- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Cornerback Deion Sanders was in full stride in the quote department after practice yesterday even though a strained left hamstring left him questionable for the Baltimore Ravens’ game at Cincinnati on Sunday.

For instance, told that Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson said it would be a dream come true to line up against him, Sanders naturally agreed.

“That’s every week. It doesn’t just start in one darn game,” Sanders said. “I get the best out of everybody because everyone wants to put my head in their trophy case, and you’ve got to understand that.”

No problem there. What’s hard to understand is why “Prime Time” ended a three-year retirement to play with the Ravens. Sanders doesn’t need the money. He doesn’t need a car (he owns 25). He doesn’t need the fame. He doesn’t need a Super Bowl ring, though he said he would like a third …

No, it was the Ravens’ players, specifically middle linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Corey Fuller, who lured Sanders back on the field at 37. Baltimore was looking for a charismatic locker room presence to fill the void created when Shannon Sharpe left via free agency three years ago.

“I was a child when [Sanders] was high-stepping,” Lewis said. “When he steps next to me, you know it’s like, ‘Wow, I’m playing with Prime.’ What he has truly brought us is a certain mentality to our defense, definitely our defensive backfield. … He’s brought so much excitement and so much energy. There are a lot of things he gives us.”

Sanders, an eight-time Pro Bowl pick and the 1994 NFL defensive player of the year, is a part-time punt returner and nickel back for the Ravens. Sanders aggravated his hamstring defending a long pass play to Plaxico Burress in Sunday’s 30-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“When you’re 50 years old, you’re going to be questionable every week,” Ravens coach Brian Billick joked. “When you’re that old and have played this long, questionable’s pretty good.”

Now in his 13th season, Sanders was dancing in the end zone before most of his teammates were out of grade school. Sanders, who has displayed some of the best moves ever in his distinguished career with the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, took a back seat Sunday when Lewis was introduced to the home folks entering M&T; Bank Stadium to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.”

Sanders’ favorite moment from his first game in Baltimore was Lewis’ pregame dance, which nearly floored him. It certainly wasn’t his 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for ripping off his helmet on the field after a dazzling 23-yard punt return.

“It was phenomenal: I got to see my little brother [Ray Lewis] come out from one of the best seats in the house,” Sanders said. “That was a concert in itself. Just watching Lil’ Bro come out, I said, ‘Man, you choreographed your own moves — you’re worse than the Jacksons.’ I loved every minute of it. I was in the back. I had to run back to the front just to see for myself. It was unbelievable.”

If Sanders can give the Ravens (1-1) just a glimpse of his former self, they gladly will take it. Sanders holds an NFL record with 18 career touchdowns on returns. He has 48 career interceptions for 1,187 yards.

The hamstring injury is a huge disappointment for Sanders. He worked out extensively at his home near Dallas with a former college coach from Florida State to get in playing shape. Sanders, who said he might have had a hamstring problem in Dallas, vowed not to let the injury ruin his season.

“This is a marathon — this is not a sprint,” he said. “I think you guys want me there in the finale rather than the 40-yard dash, but I want to be ready for every game and every contest because I know I’m going to make plays and big plays.”

Note — The Ravens signed cornerback Calvin Carlyle to their practice squad. Baltimore is the fifth team Carlyle has signed with in two seasons.

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