MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

The Pro Bowl Games (not game – Games). Did you watch it (not them – it)?

I saw it; I checked it out. Didn’t grab me.

From the middle of last week to the end of the weekend, the Pro Bowl players seemed to be enjoying themselves a great deal, playing all kinds of skills contests, including water-balloon toss. It looked like a company picnic, which, of course, it actually was. But, so what? Those guys earned their Pro Bowl berths, so they’re entitled to enjoy themselves for a job well done.

On Sunday, they played a flag football game and seemed to enjoy themselves as well. Good for them. It’s not as though the Pro Bowl has been worth watching in the past decade anyway, so what difference does it make? If they had pretended to stage another Pro Bowl game, we would have just complained about that instead.

So why, on the weekend before the Super Bowl did they even put it on television? Because it’s a TVShow, that’s why. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for years. They don’t want to lose the spot or the television awareness. And ESPN had nothing better to put on their air, so why risk losing a very profitable corporate partner?

A friend of mine who is a big NFL fan said he couldn’t believe people would watch “this (crap),” to which I replied, “There’s a sucker born every minute. Suckers will buy anything #NFLTheTVShow sells. Plus, the Mannings are the perfect carney barkers.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re watching it,” I said. “So, just watch and take it for what it is.”

“Which is?”

“Television — the new Battle of the Network Stars.”

But then ESPN struck back hard and hit the jackpot, airing in Sunday-night primetime, the “30 for 30” documentary, “Bullies of Baltimore” during the Dead Zone, a.k.a. The Weekend Between the Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl.

First of all, all of the “30 for 30” documentaries are first-rate, the very best programming ESPN has other than live sporting events. This one, though, hit home, at least for a lot of us here in the state of Maryland, as it was about the 2000 world-champion Baltimore Ravens and how they won the title with character, a whole lot of characters and what was likely the greatest defense in the history of the National Football League, including the 1986 Chicago Bears.

“I don’t mind having that argument,” said former Ravens head coach Brian Billick, “because I have all the numbers on my side.”

The Ravens gave up 165 points in 16 regular-season games — 10.3 per game, a mark that has never been topped.

“The great thing is that record is never going to be broken,” Billick said. “The things we were known for, the physicality, the hits on the quarterback — they’ve been legislated out of the game.”

It was quite the contrast ESPN presented for its viewers on Sunday – the Pro Bowl, which is now a flag football game, followed by the story of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who won the championship, despite not having an offense to speak of (the Ravens went five games without scoring an offensive touchdown, yet won two of them), with anger, sheer will, fury, speed, passion and the best form tackling you’ll ever see in the NFL again.

The Ravens didn’t just tackle you. They came after you like you were somebody from the old neighborhood that had a payback coming.

Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon, for instance, came off the field and wouldn’t go back out against that Ravens defense. Even though his head coach Bruce Coslet can be seen on the film telling Dillon to get on the field, Dillon said he didn’t think so, and walked to the bench instead.

He wasn’t injured. He just didn’t want to take any more punishment.

“Cause playing against us,” Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis said, “is hell.”

“The modern-day game does not impress me,” said then-Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer, who was brought in as the starter to not screw up to allow the defense to win each game. “It’s super easy when you don’t get hit as a quarterback, and when you can’t re-route wide receivers, and you can’t hit guys across the middle.

“I love Tom Brady. I love Aaron Rodgers. I love these guys. It’s not impressive.”

The entire documentary, as were the 2000 Ravens, was filled with riveting storylines, one being Baltimore’s massive defensive tackle (on and off the field), Tony Siragusa, who, sadly, died one month after the 20-year anniversary “Championship Celebration” documentary was recorded.

Siragusa was Baltimore’s modern-day Art Donovan and, thankfully, this documentary will endure as a lasting homage to one of the most unique, toughest, yet loveable football players who ever played in Baltimore, even though he didn’t play in Baltimore that long.

Of course, in the eyes and in the hearts of Bawlmer, hon, Siragusa played there forever, and ESPN’s brilliant “30 for 30” documentary, “Bullies of Baltimore” will now stand as lasting proof that he did. If only in our hearts, which is always what matters the most, anyway.

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens connected with their city and their fans in a way that may never be seen again. They also played defense and hit people in a way that will never be seen again. The NFL has seen to that.

Thank you, ESPN. “Bullies of Baltimore” is a masterpiece.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT