- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Ray Lewis said he has a few surprises in store for Shannon Sharpe on Monday night.

"That means he has the tickets that I requested," Sharpe replied.

Give the "Mouth of the South" the first round in the verbal battle against his former team.

The silver-tongued Sharpe spent two successful seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. He was instrumental in delivering the franchise a Super Bowl two years ago and in leading the team to the second round of the AFC playoffs last season.

On Monday night at Ravens Stadium, Sharpe will return to Baltimore with the undefeated Denver Broncos (3-0) for the first time since leaving as a free agent in the offseason.

"He'll say, 'What's up, rook,'" Ravens second-year tight end Todd Heap predicted. "Last year I said to him, 'You've been calling me rook all year what are you going to call me next year? You don't even know my name.' He goes, 'No, I'll just call you rook.'"

Sharpe, who is the NFL's all-time leader in receptions (692) and receiving yards (8,604) by a tight end, was one part of the offseason housecleaning necessitated by the Ravens' salary cap woes. So far this season, Sharpe has eight receptions for 83 yards in his second stint with the Broncos.

Sharpe said he has no bad feelings toward the Ravens (0-2) and no regrets about leaving the Broncos and signing with the Ravens as an unrestricted free agent in 2000.

"If I had not made that move, I would not have a third Super Bowl ring," Sharpe said. "When [Ravens owner] Art Modell sent me a card thanking me for coming there and helping him win a championship and saying, 'Shannon, I really enjoyed the time that I spent with you, but the people in Denver deserve to have you back there,' that meant a lot to me. I really don't think any other owner would have done that."

The Ravens also are indebted to Sharpe for his off-field contributions. Sharpe, who lives in Atlanta, took Lewis under his wing during the middle linebacker's legal troubles stemming from a fight that left two men dead in 2000.

During the trial, Sharpe and Lewis worked out together at an Atlanta athletic club and developed a friendship. What's interesting is that the two most likely will collide Monday, especially if Sharpe goes over the middle.

"The competitive part always comes out. Even when me and Shannon train together, it always comes out," Lewis said. "Playing against each other will be fun, but at the same time it will be aggressive. I told him to wink his eye when they are running the ball and wave at me when they are passing. We talk every day. We are going to be matched one-on-one a lot. He's trying to go out with a bang, and I'm trying to go out with a bang. Hopefully, the best man will win."

Sharpe holds the NFL playoff record for the longest touchdown reception with a 96-yard catch-and-run against the Oakland Raiders in the 2000 AFC Championship game in his first year with the Ravens.

In a wild-card matchup against his former team during Baltimore's Super Bowl run, Sharpe caught a then-career long 58-yard touchdown pass that began as a screen pass to Ravens running back Jamal Lewis and was twice deflected before Sharpe snatched it and raced down the sidelines.

Sharpe, who is in his 13th season, led the Ravens in receptions (67) and receiving yardage (810) in 2000. Last season Sharpe finished second on the team in receptions with 73, one behind Qadry Ismail.

"The two years I spent with Shannon I know right now I can tell you are two of the best and most rewarding years I've ever had," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I'm going to remember Shannon as fondly as any player I've ever had the professionalism. This guy for 2½ months the last 2½ months of the season couldn't practice [because of a knee injury]. All he could do was play on Sunday. A lot of guys in that situation would conduct themselves in a certain way, not poorly but not being as interactive, and he was out at every practice, standing there talking to the quarterbacks, coaching up the younger guys. He was always there a class act."

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