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For Ravens, Black Hole will always hold special place (and catch) in NFL history

The NFL is leaving Oakland once again, but the Baltimore Ravens will always remember the Black Hole there fondly.

On Jan. 14, 2001, the Ravens reached the first Super Bowl in franchise history by beating the Oakland Raiders, 16-3, at Network Associates Coliseum. Baltimore's victory in the AFC Championship Game was jumpstarted by what remains the longest reception in NFL postseason history.

Long before the Ravens had the Mile High Miracle, there was Shannon Sharpe's remarkable 96-yard catch. Somehow and someway, Baltimore's only touchdown that game came from a 32-year-old tight end who outran the Raiders for 90 yards.

If that wasn't surreal enough, teammates later said Sharpe had predicted the historic catch. In a scoreless game, the Ravens took the field, and Sharpe told his teammates in the huddle, "We're going to be on 'SportsCenter' tonight. You all just watch."

Three plays later, on a third-and-18 at his own 4-yard-line with the rowdy Raiders crowd screaming in his ear, Sharpe caught a short pass on a slant, slipped out of a tackle and scored what would be the game’s only touchdown.

"Great players can always back up their talk,” quarterback Trent Dilfer said.

The key to the play, which was called “Rip Double Slant,” was that it caught the Raiders blitzing. Sharpe caught the pass from Dilfer at the 10-yard line, eluded strong safety Marquez Pope and raced to the end zone.

"I was trying to find the Jumbotron so I could see where guys are coming from. But it was in the corner, and I couldn't see it, so I just kept running and looking back," Sharpe said of his only reception in the game. "[Ravens receiver] Patrick Johnson scared me because he almost tripped me twice."

Flanked by Johnson, Sharpe stayed a couple paces ahead of his closest pursuers, free safety Anthony Dorsett and cornerback Eric Allen. Dorsett made a desperate dive inside the 5-yard line but couldn't stop Sharpe.

"I consider myself pretty fast, but it's like, I'm slow. I'm taking a long time to get to the end zone,'" Sharpe said. "I didn't realize it was that far. It seemed like I'd never get to the end zone."

That playoff game in Oakland was a painful one for Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, too. Tony Siragusa, known as a run-stuffer throughout his career, took out Gannon by driving him into the turf and separating his left shoulder. The All-Pro quarterback was never the same.

“I saw Rich’s eyes roll back,” Siragusa said. “He got every pound of my fat ass on him.”

As for the Raiders now, owner Mark Davis said the plan is to play in Oakland for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, so the Ravens will take the field in Oakland for at least one more game. Baltimore is scheduled to play in Oakland this upcoming season.

The Ravens' first game as a franchise came against the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 1, 1996, when Baltimore won 19-14. In January 2010, the Ravens clinched a playoff berth in Oakland as Willis McGahee scored three touchdowns.

Still, the most special memory for the Ravens was an improbable reception that has topped the NFL record books for the past 16 years.