TAMPA, Fla. -- Tony Banks' season of great promise ended exactly where he hoped, at the Super Bowl.
How he got there is another story.
He would have preferred to talk about playing quarterback in his first NFL championship. But those questions were directed at Trent Dilfer, who replaced him in midseason.
"This is my first time being in the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl, and I never envisioned being here and not being at the helm," Banks said. "You can't help but wonder ... a throw here, a throw there, and I'm in Trent's shoes."
There was no mistaking which quarterback was "in" and which was "out" at interview sessions.
Dilfer sat on an elevated stage surrounded by cameras, microphones and reporters. Banks was slumped in a chair at one of the dozens of ground-level tables reserved for the "other" guys.
Banks started the final 10 games for the Ravens last year, winning six times after displacing an ineffective Stoney Case. He signed a four-year contract in February and was placed in control of coach Brian Billick's potentially high-powered offense.
Banks led the Ravens to a 5-1 start, including a rousing 39-36 comeback win over Jacksonville in the second week. But after a run of ineffective performances, he was replaced by Dilfer in the second half of the Oct. 22 game against Tennessee - the fourth of five straight games in which Baltimore failed to score a touchdown.
"My last throw as a starter, I threw a pick in the end zone. It was a throw I can make with my eyes closed," Banks said softly this week. "I just rushed it."
With the season hanging in the balance, Dilfer got the call.
"Something had to be done," Billick said. "It really wasn't just Tony. We just weren't jelling as an offense and doing what we needed to do."
Enter Dilfer, who lost his first start and has since won 10 straight despite putting up numbers very similar to Banks' stats.
"After we starting losing, he sensed that a change might be coming," Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "What he didn't anticipate was that we'd be 10-1 with Trent, and Trent not doing a whole lot different than he did."
But Dilfer did what Banks did not - play conservative football and allow the Ravens' record-setting defense to dominate the game. Dilfer made just enough big plays to make the offense a threat, which is all Billick ever wanted.
"I didn't play well. (Billick) has been known to have a quick trigger, and it worked out for us, fortunately," Banks said. "It's been bittersweet at times, but we're in the Super Bowl so I can't complain."
Not that it would do him any good. He doesn't care for his role, and isn't shy about saying so.
"I'll never consider myself a backup. As soon as I get comfortable being a backup, I should get out of the game," Banks said. "But I feel good about some things I did. I helped turn this organization around, so I can hang my hat on that."
All signs point to Banks joining his third team in six NFL seasons.
"There are so many different scenarios," he said. "I would like to come back if I get an opportunity to challenge for the starting job. If not, hopefully I'll get an opportunity elsewhere."
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