TAMPA, Fla. -- As Ray Lewis came out of the tunnel before the Super Bowl began, he followed a season-long ritual: He scooped up a few blades of grass from Raymond James Stadium.
''That's a symbol,'' Lewis said. ''This is our turf.''
Lewis led a Baltimore defensive charge that bottled up the New York Giants in a 34-7 rout.
He seemed to be everywhere -- stuffing running plays, helping the secondary, deflecting a couple of passes, including one that turned into an interception, and making five tackles. He was a constant presence on defense, one New York was never able to avoid. It earned him the MVP award.
The Ravens' defense established itself early. Lewis recalled the sequence of New York possessions that told him this would be Baltimore's game.
''Three and out. Three and out. Three and out. You got problems the rest of the day,'' he said.
Indeed they did.
The Giants managed only 86 yards passing and 66 running. They had 11 first downs, but three of those were by penalties. It was a total shutdown -- an exclamation point, Lewis said -- evidence that this defense is the best ever.
But, he said, it's not as good as it can be.
''You can always play better,'' he said. ''Anytime we step on the field, we can always improve. You're going to be hit for 60 minutes when you play us. We're going to have fun and smile.''
Lewis, the Defensive Player of the Year, glowed as he talked about the game.
''I'm 25 and I'm a world champion,'' he said. ''There is no feeling like this. My body is tingling. We're world champions, anyway you look at it.
''If you can't put us down as the greatest defense in history now, we'll never be. We dominated everybody we played.''
Lewis said the Ravens' defense took the fire out of the Giants.
''When you've got a buzzsaw from all different directions coming at you, it's a different ballgame,'' he said.
All week long, the buzzsaw seemed trained on Lewis.
He gave his team a rallying point, sitting through a tough, weeklong grilling from the media after being on trial in the murder of two men in Atlanta following last year's Super Bowl. He was often sullen, never repentant.
Lewis came to Tampa, hoping to talk football, preferring to discuss a dominant Baltimore defense that had set an NFL record for a 16-game season by allowing only 165 points and then continued that in the playoffs by surrendering only one touchdown and 16 points in three games.
He would have liked to talk about 12 tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown in the divisional playoff against Tennessee, or seven tackles and a fumble recovery in the AFC championship game against Oakland.
Instead, he was cross-examined over and over about his trial. Coach Brian Billick and his players tried to protect the big linebacker, tried to turn the questioning away from the Atlanta affair.
The trial was over, they said. Lewis had been acquitted, pleading guilty to a lesser charge. He had been fined $250,000 by the league, a punishment he has appealed. Now, move on and leave the man alone.
Still, the interrogation continued, and Lewis -- a floppy hat pulled down tight over his forehead -- sat through them.
On Sunday, there were no more questions, just a football game to be played. And Lewis has never needed any protection there.
''There is no emotion like this,'' he said, ''right now, to be here after being where I was last year.''
He is the seventh defensive player and first middle linebacker picked as Super Bowl MVP. The previous defensive winners were Chuck Howley, Jake Scott, Randy White and Harvey Martin, who shared the award, Richard Dent and Larry Brown.
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