Sanders: `Never say never'

He will likely decide within 2 weeks about comeback with Ravens

August 17, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

While the hype for Friday's preseason game will focus on Ray Lewis' failed recruitment of Terrell Owens, the Ravens' middle linebacker is waiting to see if he'll have more success bringing in another Pro Bowl player.

Deion Sanders, one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history, confirmed he is considering coming out of retirement to play for the Ravens after weeks of persuasive talks with Lewis and cornerback Corey Fuller.

A decision from the seven-time Pro Bowl defender is expected within a couple of weeks, a league source said.

Sanders, who coined the nickname, "Prime Time," would take a more low-key role as the Ravens' nickel back, coming in as the fifth defensive back on passing situations.

"I never say never," Sanders told The Sun in a phone interview while school shopping with his children outside of Dallas. "It would be a wonderful thing if I got the opportunity to play."

According to a source close to Sanders, he still has "blazing" speed but wants to test his conditioning over the next two weeks before deciding whether to return.

Sanders, 37, who has been out of football for three seasons, will only come back if he can prove he can perform at a level consistent with what he has come to expect out of himself, the source added.

If he chooses to play for a 13th NFL season, the Ravens would be free to sign him without having to give any compensation to the San Diego Chargers, who claimed him off waivers in 2002. Sanders is now an unrestricted free agent, according to NFL spokesman Steve Alic.

Ravens officials indicated that Sanders' age - he would be the oldest player on the team - would not be a concern.

"I, like a lot of fans, had the mentality that players should get out before your time is up, but I've changed," said Billick, who noted being influenced by his experience with veterans such as Cris Carter, Warren Moon, Rod Woodson, Tony Siragusa and Shannon Sharpe. "If you got a love for the game, play until they push you out."

The Ravens have been trying to pull Sanders in since the start of training camp.

When nickel back Dale Carter was lost for the season with a blood clot in his lung, Lewis and Fuller both contacted Sanders, a long-time friend, about addressing the defense's biggest need.

Sanders initially declined, but Lewis and Fuller were persistent.

"His little brothers, Corey and Ray, have talked to him about it so much that they have put it on his mind," said Eugene Parker, Sanders' agent.

Lewis downplayed any influence on Sanders.

"I talk to my big brother every day," Lewis said. "He's retired right now. If he wants to come play, he'll come play."

The biggest enticements to play for the Ravens are: another chance at a Super Bowl and another appearance in the spotlight. Sanders lost both of his television jobs earlier this year.

Another factor could be to fix a sour ending to a likely Hall of Fame career. His final season (2000 with the Washington Redskins) was admittedly a below average one by his standards.

Fuller, who likely would lose his nickel back job if Sanders joined the Ravens said, "I definitely encourage him. As a great player, I don't think he went out the way he wanted to go out. I doubt that he will come back but nothing would surprise me with Deion."

In another surprising development, Lewis extended good will - instead of warnings - to Owens.

It was only five months ago when the Philadelphia receiver successfully fought his trade from the San Francisco 49ers to the Ravens, rebuking Lewis' public attempt at the Pro Bowl to lure him.

Lewis was so angry that he warned Owens not to cross the middle of the Ravens' defense. Owens responded by saying Lewis wasn't the hardest hitter to ever play the game.

As the Ravens and Eagles face each other for the first time Friday, both players appear to have become more conciliatory.

"When people despise you so much, you make sure you don't get drawn into it," Lewis said. "So, God bless him. I wish him a great career and an injury-free season."

Owens said he attempted a reconciliation with Lewis last month at an ESPN award show but was unsuccessful. He said he may try again Friday.

"If he's receptive to it, then yeah," Owens said. "If not, you just have to move on."

When asked about the chances of meeting up with Owens in a collision, Lewis said, "We're on a football field. If he catches a ball in my area, we'll deal with it that way. That's just football."

Sun staff writer Brent Jones contributed to this article.

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