OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens figure there's only one logical conclusion to a season in which adversity and long odds were constant companions during an improbable march to the Super Bowl.
"We're destined to win this thing," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "After what we've gone through, I believe it's our destiny to win the Super Bowl."
Before this season, the Ravens were 24-39-1 since owner Art Modell moved the franchise from Cleveland in 1996. They never had a winning record, never won more than four games in a row and never came close to getting a whiff of the postseason.
Their objective in 2000 was just to make the playoffs, but after nine games it appeared even that modest goal was in serious jeopardy.
After failing to score a touchdown during the month of October, the Ravens had a three-game losing streak and a 5-4 record. During that swoon, coach Brian Billick reluctantly switched quarterbacks in a desperate attempt to pull the team out of a five-game TD drought Modell called "The Dust Bowl."
Now, because they persevered, the Ravens are heading to the Super Bowl.
"For 21 quarters we didn't score a touchdown, and everyone wrote us off. To come where we came from, it's amazing," said tight end Shannon Sharpe.
"It's gratifying," said defensive tackle Tony Siragusa. "After going through the whole season waking up Mondays and feeling like garbage, all beat up, when you get to the Super Bowl you feel as if there's a reason for it. You go home early and you're not in the playoffs. It's as if you beat yourself all season for nothing."
The New York Giants represent the final hurdle for the Ravens, who have encountered one obstacle after another, beginning with the murder trial of star linebacker Ray Lewis. The journey didn't get any easier in the playoffs, when Baltimore had to dispatch Denver at home before playing top-seeded Tennessee and second-seeded Oakland on the road.
Now, the Ravens must avoid the just-happy-to-be-here trap. Given their lackluster history and the turnaround they experienced this season, the Ravens have every right to be happy with what they've accomplished - regardless of how they fare against the Giants.
Although 16 of 24 teams playing in their first Super Bowl lost the game, the Ravens insist that they've come too far to bow out when it counts the most.
"No way. Like I said before, it makes no sense to get to the playoffs if you're not going to play in the Super Bowl," cornerback Duane Starks said. "And it makes no sense to play in the Super Bowl if you're not going to win it."
The Ravens (15-4), who have won more games than any team in the NFL this season, are in no way considered to be old. But no one is talking about a dynasty here, and the players realize there's a possibility that this could be their lone chance to claim the one possession every pro football player craves - a Super Bowl ring.
"It's not a guarantee I can ever get back to the Super Bowl," McAlister said. "The way football is, our team is not going to stand intact. With free agency, you have to expect some people to be gone, so definitely I want to make the most of this opportunity and walk away with a big ring with 35 diamonds on it."
It won't be easy, playing against a tough New York defense and the top seed in the NFC. But, given what the Ravens have gone up against this season, they wouldn't have it any other way.
"We've got a great challenge ahead of us, but I think that's perfect," said Trent Dilfer, who replaced Tony Banks at quarterback on Oct. 22. "I'd rather have a Super Bowl where there's a huge challenge rather than play a team that has a suspect defense. We tend to play our best games against better opponents."
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