Tomorrow, two former Ravens, Shannon Sharpe and Deion Sanders, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Shannon, who played for us in 2000 and 2001, helped us to the Super Bowl XXXV championship and a return to the playoffs the following season. "Prime," as his teammates called Sanders, was with us in 2004 and '05, when we produced 9-7 and 6-10 records.
We caught Deion at the end of his career, but he showed flashes of his legendary talent often enough to help our defense stay elite. Sharpe, at times, carried our offense, especially during our Super Bowl run. Who can forget the tipped touchdown pass he caught off Jamal Lewis' shoulder in the first playoff victory over his former team, Denver. Or, how about the low throw he grabbed in the AFC Championship at Oakland when he galloped 96 yards for the touchdown.
Our Hall of Famer, Ozzie Newsome, will be in Canton tomorrow to congratulate these two champions. "What they did on the field for us is memorable. What they did off the field was important, too," Newsome said. "Deion is an electric personality, and he showed our young guys that if they worked hard, they could play in the league a long, long time. Shannon is a special person, who elevated everyone around him. The way he worked in the weight room, the way he ate, the enthusiasm he brought to practice and games. It's hard to measure how much that meant to us, but it was hugely significant."
SHARPE, THE ENTERTAINER
Sharpe might be the most entertaining player the Ravens have ever had on the roster. He's smart, funny and a joy to be around. We could have charged big dollars to watch him on our charter flights following road victories. He knows his football history, and he loved to argue, smiling all the time.
Shannon would come to the seats where Ozzie, James Harris, our then director of pro personnel, and Pat Moriarty, our VP of Football Operations, were seated. "Who's the best football player of all time?" Shannon would start.
Someone would pop up: "Jim Brown, without a doubt."
"How could you say Jim Brown is the greatest player of all time? The man only played nine years and won just one championship," Shannon retorted.
"Joe Montana," another would claim.
"C'mon, the 49ers let him go and won the championship with Steve Young. But, you're getting closer."
Then Shannon would make his proclamation: "Jerry Rice is the greatest of all time, period. No one will ever touch his numbers, and he made Montana and Young better. He has twice as many catches as I do, and I have a lot. By the way Ozzie, I'm 16 (catches) behind you, and I figure I'll pass you in four weeks. So, get your suit ready. Come down on the field and say: 'Way to go Shannon. You now have the most catches by any tight end in history.'"
I remember Ozzie smiling and saying something like: "I got you, but that guy in Kansas City (Tony Gonzalez) is going to pass both of us."
"Gonzalez!" Sharpe would exclaim. "Don't talk about Tony until he wins a playoff game." (And, as Sharpe recently reminded me: "He still hasn't won a playoff game – not in Kansas City and not in Atlanta.")
Of course, Hall of Famer Rod Woodson and sure Hall of Famer Ray Lewis were also on those 2000-01 teams with Sharpe. What fascinated me was how the three hung out together. I remember watching this impressive trio lift weights during training camp at McDaniel College. The workouts were fiercely difficult, and you had to admire the hard work and the pressure they put on each other to complete each set. Sharpe and Lewis are big men compared to the slender Woodson, who would struggle to complete some of the lifting, even at lesser weights.
"C'mon you old man," Sharpe would yell. "We're not even half way done." After finishing a set, Woodson would have a look of satisfaction. "You're not finished," Shannon would state. "I am, too. I did 10." Young Ray would smile and say: "You did. But, we did 15. You have five more."
Woodson, arms shaking, would complete the five. Then, he'd tell his buddies: "You could never do my offseason workout." Shannon would come right back and explain why his workouts were harder. "Woody, are you going to tell us again about your sprints, the yoga and stretching. We're lifting weights." And the young "Ray Ray" would just laugh.
PRIMETIME IN THE COLD TUB
Deion was not much of a lifter, and he shied away from some of the post-practice rituals Lewis used. Ray convinced Sanders to join him for some lifting and to get into the cold tub after practices. A number of times I heard Ray tell "'Prime,' you have to get into the cold tub. It takes away the soreness and brings your muscles back."
About midway through the 2004 season, the word was out: Deion was going to the cold tub after practice. I saw the great cornerback's entrance into the therapy area. (Ray was already in the tub.) Sanders had heavy sweats, socks, a stocking cap hat on and towel wrapped around his neck – and he was cradling a cup of hot coffee. "Man, you're crazy 'Prime.' The cold will go right through that," Lewis almost shouted. Within a week, Deion was a cold-tub regular – no longer with the extra clothes.
Good memories of two former Ravens receiving football's highest honor tomorrow. Congratulations, Shannon and Deion. We'll be watching your induction. Thanks what you did for the Ravens!
Talk with you next week.