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Niners QB Dilfer regrets harsh words against Ravens' Billick

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Trent Dilfer is tired of carrying the grudge he has held against Brian Billick for nearly seven years.

Besides, the San Francisco 49ers' new starting quarterback will have a bigger burden on his shoulders this weekend.

Dilfer plans to seek out Billick before Sunday's game at Candlestick Park to clear the air after years of tension between the Baltimore Ravens coach and the quarterback who led them to their only championship, only to be dumped a few months later.

"He's been the man, I've been the child, and it's about time I fixed that," Dilfer said Wednesday.

Though Dilfer spent just one season in Baltimore, his success there is the highlight of his 14-year career. His unceremonious exit seems to be his biggest regret.

Dilfer went 11-1 as a starter for Baltimore, culminating in a Super Bowl victory in January 2001, but wasn't offered a new contract after the season. Billick decided to go with Elvis Grbac, and Dilfer became the first starting quarterback from a Super Bowl champion who didn't come back in that role the following year.

Dilfer felt disrespected when Billick didn't contact him personally after the Ravens dropped him, and that hurt has festered. The quarterback has lobbed several verbal shots at the coach since then, culminating in a critical interview in the Baltimore Sun in February.

"I regret many of the things I said in February," Dilfer said. "What I do stand by is the fact that I'm heartbroken that I didn't get the chance to repeat and go through the struggles of what that entails. Where I've been wrong ... is I haven't been able to let it go.

"I feel very hypocritical," Dilfer said, "because I'm dealing with my sixth grader every day and talking to her about relationships and how to handle these relationships, and yet I'm a 35-year-old man and I can't let something go in the past."

Billick has resisted the urge to snipe back at the well-traveled quarterback, mostly praising Dilfer's game-management skills and selflessness in response to innumerable questions about the rift over the years. While preparing his vaunted defense to take on the 49ers' struggling offense, Billick had only good memories of Dilfer's work for him.

"There is a huge affection for Trent and what he represented when he was here," Billick said. "I know Trent has certain feelings about me, probably more than the organization, which is OK. ... If that's the way of keeping it compartmentalized for him, of keeping the affection he has for the people here in Baltimore and the organization, I certainly understand it."

Dilfer bounced to Seattle and Cleveland before coming back home to Northern California last season, embracing his role as Alex Smith's mentor.

Dilfer is now Smith's successor while the 49ers wait to see how long Smith's separated shoulder will keep him out of action. A routine analysis of Smith's MRI exam by Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday confirmed the team's original diagnosis of a separated shoulder that won't require surgery.

Though Dilfer's competitive streak led to bad feelings in previous stops, he has embraced a supporting role in San Francisco -- even though he infamously got two taunting penalties in the same preseason game last year. Until Smith was injured on the third play of last week's game against Seattle, Dilfer still hadn't taken a regular-season snap for the 49ers.

Dilfer went 12-for-33 for 128 yards with two interceptions against the Seahawks. He'll get his first start since 2005 against Baltimore, with Shaun Hill as his backup. Former Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson, now a running back and kick returner for the Niners, is likely the third man in line if San Francisco doesn't sign a veteran QB before Sunday.

Sunday's game won't be Dilfer's first chance to face Billick's squad since his departure, but the quarterback is 0-2 against Baltimore. He got two overtime snaps in Seattle's loss to the Ravens in 2003, then made three turnovers and got sacked four times in Cleveland's visit to Baltimore in 2005.

But if Dilfer can direct a strong performance at Candlestick Park, he might finally be able to forget all about the opportunity Billick wouldn't give him.

"It's not my place to question the decision any more," Dilfer said. "I can disagree with it, but I don't want to hold the bitterness anymore."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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