One of Elvis Grbac's first impressions of the NFL was to expect the exceptional. That came from the San Francisco 49ers he joined as an eighth-round draft choice in 1993.
"I remember when [former coach] George Siefert would come in and say to the team: 'Guys, if we don't win the Super Bowl, it's not going to be a great year," Grbac said. "Most teams are happy to win 10 games, get into the playoffs. But if you get into the mentality that anything less than winning the Super Bowl isn't good enough your level of play gets to that level."
So Grbac knows what he's getting into with the Baltimore Ravens, that few players in the league this season will be under quite so much scrutiny. Ravens officials believe what they did in dumping Trent Dilfer after winning the Super Bowl Jan. 28 was without precedent, that no defending champion in the 35-year history of the affair did not at least start the next season with the quarterback who helped them win it.
"Any time you're an NFL quarterback," Grbac said when the Ravens opened a three-day minicamp here Friday afternoon, "you're on a hot seat. But this might be heightened a bit."
For the Ravens and Grbac, this is a high-risk and high-reward situation, more so for the quarterback. The Ravens take some comfort in their decision now that Dilfer still has not been signed by any of the teams that last season failed to win the NFL's ultimate football prize.
The contract Grbac signed March 6, angering and disappointing his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs, is for five years. But only the $5 million signing bonus and $500,000 salary for this season are guaranteed. There is a club option for the remaining four years, which would be triggered by a $6 million payment March 1, 2002.
Baltimore was cautious with Dilfer because of salary cap concerns and the anticipated development of Chris Redman, the third-round draftee last year who has been given the backup job going into training camp.
"We're not going to bankrupt this team and this organization to solidify the quarterback position," Ravens Coach Brian Billick has said. "It's going to have to fit within the overall structure we have in mind over the next two, three, four years."
Optimism abounds here, even though Grbac has been here learning the Ravens' distinctive terminology for just a few weeks and began working with all his receivers for a couple of practices. Grbac made the Pro Bowl as a replacement for Tennessee's Steve McNair last season after producing career bests in completions (326), attempts (547), yards (4,169) and touchdowns (28).
"He's a very composed guy," said wide receiver Patrick Johnson, who has worked with Grbac during informal sessions. "He knows his stuff and is very confident in what he's doing. I don't think there'll be a problem at all."
Neither does tight end Shannon Sharpe, who figures to be one of Grbac's favorite targets. But he reminds everyone that the Baltimore offense, which went all five games in October last season without scoring a touchdown, finally showed some punch when Dilfer replaced Tony Banks.
"Elvis is a tremendous talent," Sharpe said, "but unless we [win the Super Bowl] the change didn't work."
Dilfer won 11 of his 12 starts for the Ravens last year, but was not close to as consistent as the team wanted. In his first five winning starts, he completed 65.2 percent of his passes and had 11 touchdowns to six interceptions. In his other seven starts, he completed 48.3 percent of his passes, had four touchdowns and five interceptions. His postseason completion percentage was 47.9.
Grbac has used his ability to twice sign lucrative free agent deals, the first with the Chiefs after playing so well in 1995 and '96 as the backup to Steve Young and the starter for a total of nine games when Young was hurt.
The Chiefs thought Grbac should have been more upfront with them before bolting for the Ravens. They were negotiating a contract with a deadline of March 2, after which Grbac either got a $10 million bonus or became a free agent. New coach Dick Vermeil was especially bitter.
"Elvis did not believe he had a great relationship with this football team, which I know to be true," Vermeil told ESPN's Chris Mortensen. "But it was amendable. Plus, some of those guys are gone now. . . . We could have worked [a new contract] out, but we didn't find out until [the last minute] that he never wanted to work it out."
Grbac responded during an interview before the minicamp began.
"You go guy for guy [on the Chiefs], offensively and defensively, the guys I played with will say we had a great relationship," he said. "For Coach Vermeil to say that, having never been around me and never been around the team. . . . I think it comes down to his disappointment in me not being there.
"It was kind of last minute [when agent Jim Steiner told the Chiefs Grbac wanted out] . . . But I didn't make my decision until the last second. I knew what I had in Kansas City. Did I want to go back to rebuilding? Or did I want to get myself out in the market and see what happens?
"I think you have to take that chance. And that chance paid off for me."
The possibilities for the Ravens are enormous, with Grbac hopeful that at age 30 he has five or so very productive years. He and everyone else demands immediate results.
"What we did last year," said Sharpe, "won't be good enough to get it done this year. But all the defense has to do is maintain, just stay where it was, and let the offense catch up with it. Then we'll be [headed for the Super Bowl] to New Orleans."