Tampa, Fla. If the Vince Lombardi trophy went to the more brazen braggarts, the Baltimore Ravens would romp over the New York Giants in today's Super Bowl. Just about every Raven has guaranteed it.
The Giants are so quiet it sometimes seems they're not even here. They're 53 guys trying to complete what they started four months ago, balking at a guarantee like the one coach Jim Fassel made during the season about making the playoffs.
So while Baltimore coach Brian Billick, Shannon Sharpe and Ray Lewis tried to deflect questions about Lewis' arrest on murder charges a year ago, the Ravens guaranteed victory.
And 350-pound defensive tackle Tony Siragusa attracted huge crowds with what sometimes seemed like an audition for "The Sopranos."
The Giants? They quietly went about their business.
They got rid of their baggage early, when quarterback Kerry Collins bared his soul after being labeled a drunk, a racist and a quitter while he was with Carolina and New Orleans. Then they sat back and chuckled at the Ravens' sideshow.
"We've played against some of the best trash talkers around," wide receiver Amani Toomer said. "There are a lot of teams out there that like to flap their gums a lot. I don't think they'll be able to take any of our players out of the game with their mouths."
Indeed, this week has been dominated by a player who could also dominate the game Lewis, who was charged in the stabbing deaths of two men at a Super Bowl party last year in Atlanta. He eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.
Lewis says now that his offseason problems were one reason he had a Super season, capping it by being voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Even commissioner Paul Tagliabue couldn't avoid the subject, repeatedly answering questions about Lewis at his annual state of the league news conference on Friday.
But there are far more plot lines to this game
The owners: Art Modell of the Ravens, who moved the franchise to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996, and Wellington Mara of the Giants. They are the closest of friends and have a combined 115 years in the NFL, starting in 1925, when Mara, then 9, served as a ball boy for the team his father founded.
Mara has won two Super Bowls, the last time a decade ago, right here in Tampa. Modell, on the other hand, had never reached a Super Bowl, narrowly missing in 1987 and 1988 against the Denver Broncos when his Ravens were the Cleveland Browns.
The quarterbacks, both redemption projects. No John Elways, Brett Favres, Steve Youngs or Joe Montanas in this game, although Elway has a minor presence he was brought in to talk to the Giants by coach Jim Fassel, who was once quarterbacks coach in Denver.
The Ravens' Trent Dilfer didn't become a starter until midseason, in the fourth game of a five-game stretch in which they didn't score a touchdown. He's returning to the city where he played for six seasons, getting released a year ago after losing the Buccaneers' starting job to Shaun King.
Collins, who took Carolina to the NFC championship game in his second season, came back from his alcohol problems to throw for 3,610 yards, third best in team history.
The coaches, Billick and Fassel, who guaranteed a playoff berth after his team dropped two straight to fall to 7-4. The Giants have now won seven straight.
They're also close friends who call each other often. "I'm glad Jim's in this game with me," Billick says. "But I miss not speaking to him."
They also share the label of offensive-minded coaches with defensive-minded teams.
The Ravens' defense set an NFL record by allowing just 165 points. The overlooked Giants' unit allowed only 10 points in two playoff games, shutting out Minnesota's high-scoring offense and yielding one meaningless late touchdown against Philadelphia after a blocked punt.
But that gets obscured in the din from the Baltimore camp.
"If we get 10 points, we'll win," said defensive end Michael McCrary.
"It's a great possibility," added cornerback Chris McAlister. "If our front seven can get to Kerry Collins a bit, I think he will get rattled."
But the fact is the New York defense has been almost as good as Baltimore's, particularly since allowing 34 and 30 points in losses to St. Louis and Detroit. That led to Fassel saying, "This team will make the playoffs. I repeat, this team will make the playoffs."
And if stats hold up, neither team will be able to run Baltimore allowed the fewest yards rushing in the NFL, the Giants the second fewest.
The Giants' offense, on the other hand, has performed well at times, never better than in the 41-0 win over Minnesota that got them here. In that game, Collins threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns before shutting things down midway through the third quarter.
The Ravens did it the hard way, beating Denver 21-3 at home, surprising defending AFC champion Tennessee 24-10 in Nashville, then going to Oakland and winning 16-3.
In each of those wins, they had one big connection from Dilfer to Shannon Sharpe a 58-yard deflected screen pass for a score against Denver; a 56-yard completion in Tennessee to set up their only offensive touchdown; and a 96-yard completion on third-and-18 for the only touchdown against the Raiders.
"We're on a 10-0 run," Billick says. "Our offense has done what it has do to."
These teams didn't meet in the regular season, even though their divisions faced each other.
But Dilfer, playing for Tampa Bay in the 1999 opener, threw three interceptions against the Giants and lost a fumble. One of the interceptions was returned for a touchdown and so was the fumble. That was the beginning of the end for Dilfer in Tampa Bay.
"The worst 10 minutes of football I've ever played," Dilfer says, although he was bad for the entire game.
The Giants don't buy it.
"That was a different time, a different team," Fassel says. "It has no relevance to this game."
What may be relevant is the Giants' reaction to the Ravens.
"They're a confident bunch of guys. They've played well the last couple of weeks," says New York's Jason Sehorn, who late in the season has returned to his form of 1997, when he was one of the league's best cornerbacks.
"But I wonder who they think they're playing on the other side, if we're going to lie down for them. It definitely takes the pressure off us, because they are supposed to pitch a shutout. All we are supposed to do is win."