- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick sometimes likes to use Clint Eastwood's greatest directorial effort, "Unforgiven," as a motivational tool for his players. Occasionally, he uses clips from the film to make certain points.

Billick is such a fan of the movie that he introduced it earlier this summer at the closing of the Maryland Film Festival. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, he talked about one particular clip that he uses. Eastwood's character, William Munny, walks out of the saloon at the end, after having just shot nearly everyone in the place, and declares, "Anyone so much as takes a shot at me, I'm gonna kill him. I'm going to kill his wife, his friend. Burn his damn house down."

Billick told the Sun that the scene is "about how sometimes you have to raise the price of poker

it's not enough that you want to win, you have to make the other side realize that it's not worth the effort not to let that happen."

Sometimes you can do that on the football field, as the Ravens often did to their opponents last year. And sometimes you can do that in the front office, as the Ravens have the chance to do now, with the season-ending knee injury to running back Jamal Lewis.

What would William Munny do if he were running this team? Would he live with unproven backups like rookie Chris Barnes and Jason Brookins as replacements? As another western movie icon, John Wayne, would say, not hardly.

What about free agents such as Terry Allen, Mario Bates, Chris Warren or Greg Hill? Does signing any of them "raise the price of poker?"

That's more like folding your hand.

So why not "raise the price of poker" and at least try to make the kind of move that will make their AFC opponents "realize that it's not worth the effort".

What would William Munny do if he were the GM?

He'd go make Barry Sanders an offer he can't refuse. ("The Godfather," "Unforgiven" it's all the same morality play).

If the great running back would consider coming back to football, the Ravens probably could offer the most attractive incentive a Super Bowl championship. That is something that Sanders never even got close enough to sniff during his 10 years with the Detroit Lions.

Sanders retired just before training camp began in 1999 as the second leading rusher in NFL history (15,269) yards. After that, he got into a contract dispute with the Lions over the $11 million bonus he received after signing a six-year deal in 1997. He wound up having to pay back $5.5 million of that bonus and hasn't been in a uniform since.

Not that he hasn't had offers. Redskins owner Dan Snyder toyed with the idea of trying to convince Sanders to return when he was on his ill-fated player shopping spree last year. (Speaking of the Redskins, they are dropping fast at Camp Marty, the latest casualties being defensive ends Marco Coleman and Bruce Smith. In Carlisle, MRI stands for Many Redskins Injured).

The Lions have tried several times to coax Sanders back. New team president Matt Millen called the future Hall of Famer during the offseason and tried to convince him to come back. Sanders told reporters that he wasn't interested in playing anymore. "I am too old to play," he said. "I'm going to be 33 this summer."

That's hardly too old. But players age differently, depending on what uniform they are wearing. Ten years in a Lions uniform is like 20 years playing for a successful franchise. Heck, 23 years old is too old to play for the Detroit Lions.

But the Ravens offer Sanders the perfect opportunity to come back a championship team with a defense so strong it won a Super Bowl with a mediocre, at best, offense. With Elvis Grbac at quarterback instead of Trent Dilfer, they have a chance to be much more potent this year. And the Ravens would create both offensive and defensive pressure on opponents if they had Sanders touching the ball 10 or 15 times a game.

Of course, there are cap problems. There are always cap problems. But if the reward is great enough, deals can be made. And there are questions about what kind of shape Sanders is in. But his body hasn't taken a beating over the past two years, and those fresh legs should have at least one more Barry Sanders-type season in them.

The Ravens could win again with one of the mediocre replacements they are considering. Lewis carried the burden last year, rushing for 1,364 yards, which allowed them to utilize a conservative passing offense in which Dilfer's primary goal was to avoid interceptions. Under Grbac, they will be able to pass more and not rely on their running game as much. And, with this great defense and an outstanding kicking game, with punter Kyle Richardson and kicker Matt Stover, the Ravens play a 50-yard game. It's rare when the offense has to march 80 yards, as Ray Lewis and company often keep a team pinned down near its end zone.

But without some sort of offensive threat, it puts all the pressure back on the defense to not just stop the other team from scoring, but creating the offense as well.

Besides, we're talking HBO here, where the stars come out.

It's time for Barry Sanders to come out.

It's time to "raise the price of poker."

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