Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
Brian Billick told off the world on his star defensive player, Ray Lewis.
It was about time for Super Bowl XXXV.
Lewis, who was the Baltimore Ravens’ star middle linebacker, had been linked to the murder of two men in Atlanta. It came just after a Super Bowl that the Ravens hadn’t even played.
Here was Billick, cast in the role as Lewis’ protector – as if this rugged defender that could knock down anyone in the NFL needed a protector – in a pushback role to NFL media.
I’ll never forget Billick – watching on TV, of course – telling the media they weren’t qualified to cast themselves into the role of cop reporter. I can still remember, “We’re not going to retry this.”
That particular incident took place about one year earlier. All charges had been dropped against Lewis. Not enough evidence. If not for the glaring spotlight of the Super Bowl, all matters would have been ignored.
Don’t ask, Billick was telling the media. He was, in fact, demanding it. It might have been the most memorable part of that year’s Super Bowl, in fact.
It was Super Bowl week. The Ravens, 85-67 under Billick over nine seasons, were getting set to take on the New York Giants for the National Football League championship in 2000 – which they did, convincingly.
A few weeks later, Billick took time to share his thoughts with me.
On Lewis? No, I wasn’t asking him to retry. Or for any insight into the matter. Just how hard was it going through all that? How much of a distraction? Couldn’t have been much. After all, I told him, “you won, 34-7.”
“Boy, was that hard,” he told me in the same command performance manner he’d taken on with the media. “I still can’t believe I had to go through all that. How we, as an organization, had to go through all that. That never happened when I was at Redlands, believe me.”
Billick, of course, was a star player at Redlands High, a 1972 graduate before setting sail to play at Air Force Academy and, eventually, at Brigham Young University. After a possible playing career was negated at Dallas and San Francisco in 1977, his coaching career started in 1978 in Redlands, of all places.
Two decades later, a myriad of assistant coaching stops along the way, Billick surfaced as Ravens’ coach.
Years later, Feb. 2, 2018, to be exact, Billick had another NFL Hall Famer. Lewis was, in fact, being inducted in with seven others, including another Billick protégé, wide receiving great Randy Moss.
Yes, Billick had worked in Minnesota – under head coach Denny Green – with a number of NFL Hall-bound greats.
Lewis was the focus on the ambulance-chasing media heading into the Tampa Bay showdown with the Giants. Billick admitted he was set for the showdown the media.
“Yeah,” said Billick, “I had to try and attract all the attention to me. I didn’t have to play. Ray Lewis did have to play. I needed his attention – all his attention – on that game.”
It was the old hit-‘em-in-the-mouth-before-they-hit-you routine. It worked.
Truth is, Billick has coached numerous Hall of Famers – Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, Jonathan Ogden, and that’s a yes on Deion Sanders in Baltimore after his years in Atlanta, San Francisco and Dallas.
During Billick’s Minnesota days, there was, of course, Moon, plus Cris Carter and the great Moss.
No, don’t get him to talk about a missed field in the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta “Dirty Bird” Falcons. Carter, Moss and QB Randall Cunningham should’ve been more than enough firepower for the Vikings to win that game.
Billick has been surrounded himself by Hall of Fame talent. He was in Dallas for awhile. Anyone remember Tom Landry?
Also in San Francisco, albeit briefly, where Bill Walsh was running the 49ers.
When Billick’s command performance with media via Lewis had ended, what did he think?
“I’d knocked them on their ass.”