There's never a dull moment with Sharpe

February 19, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

Shannon Sharpe's new jersey had no number.

"That's coming!" Sharpe announced.

But first, he will need the permission of Jermaine Lewis.

"Hopefully, Jermaine, if you're listening, you and your wife can have Rolexes if you give me that 84," Sharpe said.

Lewis wasn't listening, but learned of the offer later.

"I can't take it," he said.

What would he want?

"I don't know. I really couldn't put a price on it."

Wouldn't his wife enjoy a Rolex?

"I can get her one."

Poor Lewis, he has no idea what he's getting into.

Sharpe, 31, is not merely the best tight end in the NFL, but also its most irrepressible star, as intelligent as he is funny, as honest as he is colorful.

Clear the airwaves. Start your tape recorders. The Ravens now boast the league's most talkative player, most talkative coach and most talkative owner.

Sharpe is to trash-talking what Churchill was to speech-making. He once picked up a sideline telephone during a rout in New England and screamed for the National Guard to protect the Patriots. And maybe Lewis has seen the Charles Schwab commercial in which Sharpe taunts Jason Sehorn by saying, "You can't even spell Dow Jones."

Ravens owner Art Modell offered Sharpe No. 83.5 in their initial meeting on Monday, but a future Hall of Famer isn't going to settle for a decimal point on his paycheck or his jersey. You can almost see Sharpe in a practice huddle, turning his back on Lewis and sniffing, "I can't bear to look. You're disgracing my number!"

Lewis had better be ready. Baltimore had better be ready.

No defender can cover Sharpe. And no volume knob can silence him.

In case you missed the city's newest superstar, he arrived at his introductory news conference yesterday with a suit to die for, a girlfriend to die for and a repartee to die for, seemingly ready to take over the town.

"I don't know about all that," Sharpe said. "I think it's Cal Ripken's town."

"But negotiable, right?" Ravens coach Brian Billick asked.

"Negotiable," Sharpe replied.

The room broke up, and the entire city will follow once the tight end formerly known as No. 84 takes center stage.

Sharpe will be a revelation in a town accustomed to superstars either stoic (Ripken, John Unitas) or silent (Eddie Murray, Albert Belle).

And he will transform the Ravens from the moment he steps into their locker room, embracing the spotlight and taking pressure off his teammates.

That's how it was in Denver, where Sharpe was the dominant personality on teams that won back-to-back Super Bowls with John Elway and Terrell Davis.

And that's how it will be in Baltimore, once Sharpe gets comfortable and starts making plays, which should take all of about six seconds.

"I was probably the guy who said all the stuff that everybody wanted to say, but were afraid to say it," Sharpe said of his 10 seasons in Denver.

"I performed well enough on the field that I could get away with a lot of things. That's why I never had a problem with talking. My numbers and what I accomplished on the field spoke for itself."

The only question with the Ravens is whether Sharpe can make himself heard over Billick. Their first meeting lasted 90 minutes, but left Sharpe decidedly unfulfilled.

"I didn't get in but two words," Sharpe said.

At times yesterday, the coach and player practically fought over the microphone. It was Sharpe, though, who coined the catch phrase of the new era: "Let me add to that "

"I told Shannon in my office that we're installing a system that puts oxygen into the room," Billick said. "Between Shannon and I, we can gobble it up pretty quick."

Throw Modell into the mix -- the owner was not present yesterday -- and you've got a threesome that could match up with Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus and Howard Stern.

Several of Sharpe's best lines yesterday came at the expense of organizational straight man Ozzie Newsome -- Sharpe is within 110 receptions and 997 receiving yards of Newsome's NFL records for a tight end.

"I've always admired Ozzie," Sharpe said. "Growing up, I wanted to be Ozzie Newsome. I can't think of a better place to come. I can see the guy every single day. And he can see me every single day as I break his records."

When Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of personnel, ducked a question about the salary cap, Sharpe interjected, "They saved some money on that dinner," referring to his initial meeting with Newsome at an Owings Mills restaurant.

"It was Valentine's Day," Newsome protested. "It was the only place we could get in."

On and on it went, but no one should be fooled: Sharpe's enthusiasm is simply a reflection of his love and passion for the game. He talked about not just playing hurt, but putting up numbers while hurt. He talked about holding teammates to high standards, saying, "I never ask more than I'm willing to give."

Newsome's records?

"I told Ozzie, `I want to help you win more than anything. But you have to help me get something.' I said, `I want to break your records, and I want you to be there when I do.'

"I was honest. I told Brian the same thing. I think they can appreciate my honesty. A lot of guys would have come in and said, `I want to help you win. What about the records? Ah, you know, if I get it ' Naw, I'm too close to say no, forget it."

Lewis' number, Newsome's records, Ripken's city, they will all be his.

Baltimore is going to a sharper image.

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