Ravens in the Hall?

The Baltimore Sun

TAMPA, FLA. - Two former Ravens are experiencing different levels of emotions leading up to today's announcement of the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees.

While Rod Woodson is considered a lock to make the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, Shannon Sharpe is not. No ex-Raven has made the Hall.

After a career that included eight Pro Bowls and three Super Bowl titles, Sharpe hasn't been this worried about getting cut since he was a rookie seventh-round draft pick out of Savannah State.

"Since I've been down to the 15 finalists [Jan. 6], there has not been a day that's gone by that I haven't thought about [the Hall of Fame]," Sharpe said. "I'll be honest with you, I've kind of prepared myself for the worst."

Sharpe, who played two of his 14 seasons with the Ravens, can make a convincing argument with his statistics. When he retired in 2003, he was the all-time leader in catches (815), receiving yards (10,060) and touchdowns (62) by a tight end.

But the trouble for Sharpe today could be a problem with a different set of numbers.

There can be only five modern-era players elected in one year to the Hall. With Woodson and former Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith expected to get nods, that leaves 13 others vying for the final three spots.

Along with Sharpe, other strong contenders are wide receiver Cris Carter, defensive end Richard Dent, guard Randall McDaniel, defensive tackle John Randle and linebacker Derrick Thomas.

"Shannon Sharpe was the most prolific tight end in NFL history when he retired," said Woodson, who was Sharpe's teammate with the Ravens in 2000 and 2001. "He was a trendsetter. To me, he was the ultimate tight end. I think he should be a lock."

To be elected, a finalist must receive a minimum positive vote of 80 percent from the 44 voters. (There is a media member who represents each of the 32 teams in addition to 12 at-large delegates.)

Here are arguments Sharpe has heard against him:

Sharpe was more like a wide receiver than a pure tight end. So Sharpe's numbers should be put up against those of Hall of Fame wide receivers.

"When I went to the Pro Bowl, I went as a tight end," Sharpe said. "When I made the All-Pro team, I made it as a tight end. When I ran out of the tunnel for games, they introduced me as a tight end. How is that possible that you say I put up stats like a wide receiver? It's not my fault that I was ahead of my time."

Sharpe had the luxury of having quarterback John Elway throw passes to him for most of his career.

"OK, I also played with Trent Dilfer, Tony Banks, Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham," Sharpe said. "Every time you come to me and say I had John Elway, well Kellen Winslow had Dan Fouts, and John Mackey had John Unitas."

Sharpe's status has been diminished because Tony Gonzalez has broken some of his tight end records.

"But I never played on a 2-14 team two years in a row," Sharpe said. "He's all they had. I only lost five playoff games. He's lost three already."

There is no such debate over Woodson, who is considered one of the all-time great defensive backs.

Woodson was named to 11 Pro Bowls at three positions (cornerback, safety and kick returner). In 17 seasons (four with the Ravens), he recorded 71 interceptions and scored 17 touchdowns.

He owns the NFL records for most interception return yards (1,483) and most interceptions returned for a touchdown (12).

"This game has been played a long time. Just to be in the final 15 is an honor," Woodson said. "The icing on the cake is to get in. I don't think anyone of us started playing Little League football to get into the Hall of Fame. It's a byproduct of being consistent, playing well and having some great teachers."

tough wait for tight ends

Shannon Sharpe, who played for the Ravens and Denver Broncos, is looking to become the first tight end to get voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. A look at how long the seven Hall of Fame tight ends had to wait:

Player Years played Year of eligibility

Kellen Winslow 1979-1987 3rd

Ozzie Newsome 1978-1990 4th

Mike Ditka 1961-1972 12th

Jackie Smith 1963-1978 12th

Dave Casper 1974-1984 13th

John Mackey 1963-1972 15th

Charlie Sanders 1968-1977 25th

the candidates

rod woodson

Positions: Cornerback, safety, kick returner

Years with Ravens: 1998-2001

Career highlights: In 17 seasons, he had 71 interceptions and scored 17 touchdowns. He owns the NFL records for most interception return yards (1,483) and most interceptions returned for a touchdown (12).

shannon sharpe

Position: Tight end

Years with Ravens: 2000-2001

Career highlights: Three Super Bowl championships. ... When he retired in 2003, he was the NFL all-time leader among tight ends in receptions (815), receiving yards (10,060) and touchdowns (62).

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