Record, routine bond two tight ends

Ravens' Sharpe nears Newsome catch mark

Football

November 11, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

They changed the game of football forever by remaining set in their ways.

Ozzie Newsome and Shannon Sharpe share the same legacy, the same regimented work ethic. Altering their schedule as often as they would drop a pass, they redefined the conventional thinking of tight ends by raising the standard for their generation.

With Sharpe needing three more catches to overtake Newsome as the NFL's career leader in receptions at the position, the torch will likely be passed tomorrow night, but that common fire will always link them.

Newsome, now the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations, thought he was disciplined until a dinner conversation with Sharpe two years ago when he was in the midst of luring him as a free agent.

Sharpe described in detail how he eats the same meals every day to maintain his daily calorie intake, how he arranges everything in his refrigerator and his locker so that the labels face out, and how he rides a stationary bike before going to the practice facility.

"Sometimes people say I'm insane, but I've heard insanity is doing something over and over again and hoping for a different result," Sharpe said. "I do the same thing over and over again, and hoping I'm going to get the same result that I've gotten for the past 12 years.

"In a sense, I guess that I am insane. The one thing that my grandfather and grandmother instilled in me is hard work and discipline. She said that you can't have one without the other."

Newsome lived by the same code as a player with the Cleveland Browns from 1978 to 1990.

Before practice, he rode a bike around the practice complex. If he hadn't caught 50 passes by the end of practice, he stayed afterward until he reached that number. And before games, he would do 200 sit-ups in the locker room.

Even today as an NFL executive, he adheres to a ritual. In the morning, he talks with owner Art Modell at 8 o'clock and then watches game film. In the afternoon, he takes a five-mile run at noon and then watches practice. And like clockwork, he gets his hair cut on Fridays at 3:30 p.m.

"I'm not to the point where Shannon is," said Newsome, shaking his head. "I'm not as obsessed with it."

As players, they are bonded by the same identity - as college wide receivers that retooled the position of NFL tight end. Instead of run blockers or secondary options in the short passing game, they proved that tight ends could be dangerous downfield threats.

When Newsome hit the league, he became a mismatch for defenses that lined up slow, bulky linebackers against him and spurred the invention of nickel defenses (taking out a linebacker and adding a fifth defensive back).

When Sharpe became a fixture in the Denver Broncos' offense by 1992, he raced past linebackers and overpowered safeties to cause defenses to cover him with cornerbacks.

"There's not been a player thus far that plays the game as close to the way I played it as Shannon," Newsome said. "His abilities mirror the things that I could do. That's fun. When I see Shannon and we have conversations, there is such a connection between the two of us."

That connection dates back to the fifth game of the 1990 season, when the Browns played the Broncos. It was the final season for Newsome and the rookie year for Sharpe.

In pre-game warm-ups, Sharpe got on the field early just to see Newsome walk out of the tunnel before approaching him.

"Still at that point," Newsome said, "it was more of me listening than talking."

Sharpe, a long-shot seventh-round pick and special teams player at that time, calls the brief meeting one of the biggest thrills of his early career.

"When I was playing with cousins and my brother in the yard, I wanted to be Ozzie Newsome," Sharpe said. "I was a little guy catching passes, and who would have thought that I would be on the cusp of breaking his record?"

The loquacious Sharpe constantly reminds the reserved Newsome of that fact every day. After falling short of Newsome's record on Sunday, Sharpe told Newsome, "You live for one more week."

Newsome, whose record of 662 catches for a tight end has stood 11 years, understands that his mark pays dividends for his team now.

"You get to a point in a player's career - I went through it and Shannon is going through it - you need certain carrots to chase after," Newsome said. "He came back in phenomenal shape this year and I think that was part of the motivation for him doing it."

If Sharpe does break the record tomorrow at Tennessee's hostile Adelphia Coliseum, he can't predict what reaction he'll get.

But he knows that he'll relish his time in the spotlight with his idol and reflect on the hard work that brought him there.

"When it's all said and done, I'll look back at it and say, `I have gotten everything out of my God-given ability,' " said Sharpe, whose 41 catches this season leads the Ravens as well as all NFL tight ends. "There's nothing else I would have done differently or could have done to get another catch, another touchdown, another yard out of my ability."

Next for Ravens, Opponent: Tennessee Titans

Site: Adelphia Coliseum, Nashville, Tenn.

When: Tomorrow, 9 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 2

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