Sunday, January 28, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 28, 2001

Only time will tell if Ravens' defense is best ever

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

With all due respect to the Baltimore Ravens — and who wants to antagonize Tony Siragusa? — this defense-for-the-ages thing has gotten a little out of hand.

In the days leading up to their appearance today in the Super Bowl, we’ve heard at least XXXV times that the Ravens possess the best defense since the Massillon Tigers first pumped up a pigskin.

Fanned by the super hype surrounding today’s extravaganza in Tampa Bay, we’ve been told Baltimore now sets the all-time standard for defense in pro football.

Or, as one commentator said, the Ravens trot out "11 Hannibal Lechters."

"The best ever," is how Brian Billick, Baltimore’s head coach, has described his defense. Hardly an impartial judgment rendered by a dispassionate observer. Billick can, of course, be excused his exuberance since that is what a coach ought to say about his team.

But what of the others? What of the bandwagon-climbing media, the writers and electronic commentators, who are expected to be more impartial? What about some of those in the league who you would expect to have a keener sense of history?

There is no doubting the Ravens’ defense is the class of the NFL this year. A unit that has yielded but 165 points and yielded an average of just 61 yards a game rushing in these high-tech offensive times is remarkable indeed.

They’ve had to be good to get Baltimore this far with what has been a unit that has been an offense in name only. You don’t go a handful of games without an offensive touchdown and win most of them without a compelling defense. You don’t get this far in the post-season with Trent Dilfer at quarterback without a hoard on the other side of the ball.

But as good as Ray Lewis, Siragusa and the rest are, the all-time declarations are premature. It is way too early to be putting them on a pedestal above the Pittsburgh Steelers’ famed "Steel Curtain" defense and the foundation for four Super Bowl titles between 1975 and 1980. It is a little hasty to push them past Buddy Ryan’s Chicago Bears’ defense, the Minnesota Vikings’ "Purple People Eaters" or Dallas’ "Doomsday" defense.

They all set a defensive tone for much of their decades. The Ravens might eventually, too. But for the moment they are just beginning their decade.

Such was the domination of the "Steel Curtain" that it placed four of its mainstays, Mel Blount, Joe Greene, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It came the closest to pitching a Super Bowl shutout, with Minnesota’s only score in Super Bowl IX coming on a blocked punt recovery. All but Ham were a league defensive player of the year in a period in which the Steelers led their conference in fewest points allowed four times.

If this defense should lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory it will be quite an accomplishment. It might even be the start of something very special. But with just one season on top and the Steelers’ impressive body of work to catch, that is all it will be for now, a beginning.

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