Compared with shadows, purple bright to Sanders

August 19, 2004|By JOHN EISENBERG

IT MIGHT be true that Deion Sanders is considering ending his retirement and coming back to play for the Ravens partly because he wants to win another Super Bowl ring and play alongside Ray Lewis.

But what he really wants, let's face it, is attention.

Deion, um, tends to like attention. And for the first time in years, since he was a toddler in Florida, he wasn't going to get any attention this fall during the football season.

His playing days were over. His television career had abruptly caved in. And amazingly, no team had picked him up as a head coach, even though he generously offered his services last fall on, imagine this, national television.

The guy had nothing going this season except co-hosting some new sports-themed talk show called The Players' Lounge with comedian Paul Rodriguez.

It was almost time to give "Prime Time" a new nickname: "Cable Access."

Coming back to play for the Ravens means he will certainly get more attention than he was going to get, which was, basically, none.

Football must have sounded better than his other emergency face-time options such as running for political office (too many meetings), playing minor league basketball (yawn) or talking some network into using him in a reality show.

Actually, the last option probably would have ranked ahead of a football comeback on Sanders' list of priorities, but it didn't happen because it is now more likely that he will join the Ravens before their season opener.

That he would be coming sooner rather than later is a positive development, as it was rumored that he might not want to report until October or November because, well, it wasn't convenient. That alone could have killed the experiment; no team with any self-respect should permit a player to dictate such terms.

Had he started that late, Sanders, ever the innovator, would have effectively created a new secondary position, the executive nickel back.

But the rumor apparently was false and the Ravens are now close to making an addition deemed critical to their playoff chances.

They're certainly the only contender to make such an addition based on who is sitting next to Jim Nantz on the NFL Today set.

Not that it's a bad idea. Bringing in Sanders, 37, is a fan-friendly move. And even at his age, he might well be the solution to the Ravens' nickel back woes.

He doesn't have to be the star he was to give the Ravens a solid performer at a second-tier position. He just needs to hang in there for, oh, 25 plays a game. Don't mess up. Make a play or two.

No one should expect the second coming of "Prime Time," who turned in brilliant, game-changing plays almost every week, especially when the game was televised nationally.

The Ravens insist they have no such expectations. But you know they're secretly hoping to get lucky and rediscover a star. How clever they would look.

You know Sanders is secretly thinking the same thing, too. He didn't get to be "Prime Time" by thinking small.

But the reality is there is no guarantee Sanders can handle even a limited role, much less a major one. He hasn't played in 44 months, since December 2000, at the end of a season in which his performance declined perceptibly with the Redskins.

It seemed then that he was on his way down, though such appearances can be misleading.

But either way, he hasn't just taken a year off to clear his head and recharge his batteries. His time away from the game is now almost the average length of an NFL career, four years.

No athlete can come back after being away a certain time. Otherwise, the Ravens could consider bringing Art Donovan back while they're at it.

Whatever that too-long layoff limit is, four years is getting close to it.

The Ravens had better have another option ready.

Sanders loves hearing that, no doubt. He apparently sought counsel from Michael Jordan in this situation, and like Jordan, he is one of those elite athletes who thrives on being doubted.

Jordan always won those wars of doubt until his final comeback, for what it's worth. He crashed hard with the Wizards.

Maybe Sanders will fare better here. He certainly will have a solid team around him, a team with real talent and potential.

But no matter if he does or doesn't work out, the camera will come to him, and he will come to the camera, and he will get attention, because that is the point:

Not that the show must go on, but that he wants it to go on.

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