Seven have been down this road before

Sharpe, Coates warn of big-game distractions

January 26, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - Quite awhile back, a Dallas Cowboys running back named Duane Thomas took the ultimate shot at the Super Bowl, asking, "If the Super Bowl is the ultimate game, why do they play it every year?"

Though Thomas' quip might be ineffective as motivational material for either team, there are a number of Ravens players for whom this is not the first Super Bowl trip.

Sam Gash, Rod Woodson, Harry Swayne, Robert Bailey, Shannon Sharpe, Ben Coates and Billy Davis are the Ravens who have played in the big game before.

Each has shown up in at least one of the last five Super Bowls as a member of another team. Most have won. Some played central roles in helping their teams get to this stage, while others played without glory and a few - such as Gash and Woodson - had injuries that defined their experience.

"I've only had one Super Bowl experience, and I was hurt," said Gash, a ninth-year fullback who had a knee injury and couldn't play for the New England Patriots in a loss to Green Bay in the 31st Super Bowl. "It's different to be an actual part."

Woodson, a 14th-year safety, appeared in Super Bowl XXX with the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Dallas Cowboys. It was a close game, mainly decided by a couple of interceptions that Neil O'Donnell threw to Dallas cornerback Larry Brown.

But Woodson, who suffered a knee injury in the opening game that season, played sparingly in the Super Bowl. He came close again in 1998, his only season with San Francisco. He started for the 49ers in their NFC championship game loss to Green Bay and signed with the Ravens a month later.

"I really get to play this time," Woodson said. "I know I'm in all the defensive packages. The only time I'm off the field is when my defense is off the field."

Davis and Bailey were on the opposite sideline from Woodson for Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, Ariz. Both played marginal roles on a Cowboys team that was picking up its third title in four years.

"I was on a great team in Dallas. They were an unbelievable team with unbelievable stars and we had a swagger about us that intimidated a lot of people," said Bailey, who had three tackles against Pittsburgh.

This time, "Our defense is incredible. I thought I was making history then. I know I'm making history now. In years, they're going to be talking about us."

Davis said he likes how this Ravens team has only one player, Ray Lewis, who stands out the way that Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith did during the mid-1990s in Dallas.

During the playoffs, it hasn't been uncommon to see players from reserve defensive end Keith Washington to Lewis make the headline plays.

"You don't have the same star names to fall back on," Davis said. "This has been a total team effort in getting here. There, you knew whose numbers were going to be called. Here, it could be anybody at any time."

Those who have both won and lost Super Bowls have been dispensing guidance to teammates who are newcomers to the event.

Most of the advice deals with trying not to get swept up by everything that surrounds the week before the big game.

Sharpe won two titles with the Denver Broncos and said he's going to concentrate on playing cards and table tennis and might counsel some of his teammates to do the same.

He said he appreciates the approach of coach Brian Billick, who has treated this week like a regular practice week, not instituting a curfew until tomorrow night, in contrast to Denver coach Mike Shanahan, who imposed curfews all the time.

"We just need to stay true to the things that got us here," Sharpe said. "I'm perfectly happy hanging out at the hotel and relaxing."

Coates, once a Pro Bowl pick but now more of a situational tight end, said the Patriots could have been more focused on football before their game with the Packers four years ago.

"A lot of guys were there, hanging out doing things, doing this and doing that," Coates said in a veiled reference to late nights out in New Orleans, that year's Super Bowl site. "We played a game, but it didn't come out the way we wanted it to come out."

Swayne, a right tackle who won two Super Bowl rings with Denver (along with Sharpe), but also lost when he was with San Diego for Super Bowl XXIX, said he has been proferring advice to his teammates since before the playoffs began.

And they don't have to ask.

"I'm offering up that information, anyway. I had a lot of guys on the offensive line who, it was their first time in the playoffs, so I had to let them know how it was going to be."

Being the NFL champion - unlike just getting to a Super Bowl - is one experience Woodson is still curious about, though he can guess what it's like.

"I don't know what it's like to wear a Super Bowl ring, but I know if I get one on my hand, I'll be like, `Ah, this is nice,' " Woodson said. "Shannon tells us all the time. I don't have to ask him."

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