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Stylish Sharpe says he'll fit right in; New Ravens tight end eyes ring, records, feels wanted here

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The newest Raven showed up wearing a navy blue pinstripe suit and a large grin. He joked about negotiating for his old number from Jermaine Lewis, and taunted his new boss about breaking his NFL records.

He called Baltimore his home, displayed a passion and charisma for the game that could make him one of the city's biggest stars and then talked about the Ravens possibly winning a Super Bowl as soon next year.

Ladies and gentleman, meet Shannon Sharpe, possibly the best tight end in the NFL.

"From the time I stepped on the plane with Mr. Modell [owner Art Modell], he made me feel at home," said Sharpe, 31, who signed a four-year, $13.2 million contract yesterday. "They extended their arms to me, and that's all I ever wanted, to feel wanted.

"Talking to Brian [Billick, coach] Tuesday, he convinced me that this was the place I needed to be. He had ideas of how he could use me. He didn't promise me that I would catch 80 to 90 balls. He just said work hard, learn the offense and play the way we know you can play and good things will happen.

"I'm easy to get along with. I will never ask anyone to give more than I'm willing to give. If I'm out there bustin' it, I expect my teammates to do the same. I know how to practice, I know how to play, and I know what it takes to win. The Rams gave everybody hope, and they were 4-12 the year before. So now, hopefully, this team watched the Super Bowl. This team was 8-8 last year. Why can't it be us?"

Sharpe has never lacked confidence, and in one day he has shown more flair and confidence than any other Raven. Sharpe is practically guaranteed to be a hit off the field, but if the Ravens are to be a playoff contender, he has to be just as big on the field.

Since the team moved to Baltimore, the Ravens have received minimal production at tight end through players such as Harold Bishop, Frank Hartley, Eric Green, Aaron Pierce and Lovett Purnell. Who will ever forget Cam Quayle?

But after going through another smorgasbord of five players at the position last season, vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome and Billick decided to make tight end a priority.

They wanted a player who could run deep routes, but more importantly improve their short- to intermediate-range passing game.

They recruited Sharpe the way major colleges recruit high school seniors. They flew him on personal planes. They took him out for meals. Twice. They told him how integral he would be to their success.

Ohio State would have been put on probation, but the Ravens got Sharpe. He brings other dimensions as well. In addition to having 552 career catches for 6,983 yards, he has won two of the past three Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos.

"Since I've been here, you guys [the media] have talked about the dynamics of the tight end position," Billick said. "In my career as an NFL coach, any time we have had any level of success it was anchored around the fact that the tight end position had to have 50 to 60 receptions at a minimum.

"When you add Shannon Sharpe, it pushes those numbers to the upper end and also increases the productivity of those around him. We anticipate that happening around here."

But Billick isn't just talking about X's and O's and Sharpe drawing double coverages to allow speedy receivers such as Lewis and Patrick Johnson to draw one-on-one situations. Billick said Sharpe's passion for the game is contagious.

And Sharpe said playing isn't all about money.

"Anyone can play hurt, but can you still put up the same numbers?" he said. "The thing that made me the person that I am is that when I was hurt, I was still able to get 100 yards, I was still able to get seven and eight catches and two touchdowns. That's what I'm going to ask of my teammates.

"I told Ozzie I want to be somewhere where they want to use me. I don't want to go here and try to catch 20 to 25 balls. I said, 'I'm not going to take your money. But if you use me properly, I'll guarantee I'll give you a great return on your money.'

"My grandfather told me at a very young age that if you enjoy your job, you'll never have to work a day in your life," Sharpe added. "I get excited coming to work. I get the same kind of excitement coming to practice and meetings as I do on the football field.

"In order to stay the best, you have to stay hungry. I love this game. It's not about money. These coaches know that I'm not a problem player in the locker room, but I'll get on a player if needed. I'm honest. I say what I have to say."

It was evident yesterday. Sharpe, a 10-year veteran, needs 110 catches and 997 receiving yards to equal the league records for tight ends of 662 reception and 7,980 yards set by Newsome, a Hall of Famer with the Cleveland Browns. The records and the bond between the two players were two of the main attractions in Sharpe signing with Baltimore.

Sharpe has been taking some good-natured jabs at Newsome since Tuesday.

"I've always admired Ozzie," Sharpe said. "When I was growing up, I always wanted to be Ozzie Newsome. I can't think of a better place to come because I'll be practicing here every single day. I can see him every single day. And he can see me every single day after I break his records."

Another factor in Sharpe's choosing Baltimore over Denver was because the Ravens' quarterback situation is more settled. Starter Tony Banks agreed to a four-year deal Thursday that included a $2 million signing bonus and could pay him as much as $18.5 million, even though the Ravens have an option clause after two years in which they can honor the remaining two years or terminate them.

Denver's quarterback situation is in flux. The Ravens also ended up paying Sharpe slightly more than the $3 million-a-season average he wanted from the Broncos. Five of Sharpe's family members wanted him to move to Baltimore, but he was the only one who wanted to remain a Bronco.

"I wanted to be somewhere stable," Sharpe said. "Brian has a lot of confidence in his guy [Banks] and obviously a lot in me. Before I made this decision, I talked to my brother. I talked to my sister. Everybody said leave. But my brother said something very important. He said, 'Shannon, when they want you, you don't become a free agent.' After he said that, it was real easy to leave."

Sharpe has a formula for team success. If the Ravens win the majority of their home games and go .500 on the road, they make the playoffs at 11-5 or 12-4 and possibly gain home-field advantage.

Sharpe can't wait to get started.

But before he does, he'll have to pry his old jersey number away from Lewis.

As cameras rolled during his news conference yesterday, Sharpe offered Lewis and his wife two Rolex watches in exchange for No. 84. When Lewis heard about it, he rejected the offer.

"I might change it to 82," said Sharpe, laughing and smiling at Newsome, who wore that number when he played.

NOTE: The Ravens allocated five players to NFL Europe: defensive tackles Martin Chase (Frankfurt) and Marques Douglas (Rhein), defensive end Charles Preston (Frankfurt), safety Anthony Mitchell (Rhein) and wide receiver Kendrick Nord (Frankfurt).

Sharpe's wit

After Denver knocked Pittsburgh out of the 1997 playoffs at Three Rivers Stadium, Sharpe shouted to the fans: "Stay away from the Allegheny, the Ohio and the Monongahela. I hope they freeze those three rivers tonight because I'd hate to see anybody plunging to the bottom of 'em."

During a victory at New England, Sharpe picked up the red telephone behind the Denver bench and screamed: "Mr. President! We need the National Guard! We need as many men as you can spare because we are killing the Patriots!"

On his Friday ritual of a haircut and a meal: "I get the same snack. Twinkies, Lay's and an iced tea. I know, I know, you don't think you can get a body like this eating Twinkies, but you can. Twinkies are the secret!"

On the decline of the Dallas Cowboys: "They've gone from America's Team to America's Most Wanted Team."

After his brother, ESPN's Sterling Sharpe, criticized some of the Broncos' offensive players: "I said, 'Man, don't talk about my teammates like that. I'll change my phone number and you won't even be able to talk to me.' "

Before Super Bowl XXXII against Green Bay: "If the Packers try to cover me one-on-one and beat my butt, then I will renounce my citizenship, move out of the country and leave all my assets to your account."

Pub Date: 2/19/00

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