The Giants Sunday matchup with the Ravens presents the opportunity to reflect on Super Bowl XXXV, that repressed moment in Giants history when a feel-good season was marred by a humiliating loss.

“A loss” is a severe understatement.  This was a beating.  After the game, the Giants – a franchise known for its toughness and physicality – looked like victims of a violent crime.

Before that traumatic night in Tampa, things had been going so well.  Somewhat implausibly, the Giants had managed a 12-4 record and the top seed in the playoffs in a weak NFC, which they rolled through in spectacular fashion to earn a place in the Big Game.  It was a magical run that, even at the time, seemed a little too good to be true.

And it was.  I will never forget the precise moment when I realized this: It was during the pre-game introductions to the starting lineups, after every Ravens defensive player had been introduced except one.  And then they called Ray Lewis’ name, and he emerged from the tunnel and did the most intimidating thing I’ve ever seen.

Many people are familiar with Ray Lewis’ dance, those spastic contortions he does during pregame intros.  I was too, but until then, I always thought of the dance as goofy and even endearing.  But I had been wrong: As I realized now, it was downright threatening.

Because in this dance was everything the Ravens were and the Giants weren’t: explosive, violent, and brimming with the fury of having been overlooked.  The Giants were a nice team and a good story, but the Ravens were bad, both in the 1980s sense of the word and in their intentions.  The Ravens were the villains, and they had the confidence to relish the role.

The dance also put into stark clarity that the Giants would have to reckon with Ray Lewis, who not even a year before had been charged with murder.  He was acquitted, of course, and now, eight years later, his image has been fully redeemed.  But at the time, it didn’t seem out of the question that the middle linebacker staring across the line of scrimmage was literally a killer.

Before that moment, the Ravens had never scared me.  Going into the game, I was confident about the Giants prospects, reasoning that while both teams had good defenses, the Giants’ had a good offense while the Ravens didn’t.  The Giants would win, I figured, because their advantage on offense was bigger than the Ravens’ advantage on defense.

But as boos from the pro-Giants crowd showered him, Lewis made it clear who the star of this evening was going to be.  I realized then that I had underestimated how ferocious he and his fellow Ravens defenders were.

And after Baltimore’s nondescript offense capitalized on a Giants blown coverage for an early touchdown, Lewis made what became the signature play of that Super Bowl in my mind:

The Giants had 2nd and 10 from their own 16 yard-line, having mustered just one first down on their first three series.  But when Tiki Barber took a handoff for a sweep to the left edge with a cavalcade of blockers and a lot of green space ahead of him, it looked like the Giants might have a chance.

But just as he was about to turn the corner for the Giants first big gain of the day, Lewis emerged to drag Tiki down from behind like a lion taking down a gazelle.

The Giants had no chance.  Tiki was a good player, but Lewis was a force of nature.