Growing up in Richmond, Va., Darren Sharper carried on endless rivalries with his older brother, Jamie. The trash-talking debate after recreational football games typically centered on who scored the most touchdowns. During the winter, the argument shifted to who would score the most points on the basketball court.
Tomorrow at Lambeau Field, Darren plans to welcome Jamie and at least 15 friends and family members into his new home. No house-warming gifts will be necessary, although more talk promises to break out on the field.
Darren already is settled in nicely with the Green Bay Packers. The second-year man out of William and Mary has made the transition from part-time player to full-time free safety. His brother is trying to improve in his second season at weak-side linebacker for the Ravens.
The Packers seek to end a two-game losing skid and re-start a streak of domination at Lambeau after losing there nine days ago for the first time in 26 outings. Darren realizes he cannot concede any ground in tomorrow's season-within-a-game against the Ravens. Too many bragging rights on the line.
"We talk two or three times a week, but if [the Ravens] were able to win this game, there's nothing I could really say to [Jamie] for the rest of the year," Darren said. "I probably wouldn't stop
hearing about that for the rest of my career if we lost to them, especially at Lambeau Field. I can't let that happen."
Darren, just shy of his 23rd birthday, was born a year later than Jamie and ended up as the smaller of the two. Darren also went to a smaller school, playing Division I-AA ball, while Jamie toiled in the high-profile Atlantic Coast Conference at Virginia. Jamie was the fourth selection in the second round of the 1997 draft. Darren lasted until the end of the same round.
Look who's on top now. Darren tasted a trip to the Super Bowl during his inaugural season. Jamie, conversely, has been part of eight victories and has yet to get a sniff of playoff contention.
"Jamie joked [on draft day] about how cold it was going to be up there, and I said, 'Well, I'll be playing in January. I'll be in the playoffs. Your team is still trying to get there,'" Darren said.
Darren arrived in many ways as a rookie. Under the tutelage of veteran safety Eugene Robinson, he learned the nuts and bolts of the position. But Sharper also let his football instincts shine. As a year-long contributor on special teams and an extra defensive back in Green Bay's dime package, Sharper made his presence felt by scoring three touchdowns -- two after interceptions, one following a fumble recovery.
That broke a Packers rookie record that had stood for 64 years, and it tied Hall of Famer Herb Adderley's 32-year club record for most defensive touchdowns in a season.
It also could have gone to Sharper's head.
Not a chance.
This year, as a starting free safety, he already has made his share of mistakes. And even when he has handled his responsibility, bad things have happened. Did you see rookie receiver Germane Crowell's one-handed touchdown catch over Sharper's excellent deep coverage in the Packers' last game against Detroit?
"That was unbelievable. I had to get on [Darren] about that. It happened against one of my old teammates," said Jamie, referring to Crowell's Virginia lineage.
"The main thing I tell Darren is he came off the bench last year and made big plays with those fresh legs. This year, he's getting tired, because he's out there every down. Now, he has to play more steady ball," added Jamie, who has started all but one game in his brief career in Baltimore.
Packers coach Mike Holmgren said Sharper, 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, has held his own this season. Sure, he has made some coverage mistakes by failing to rotate properly. Sure he has missed a few tackles (he is tied for fifth on the team with 28). But the job belongs to Sharper.
"He's got a full plate," Holmgren said. "He makes a lot of [coverage] calls. He directs a lot of the traffic. He learned from Eugene Robinson, who was very good at it. Now, Darren has to do it, and he's doing a fine job."
The question is, who will do it first tomorrow? Yes, there is a chance that the two Sharpers will meet violently on the field. With Tyrell Peters out with a hamstring pull, Jamie Sharper will take Peters' spot on punt coverage, while the other Sharper will be blocking on Green Bay's punt return team.
May the best man win, and let the talking begin.
"He ain't going to get me. He's too light. He's all speed. He even has second thoughts stepping up to hit those big fullbacks," said Jamie, who weighs 240.
Said Darren: "If he's out there, he'd better look out, because I will blind-side him."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Green Bay Packers
Site: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
When: Tomorrow, 1: 01 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Packers by 10 1/2
Pub Date: 10/24/98