Sanders likely joining Ravens midweek

Originally Published: August 29, 2004
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

At the Dallas-area residence of Deion Sanders, the children spent part of Sunday evening packing their travel bags, readying for their upcoming trip to a new part-time home.

The master of the house? Well, Deion Sanders, just days removed from ending his three-season hiatus from the NFL, took two weeks to remove his trademark passion for the game from storage. And now that it's out of the vault, ready to be on display again, Sanders said he plans to be money in the bank for the Baltimore Ravens.

"I'm getting ready to play, man," Sanders told ESPN.com, when reached at home. "I'm going to kill 'em. People say, 'Well, he's 37.' But I feel like I'm 33, because my body's really been resting up since 2000. I'm fast and I'm quick. It's going to be unbelievable."

In his first on-the-record confirmation of his return, Sanders, who last played with the Washington Redskins in 2000, said he "will probably" report to the Ravens on Wednesday. If club officials permit, he wants to accompany his new teammates for their preseason finale against the New York Giants on Thursday evening.

His goal, Sanders said, is to be ready for the first regular-season game, at Cleveland on Sept. 12. But if he still needs a little more time for conditioning, to prepare his body for the rigors of a 13th season and the potential of a third Super Bowl title, he will take it.

"I know," Sanders said, "that the NFL season is a marathon. [It] doesn't matter where you start. It matters where you finish."

When he walked away from the Redskins following the 2000 season, with plenty of time and money remaining on his contract, Sanders felt like he was finished with the NFL. He noted that, with Washington having finished a disappointing 8-8 in 2000, fans ignored the defensive progress the Redskins had made that season.

Indeed, as if by rote, Sanders rattled off the numbers for a unit that went from a statistical ranking of 30th in 1999 to No. 4 in 2000. The offense, at the same time, dropped to 11th in 2000 from its No. 2 ranking of 1999.

Sanders reiterated that the defensive moves, to bring in players like himself and defensive end Bruce Smith, had actually succeeded. Instead, he and some of the high-priced free agents signed by owner Dan Snyder, were pilloried.

"At that point, I just didn't want to put up with the stupidity and nonsense," said Sanders, who registered four interceptions in 2000.

In the Ravens defense, though, Sanders will be more of a role player, assuming the "nickel" spot Baltimore officials have struggled to fill for the past couple seasons. A seven-time Pro Bowl performer, and certain Hall of Fame selection once he finally retires for good, Sanders will be surrounded by a cadre of proven playmakers.

He is close friends with middle linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive back Corey Fuller but, beyond that, Sanders has watched days worth of videotape. Always a keen student of the game, and more into the mental and schematic elements than most fans ever realized, he has made himself familiar with the design of coordinator Mike Nolan and all of the individual players.

Sanders said he is returning to the NFL, in part, because it will permit him to demonstrate to a city that once disdained him, given Baltimore's enmity toward Washington, that he is more about winning than individual pursuits. He confirmed the claims of personal trainer Tom Shaw, who has been working with Sanders for about two weeks now, that he's been clocked at under 4.4 seconds in the 40.

What took even longer than getting himself physically ready for his latest adventure, he noted, was testing his passion. Told that it was hard to believe an athlete with his degree of competitive spirit would ever lose that edge, he disagreed, insisting there were times in the last few years he questioned whether he could ever come back if he so desired.

"Oh, no, the passion, it was dwindling, definitely, for a while there," Sanders said. "But it's back now, for real. You know me, if it wasn't, I wouldn't be doing this. I'm never going to get into a position where I embarrass myself, the teammates, the fans. You know me well enough to know I'll never allow that to happen.

"People expect the same product they've always seen with me, and they're going to get it. I'm going to kill 'em."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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