Sanders backs Irvin, Owens

Ravens nickel back says former Cowboys teammate is innocent, T.O. was treated unfairly


Never known as one to hold his tongue, loquacious Ravens nickel back Deion Sanders jumped to the defense of two friends, ESPN analyst Michael Irvin and Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens.

Standing in front of his locker yesterday, Sanders opened his media session by saying Irvin is innocent of a drug charge and Owens got a raw deal in his banishment from the Eagles.

Irvin, the former Dallas Cowboys receiver who played five seasons with Sanders, was charged Friday with possession of drug paraphernalia found during a traffic stop. He has repeatedly said the marijuana pipe found in his car belonged to a longtime friend with a drug problem whom he was trying to help out.

"Michael Irvin is totally innocent," Sanders said. "I know the whole situation and it isn't what it seemed. He was really trying to look out for one of his friends. I know the guy personally that he took the paraphernalia off."

In 1996, Irvin pleaded no contest to felony cocaine possession in exchange for four years of deferred probation, a $10,000 fine and dismissal of misdemeanor marijuana possession charges.

"From his history, we were able to jump to conclusions and we shouldn't do that at all times," Sanders said. "This is a country that says we're innocent until proven guilty, but it seems like it's the direct opposite. I'm in touch and really in close proximity to the situation and he's totally innocent."

Without interruption, Sanders changed the topic to Owens, criticizing the Eagles' treatment of the Pro Bowl receiver.

The Eagles suspended Owens on Nov. 5 for four games without pay for "conduct detrimental to the team" and deactivated him with pay for the rest of the season after his suspension ended Sunday. An arbitrator refused to overturn the Eagles' decision.

"It's not right," Sanders said. "Just because a guy won't say he's sorry, he's out of the game of football for the season. It's like someone working a job 9 to 5 and they don't apologize to their boss, they're fired. There are so many things that I don't like about it. A man should be able to work and make an honest living and do what he loves to do.

"Yeah, he may have made a mistake and said something about his quarterback, but so what? Let's move on. People talk about people everyday, but that doesn't mean you should be able to take away my livelihood."

Owens, who had publicly campaigned for a new contract all offseason, was suspended by Philadelphia after he again criticized quarterback Donovan McNabb, called the organization "classless" and fought with former teammate Hugh Douglas.

"Some people really love the game and don't come to work to get a check. T.O. is one of those people who really loves the game," said Sanders, who called Owens "a dear friend."

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