Riding high, Dilfer leads Browns to Baltimore

OWINGS MILLS -- Trent Dilfer was shocked, chagrined and devastated when the Baltimore Ravens discarded him after he quarterbacked them during their lone Super Bowl title. Now, Dilfer has a prime chance for revenge as he leads the Cleveland Browns (2-2) into Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium. Nearly five years after helping the Ravens to 11 consecutive victories and a Vince Lombardi title, Dilfer is thriving with an improved passing touch that's the reason behind wins.

He's no longer relegated to being a complementary cog in a defensive machine.

The bearded, balding quarterback still feels the sting of his unceremonious departure from Baltimore.

"Obviously, I disagreed with the thing, I've never shied away from saying that," said Dilfer, sporting a 91.5 passer rating, six touchdowns and 66.7 percent accuracy. "It wasn't my decision. You have two choices in life: You can get bitter or you can get better.

"I've used the disappointment of that experience and the lessons I learned while I was there and tried to become a better person and player."
Dilfer was a free agent in 2001 when Baltimore made him their third choice behind Brad Johnson, who signed with Tampa Bay, and Elvis Grbac. The Ravens signed Grbac to try to upgrade a moribund passing game after his Pro Bowl season with Kansas City that included over 4,000 passing yards.

Dilfer said he only heard from one member of the organization during that period: offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.

"He said, ‘You're not going to believe this, I can't explain it, but you deserve to know," Dilfer said. "It was a shocker to me that no ever called me. It's never been explained to me and I've never quite been able to figure it out, but you can't cry over spilled milk and you just have to let it go."

Ravens coach Brian Billick expressed no regrets about the decision, which preceded Baltimore going 10-6 with one playoff win.

Baltimore finished 14th in total offense (320.3 yards per game) and averaged 207.1 passing yards, the highest numbers under Billick. However, Grbac committed 23 turnovers, including 18 interceptions. He wasn't respected in the locker room. Rather than accept a paycut, he retired after the season.

"There are very few decisions or discussions that we've had that were more uniform," Billick said. "There were some positive things to what we did. I regret that the circumstance presented itself that Trent Dilfer was not with us going forward. He's an outstanding young man. We are appreciative of what Trent did when he was here, but we did our analysis."

Billick apologized in a conference call with Cleveland reporters.

"We put ourselves in a very difficult situation, the emotion of it," said Billick, adding that Dilfer didn't return telephone calls. "If he feels abused or mistreated, that was certainly not our intent. I would apologize for that coming out that way if that's the way it was perceived."

Dilfer, who's 20-8 since 2000, has led Cleveland to wins over Chicago and Green Bay and a 13-6 loss to Indianapolis.

"This is as well as I've seen Trent Dilfer play," Billick acknowledged.

When asked if he has animosity toward Billick, Dilfer said: "We just disagree on things. He's a heck of a football coach and has done a great job."

Dilfer said he keeps his Super Bowl ring packed in a box somewhere in his suburban Cleveland home. He isn't prone to dig it out this week.

"I think the greatest disappointment was not getting to go back and be with those guys I had grown so fond of and developed a bond with and go through the challenge of trying to repeat," Dilfer said. "That's life."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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