Purple Reign 1: Chapter 14 “Painting The Black Hole Purple”

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“An astronomer once told me that a black hole, technically, is a star that has burned out. You can read into that whatever you want.”

Qadry Ismail, Jan. 14, 2001, after the Ravens 16-3 AFC Championship Game win over the Raiders in Oakland, Calif.

The sunglasses told the story.

As the sands were winding down on the hourglass of the AFC Central champion Tennessee Titans and their aborted postseason run at Adelphia Coliseum, defensive tackle Tony Siragusa neared Ravens head coach Brian Billick, who was awaiting the weekly ambush of an icy Gatorade shower.

Billick is always trying to avoid the inevitable, especially on the colder afternoons, but Siragusa is a sideline fixture at the arm of the coach, always chirping at him about something or another.

If the otherwise low-key Billick has a trademark at this point, it’s the oversized, aviation bomber sunglasses that he wears for all outdoor games. They are too big for his face but they give him a certain policeman quality, the look of authority that a head coach should have in the NFL.

“I know people talk about the sunglasses all the time, but they’re just a cheap pair of $29.95 Target specials,” Billick said. “They’re not designer glasses or an image thing, although some people have had some fun with that aspect of them. They just keep the sun out of my eyes.”

As the clock ticked away the final two minutes of the 24-10 victory and the Titans’ season, Billick had a plan.

It was a plan to at least delay, if not avoid, a potential frosty shower and, quite frankly, to get rid of Siragusa momentarily.

Billick pulled his bomber sunglasses off his face and handed them over to Siragusa.

“Here, Goose,” Billick said to the oversized Italian Stallion. “You’re going to California. You need some sunglasses.”

Billick still got his Gatorade shower, and moments later, Siragusa was dancing and prancing for the NFL Films cameras, shouting, “We’re going to California, baby. We’re strolling to California. I’ve got to pack my sunglasses!”

Indeed, bring on the Oakland Raiders and the notorious Black Hole of fans.

The Ravens continued to get their share of media coverage during the week leading up to the AFC Championship Game.

The cover of that week’s Sports Illustrated – the first cover story in the history of the franchise – featured the headline “R Rated, The Ravens’ trash-talking, bone-rattling defense” and a cover photo of the most unlikely cover boy, safety Corey Harris, laying out a Titans’ receiver who is so smothered, he can’t even be identified.

Meanwhile, The Sporting News coverfeatured Siragusa, Ray Lewis and defensive tackle Larry Webster wrapping up Eddie George at the line of scrimmage.

I found a certain irony in the inclusion of Webster on the cover of a major sports magazine.

Webster had been my guest at The Barn following the Denver win, and fullback Chuck Evans was one of several visitors to my show a week later after the Tennessee win.

More than anyone, these two represented something special for the organization. They were the individual stories of two guys who got second chances on a team that got a second chance after “The Drought.”

As recently as eight weeks earlier, both were out of the NFL.

Webster was still serving his league suspension on a disputed drug allegation. Evans, who injured his triceps during training camp, came back to the team only because Obafemi Ayanbadejo injured his foot in October and was placed on injured reserve.

Both had been members of the 1999 Ravens and had been left in the dust and forgotten during the beginning of the season, as the team flourished.

Now, both had a chance to win a Super Bowl ring.