may only need to score three points to beat the Giants. As has been their way, Big Blue has yet to respond, and—as defensive end Keith Hamilton told the News—doesn’t plan to. “I think the attitude of the players is right,” Fassel told assembled reporters last week. “We’re going down [to Tampa] for a football game, not all that other stuff.”
The Headlines: “Giants Won’t Be Sacked by Media” (New York Post, Jan. 17); “Case Not Closed for Victim’s Kin”(Daily News, Jan. 19)
The Hype: Reporters revisit Ray Lewis’s legal troubles; Giants PR staff hopes to limit regurgitation of Collins’s past.
The Hard Facts: If the media had its way, Super Bowl XXXV would be a tale of two players. The first, Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis, was tried on double-murder charges last spring after a stabbing outside an Atlanta nightclub following Super Bowl XXXIV (he eventually pled guilty to obstruction of justice and was fined $250,000 by the NFL; no one was ever convicted in the case). The other, Collins, is a recovering alcoholic who has turned both his career and his life around.
Enough already. Lewis was cleared of murder charges, and Collins, who has been sober for more than two years, has told his story ad nauseum. This week, the Giants’ PR staff did the right thing by restricting any talk of their QB’s past problems until after the game. It speaks volumes about the experience the entire organization has in handling the press, an off-the-field advantage that may play a part on the field if the Ravens allow the Lewis story to become a distraction.
“We have so many guys in the locker room every week,” running back Tiki Barber told the media Thursday. “I don’t think it will be as big a jump for us [in Tampa] as it is for some teams.”
The Headlines: “Ruffling Poe Fans’ Feathers” (Baltimore Sun, Jan. 19); “A Fan Provides a Twist to the Mystery of Poe” (The New York Times, Jan. 20)
The Hype: A Giant fan allegedly desecrates Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore grave with a pro-Big Blue Super Bowl prediction. Baltimorians express outrage at NYU’s plans to tear down his old West 3rd Street house.
The Hard Facts: Rival cities shitting on one another prior to the Super Bowl is nothing new. The New York Post‘s obligatory “Tale of the Tape” on January 16, for example, called New York the “Capital of the World” and Baltimore a “Suburb of Washington.” Ouch. But using Baltimore’s favorite son, Edgar Allan Poe, the famed author whose poem “The Raven” is the source of the home team’s name, has brought these exchanges to their most literary—and ludicrous—level. Quoth the Raven: Stick to the freakin’ game.
The Headline: “Giants Aren’t ‘Bettor’ Team in Vegas“ (New York Post, Jan. 15)
The Hype: Vegas oddsmakers favor the Ravens and their defense this Sunday.
The Hard Facts: At press time, sports books had Baltimore favored by three points, but what do they know? Remember, the Vikings were favored in the NFC Championship Game—by as much as three points—and lost 41-0. The Giants have thrived in the underdog role throughout their Cinderella Super Bowl run, and seem to play best when they are viewed lightly by the media and the opposition.
“In the locker room, we don’t care what the outside opinion of us is,” Sehorn told the media last week. “We just know there is an outside opinion. [That the media] is going to keep writing about how bad we are. We don’t want to be looked at as a one-year wonder.”
The Prediction: New York 17-13 (with the Ravens’ lone TD coming from their defense).