In 1st place, Sharpe returns to 2nd home

Now a visitor to Baltimore with 3-0 Broncos, star set to face friend R. Lewis

September 27, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Monday Night Football has turned into a family feud this week.

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Denver Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe are looking to have the last say in what has become a fun, yet fierce rivalry. After a week's worth of trash talking over the phone, their paths will cross frequently at Ravens Stadium, where they will go helmet-to-helmet and word-for-word.

"When you teach your younger pupil all of your moves, then I tend to have the edge right now," Lewis said. "I think I have a little more energy. I think he has a little more wisdom because he's been in the game longer. But this week, me and him one-on-one? I'll probably win the battle."

One of 14 players let go during the Ravens' offseason salary cap purge, Sharpe makes his return to Baltimore, where Lewis likely will be the first to welcome him back. Their friendship dates to a Super Bowl party in 1999, when Sharpe ran into Lewis and asked him to call team officials to help complete a deal with the Ravens.

But the foundation of their relationship was cemented soon after when Lewis leaned on Sharpe during his murder trial. Sharpe lifted weights with Lewis on a daily basis and even gave Lewis keys to his Atlanta home.

Although there is an age difference of seven years, they were nearly inseparable as teammates and keep connected with three to four phone calls a week. But their recent conversations have had an extra spark.

"He thinks they're going to win, and I think we're going to win," Sharpe said. "Somebody is going to be right. I just hope - as always - I'm right and he's wrong."

When told that Lewis has planned some surprises for Monday, Sharpe said, "That means that he has the tickets that I requested."

While Sharpe's heart always stayed in Denver, he views the Ravens as his second home. In two years with the Ravens, he won his third Super Bowl, started a lasting friendship with Lewis and proved that he was more than just a product of the Broncos' system.

Even his release from the Ravens will be remembered fondly. Sharpe said there could be no bitterness after receiving a card from Ravens owner Art Modell, who thanked him for his efforts with the Ravens and wrote that Sharpe deserved to finish his career back with the Broncos.

"That is truly a family atmosphere," Sharpe said, "and I loved my time there."

Insightful rather than insulting, Sharpe refused to second-guess Ravens coach Brian Billick when asked if the team could have fared better if quarterback Elvis Grbac had been benched last season.

"I really don't know," Sharpe said. "I cannot sit here and say with certainty that if Elvis had not been the quarterback, things would have turned out differently. That would be merely speculation. Brian had an obligation to us as a team to put the best guy on the field. It's kind of hard to question a guy who's won a Super Bowl. That wasn't my call."

Sharpe, who challenged Grbac midway through last season, was then asked if the players had lost faith in Grbac.

After pausing for five seconds, Sharpe said, "Then again, that would be speculation on my part. I know I didn't. You just watched the guy in practice and watched how he threw the football. It's hard for me to believe - and still is - that the production that we got out of the position was not better than what it was for the simple fact that he knew so much and he was so flawless in practice."

Despite his short stay with the Ravens, Sharpe will be regarded as the team's best big-play receiver. Whether it was the game-winning touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars early in the 2000 season or the 96-yard score in the AFC championship game against the Oakland Raiders, Sharpe delivered when the Ravens needed him most.

Besides his clutch play, the Ravens truly miss his voice in the locker room.

"Obviously, as a team and organization we miss his leadership in the locker room," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. "I'll miss his banter."

Said Billick: "The two years I spent with Shannon I know right now are two of the best and the most rewarding years I've ever had. I'm going to remember Shannon as fondly as any player I've ever had."

But Sharpe's reunion with Lewis may seem like tough love at times.

"He's trying to go out with a bang and I am, too," Lewis said. "But at the end, we'll still give each other that same hug and wish each other the best after that."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Denver Broncos

Site: Ravens Stadium

When: Monday, 9 p.m.

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

Line: Broncos by 7

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