Byrne Identity: Sharpe Brings Playoff Wisdom to Castle

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Shannon Sharpe, the soon-to-be-Hall of Fame tight end and now CBS-TV analyst, was here yesterday to record a feature with Ray Lewis and Ray Rice. The piece will run this Sunday at 12 in the televised pre-game show prior to our game at New England.

Shannon, who was so instrumental in the Ravens Super Bowl XXXV season in 2000, is one of my all-time favorite players. Sharpe "got it" as a player and he still gets it now. He was one of the smartest, most dedicated players with whom I've had the privilege to work. Plus, he brought humor to the football business every day. Who can forget that great NFL Films clip where Shannon is on the phone on the sideline during a game calling the President and asking for the National Guard? "Mr. President, please send the National Guard, because we're killing the Patriots?"

I remember an interview he did with the Baltimore media on a Wednesday before a big game against the Steelers. A reporter said the Steelers had more "offensive weapons" than the Ravens. "Who do they have? They have a 'bus' (Jerome Bettis) and a Plexiglass," Sharpe answered. Another reporter questioned: "Plexiglass?" "You know," Shannon continued, "the receiver, Plexiglass Burress. He's fragile. He doesn't want any part of our defense." When one of the scribes corrected Shannon and told him the player's name is Plaxico Burress, Shannon smiled and retorted: "You heard me. Plexiglass, and he doesn't like to get hit."

Shannon's humor and willingness to be entertaining sometimes overshadowed what he really was at the time – one of the hardest working and devoted athletes in the game. He worked out constantly, was disciplined in his lifestyle and prepared thoroughly for every game. While we provided lunches for the players every day, Shannon would instead bring his in Tupperware containers. And, it was the same every single day: one piece of broiled chicken, a little bit of white rice and some beans. Every day.

When I would ask Shannon why he did this, he would smile and say: "So, I can have some popcorn when I go to the movies on Friday." (Shannon would go to the movies every Friday during the season. He would sometimes see up to 3 movies in one night – and he would provide recommendations for all of us after. He says he still sees up to 100 movies a year.)

What I also saw when Shannon was a Raven was the bond he had with Rod Woodson and Ray Lewis. The three were inseparable in 2000 and 2001. They ate together, they hung out and they worked in the weight room. I remember the training camp at McDaniel College after we won the Super Bowl. I'd be doing what seemed in comparison to be a baby workout on a stairmaster, while this trio of future Hall of Famers pushed each other through a strenuous lifting regime. In fact, I always felt sorry for Woodson because Ray and Shannon were bigger and stronger and that pair would push Rod to do the same weights. Rod would power his way through the regimen, but his arms and legs would sometimes shake and he'd cry out: "I'm not as big as you guys. I'm a defensive back."

"You've got 4 more (reps)," Shannon would say. Three of the best players ever, pushing each other to higher levels.

(I remember talking with Brian Billick about how close these 3 players were despite the fact that, in football years, Rod was a lot older than Shannon and both were ancient compared to Ray. Brian said: "They're special. They're Hall of Famers. Why do movie stars marry movie stars? Only they understand what they go through.")

Every team that goes to the Super Bowl worries about their players the week leading up to the game. Teams stay in a hotel beginning the Sunday or Monday before the championship. While the days are occupied with practices and meetings, the evenings are free…and some young men have not always behaved during these nights. Not the Ravens. With Shannon, Ray and Rod setting the example, we had a calm, worry-free week. The three never left the hotel, until Rod's family arrived, and he was back soon after. That trio told the entire team: "This could be a once in a lifetime. Don't be the one that lets the team down. This is a business trip. Here's what we're doing every night – staying in the hotel."

Impressive leadership. No doubt.

Ray continues to be a leader for us. In fact, he could be the most influential player in the league. And, who is #52 hanging with these days? The youngest player on the team – 22-year-old Ray Rice. That's the story Shannon came to tell the CBS audience. It's the story of the bond that the 2 Rays have formed. What Rod and Shannon were to Ray Lewis, Ray is now that to Ray Rice.

"What Big Ray is showing Little Ray is how to be a pro…how to be the best you can be. Rice is learning about preparation, technique and the importance of discipline. It's a good story," Sharpe said. "It's like Ray and I have talked about for years. Your true legacy is the relationships you have with your peers and with your family. If you guys are lucky, Ray Rice will take what he is learning from Ray Lewis and pass it on to the next generation of Ravens."

That's pretty cool.

Of course, Shannon showed his humor when he was here. When I told him that all the coaches are saying what a high level Ray Lewis is playing at in his 14th season, Shannon retorted: "Nobody goes undefeated against father time, and I tell Ray that all the time. Even Ray can't do this forever."

Who Will Win?

I asked Shannon what he thought of our chances of beating the Patriots. After he reminded me that Tom Brady has never lost a home playoff game (11-0) and did not lose a home game this season (8-0), Sharpe said: "I think you'll beat them. I think your running game will be the difference. It won't be easy. It will be close, but I think you guys get them this time."

I asked Shannon if he plans to say that on CBS on Sunday and he replied with a laugh: "Yeah, if I don't change my mind."

We're ready. Except for the players on Injured Reserve - and that includes 3 cornerbacks: Samari Rolle, Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb – we are healthy and ready to go. We can do this. We can be the 1st visiting team to beat the Patriots this year, and 1st to beat Bill Belichick in a home playoff game. How great would that be? Let's go beat the Pats.

Talk with you next week.

Kevin

Kevin Byrne is in his 31st NFL season and is the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis , Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.

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