BALTIMORE -- As the Ravens celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Super Bowl XXXV triumph on Thursday, Trent Dilfer remains disappointed that he became the first quarterback not given the chance to defend his title.
On Jan. 28, 2001, Dilfer made a triumphant return to Tampa, Florida, where he left as a struggling first-round pick for the Buccaneers and came back to help the Ravens to a 34-7 win over the New York Giants. Two weeks later, Dilfer was informed that Baltimore intended to sign another starting quarterback in free agency.
"You know, I've been through a lot in my life and I try not to be bitter about anything," said Dilfer, who is now a high school head coach at Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. "I'd say that's one I'm still harboring a little bit of bitterness because of the why. It was so poorly evaluated on their behalf. They knew I was hurt."
Dilfer, 48, plans to participate in the Ravens' virtual reunion and speaks fondly of the camaraderie of that 2000 team. In going 11-1 as the starting quarterback -- including 11 straight wins -- he was considered the perfect complement to Baltimore's historic defense by producing few turnovers and timely big plays, which included a 38-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley in the Super Bowl.
But Dilfer completed only 47.9% of his passes in the postseason and heard the criticism that he was the worst quarterback to play in a Super Bowl. He estimated that he played at 65% to 70% because he was coming off a shoulder injury from the previous season and was dealing with osteitis pubis, an inflammation around the pubic bone and hip flexor muscle.
"There's legendary stories of how bad I was in practice, and they're all true," Dilfer said. "I had some of the worst practices in the history of football for a quarterback. If my high school quarterback practiced like I did sometimes that year, I wouldn't play him. But I was hurt. There was a reason for it. It wasn't that I wasn't trying. I didn't suck. I sucked physically."
Dilfer, who had joined the Ravens on a one-year, $1 million deal, was a free agent after winning the Super Bowl and hoped he could return to Baltimore healthier than the previous year. As he waited in the airport with his wife to fly to the ESPYS, Dilfer received a call from offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.
"He could barely talk. He could barely get it out of his mouth," Dilfer said. "You're their third choice in free agency. And I just went, 'What?' I was shell-shocked."
The Ravens eventually signed Elvis Grbac to replace Dilfer after Brad Johnson, their top choice, signed with Tampa Bay. Baltimore was enamored by the big arm of Grbac, who had just gone to the Pro Bowl after throwing for 4,000 yards for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Dilfer said neither general manager Ozzie Newsome nor coach Brian Billick ever called him to inform him of the team's decision to not re-sign him. Newsome and Billick didn't respond to messages seeking comment.
"That's one of the few things that Brian Billick did that I didn't agree with," Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden said. "Just give the guy a chance to come back and win his job. But it didn't happen that way."
Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams said Dilfer earned the right to compete for another championship.
"I felt betrayed by them letting Trent go," Adams said. "I was hurt by that. He was a great leader, he was a scrapper, and he was the consummate Baltimore Raven. If it wasn't for Trent Dilfer -- I don't care what we did on defense -- if it wasn't for him coming in doing what he did, we would have never won a Super Bowl."
Dilfer said he approached Newsome at the 10-year reunion of the Super Bowl team about not bringing him back.
"It didn't go very far," Dilfer said. "It doesn't matter at that point, but it was a tough one. Still is tough because I do think that 2001 team was better probably from a talent standpoint, and I would have loved to have been able to captain that ship."
Grbac played only one season with the Ravens, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round. He retired after refusing to accept a $5 million pay cut.
"I'll take a shot at Elvis because it doesn't bother me at all," Dilfer said. "The core value of that team was toughness. And Brian didn't realize that. It wasn't their coaching. It wasn't their talent evaluation. It wasn't all the things that they think it was. The core value of that team was mental and physical toughness, and that's who I am and that's the opposite of who Elvis is. They set their identity back light years by getting it wrong."
Dilfer remains the only quarterback to change teams the season after winning the Super Bowl. He played six more seasons, bouncing from the Seattle Seahawks to the Cleveland Browns to the San Francisco 49ers, going 13-16 as a starter from 2001 to 2007 and never returning to the postseason.
Dilfer, who worked with ESPN as an analyst after his playing career, has kept his Super Bowl ring primarily in an underwear drawer over the years. He still hasn't watched the Super Bowl win over the Giants from start to finish.
"It's a period of my life that I'm so grateful for and sometimes I feel guilty I don't think about it more, but I just really don't," Dilfer said. "I don't identify with that. I identify with husband, father, coach. Now the one thing, I'm not stupid, is all that allowed for what's happened in my life since. You can never undervalue enough how being a part of greatness helps accelerate your ability to do other great things in life."