ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 is Bullies of Baltimore, telling the story of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and their dominant defense.
The film, created in cooperation with NFL Films, is carried by oodles of archival footage and interviews with a number of media-savvy personalities.
Various members of the team and coaching staff reunited at an event in Baltimore last May, and their panel discussion makes up a chunk of the doc. Interviews with those who were part of the panel are also spliced throughout the feature, and many of those who shine are quite media-friendly. Shannon Sharpe is a standout (as you’d expect), as is the late Tony Siragusa. But the real highlight is Brian Billick, whose candor and incredible memory add so much to Bullies of Baltimore. He’s a star in this, showing why he was valued by networks following his coaching career.
With NFL Films on board with this project, the use of archival footage is top-notch. Every game isn’t recapped, but the key games are, specifically the team’s bitter, hard-hitting three games with the Tennessee Titans. Locker room footage from those three matchups adds another layer of emotion to the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the Titans-Ravens rivalry in the AFC Central days.
There are also plenty of clips from practice, the Hard Knocks season that preceded the Super Bowl win, and various NFL broadcasts. There are plenty of familiar faces and voices dotted throughout (Greg Gumbel, Kevin Harlan, Gus Johnson, Daryl Johnston, Steve Young, etc), but it’s still jarring to see some of the broadcasters at work more than 20 years ago. Some of the highlights include a young Ian Eagle working with Mark May (!), Jim Nantz hosting The NFL Today, and Troy Aikman in his first year as a broadcaster (in one of the clips after the Super Bowl victory).
The Ray Lewis talking head interviews were a big disappointment (much like his career as an analyst), as he really didn’t add much to the film despite being the best player on the team. The Lewis clips lack much insight, and he’s featured far less than Billick, Sharpe, and Siragusa, and for good reason.
I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of interviews featuring people who weren’t at the reunion event last May. An interview with benched quarterback Tony Banks could have added a lot, as could have interviews with opponents and broadcasters. Unfortunately, they were absent.
On a down note, the reunion came just a month before the passing of Siragusa, and the interactions he has with his teammates take on a sad tone, knowing he’ll never reflect on the Super Bowl win with them again. The film is bookended with the announcement of Siragusa’s death and clips of him (from years ago) talking about his funeral, tombstone, and epitaph. It’s an emotional end to Bullies of Baltimore, which is dedicated to Siragusa.
Overall, I’d compare this edition of 30 for 30 to another film spotlighting an elite team that talked a lot of shit and backed it up: The U. It checks a lot of boxes in what we look for in 30 for 30, and will appeal to both Ravens fans (of course) and general football fans. But man, if you’re a Steelers fan, a Titans fan, a Browns fan….or hell, even a Giants fan, you’re probably going to want to skip this.
Bullies of Baltimore premieres on Sunday, February 5th at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN, and can be streamed on ESPN+.