Sharpe keeps his word

Ravens tight end backs up big talk with big plays to lead rise

He's 34% of playoff offense

Fassel first unleashed receiver in Denver

he reminds Billick of Carter

January 24, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - When Shannon Sharpe talks, the Ravens listen ... and now believe.

The veteran tight end with loose lips has complemented his big mouth with big plays, carrying the Ravens offensively to the Super Bowl. In the playoffs, Sharpe has caught five passes for 225 yards, which accounts for 34 percent of the Ravens' offense.

But it's his timing that adds the magical touch.

Before a Ravens drive in the AFC championship game, Sharpe told his teammates in the huddle, "We're going to be on `SportsCenter' tonight. You all just watch." Three plays later, Sharpe caught a short pass on a slant, slipped out of a tackle and scored the game-turning, 96-yard touchdown.

"Great players can always back up their talk and he has," quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "He has been our big-play guy. He has been a guy that in a difficult situation when things haven't gone well, he has asked for the ball and delivered. You can't ask for much more than that."

It wasn't the first time that Sharpe followed through on a guarantee.

In the Ravens' 39-36 comeback victory over Jacksonville in Week 2, Sharpe promised his teammates that they were going to win before their final possession started. He eventually pulled in the game-winning, 29-yard pass from Tony Banks with 41 seconds left in the game.

"I know that guys look to me for that kind of leadership," Sharpe said. "Guys like that confidence. They believe that and I try to deliver."

Sharpe is the self-described CEO of trash-talking.

But in yesterday's media day at Raymond James Stadium, Sharpe was unusually restrained. He didn't start any verbal warfare with the New York Giants, complimenting them every time.

Sharpe, though, opened up when the talk centered on how many people have wanted to shut him up.

"In 11 years, a lot of them," Sharpe said. "But do you know how many people have actually done that? My mom and grandma."

What about his brother, former NFL wide receiver Sterling?

"No. I'm better looking, I've got more rings and I've got more money," Sharpe said of the former Green Bay wide receiver who is now an ESPN analyst. "They want to shut me up, but I get out there on the field and they can't. So I guess I get to keep on talking."

The first coach to allow Sharpe to back up his talk was Giants coach Jim Fassel, who was Denver's offensive coordinator in 1993 and 1994. In Fassel's first season there, Sharpe caught 81 passes, a 28-reception improvement from the previous year.

Instead of keeping Sharpe in tight, Fassel would put him in motion and in the slot, taking advantage of his speed.

"He really put me on the map," Sharpe said. "I respect him because he allowed me to showcase my abilities."

And Fassel isn't shocked by Sharpe's recent run of big plays.

"He's maybe one of the smartest football players I've ever been around," Fassel said. "He was a guy that when it was third-and-six, fourth quarter, game on the line, if we were driving for a winning touchdown, I was looking at my play sheet to call a Shannon Sharpe-type of play.

"He was a go-to guy, a guy who challenged people, a guy who was funny. He kept the thing lively. He gave the rest of the team, especially on offense, a feeling of command, of presence."

In Ravens coach Brian Billick's nine years in the NFL, he had only met one player - Minnesota receiver Cris Carter - who delivered repeatedly in clutch situations. After watching Sharpe make a catch of more than 50 yards each week in the playoffs, Billick has found another in that class.

It's not surprising considering Sharpe's postseason resume. He's helped capture two of the past three Super Bowl titles, winning his past 10 playoff games.

"That's where the elite player steps up," Billick said. "That's where the Hall of Famer steps up. Clearly, that is what we expected when we brought Shannon in here. There are only a handful of guys in their heart of hearts, deep in the soul that when the game is on the line, say give me the ball."

So when the Ravens enter the huddle in the Super Bowl, they'll be listening to Dilfer but they'll be waiting to hear from Sharpe.

"It's just one thing to be a guy who talks a lot," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "But if you go out and back it up, all of a sudden you become a hero to everyone around you. And that's the status he's got here. He's a born leader that everyone looks up to on offense."

Playoff playmaker

Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe has provided the big offensive play in each of the team's three postseason victories.

Opponent ......Round .....Rec.....Yds....Avg.....TD ............Skinny

Denver ......Wild card ....3.......73 ...24.3 .....1 ...........Caught a

........................................................... twice-deflected ball

........................................................... and went 58 yards

........................................................... down the sideline to

........................................................... give the Ravens a

.............................................................14-3 lead.

Tennessee .....Divisional....1 ......56....56.0 ......0.....Was left uncovered

.............................................................. on the sideline;

............................................................. reception set up

..............................................................touchdown that tied

............................................................. game at 7-7.

Oakland ......AFC champ. .1 ......96 ...96.0 ......1 .....Caught a quick

..............................................................slant from Trent

............................................................. Dilfer and went 96

............................................................. yards for the first

............................................................. score of the game.

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