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Death of a friend moves Sharpe

Ravens tight end loses best friend to heart attack Tuesday.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 15, 2001


OAKLAND, Calif. -- Shannon Sharpe had help on his 96-yard touchdown catch-and-run. Sure, Trent Dilfer put the pass right where it was supposed to be, and Brandon Stokely threw a key block, and Raiders safety Marquez Pope lent a hand by missing the tackle.

But this was a different kind of assistance.

While the Ravens spent the last part of the week preparing for Sunday's AFC Championship Game, Sharpe was grieving.

Sharon Parrish, a close friend, his "best" friend, died unexpectedly of a heart attack Tuesday at age 46. Sharpe went to Denver for her funeral before joining his teammates here late Friday, then spent Saturday in serious depression over the loss.

"The chaplain came by my room and told me I can't have her back by crying," Sharpe said. "But I know when I was carrying the ball down the field, she was running beside me."

Sharpe is one of the most effervescent and outspoken (and well-spoken) players in the game, but the death of his friend clearly weighed heavily on him. He offered some of his usual bravado after the game -- "I just want to ask America what crow tastes like, because y'all are eating it" was one of his favorite lines -- but his mood clearly was tempered.

Sharpe had a photo of himself and Parrish embracing displayed prominently on a shelf in his locker as a reminder. Once he got past the grief, he said it wasn't hard to refocus on the game. "I know that's what she would have wanted me to do," Sharpe said.

As he often does, Sharpe went to Dilfer before the game and told him he would make a big play for him.

It couldn't have been much bigger -- the longest pass play in post-season history.

With no score, the Ravens were backed deep in their territory about four minutes into the second quarter, and getting nowhere fast. They started with the ball on their 12, then Dilfer was sacked at the 4 and Jamal Lewis got nothing on second down.

On third and 18, they, realistically, were looking to create some room for punter Kyle Richardson. The play is called "Rip Double Slant" -- though coach Brian Billick joked the new name is "Rip Shannon Run Quick."

Sharpe and Dilfer had worked on the play during the week, making sure to get the timing right so Sharpe would have a chance to slip past the defense. When they saw the Raiders, eager to make something happen, showing blitz, Sharpe had a feeling it would work. So did Dilfer, who was supposed to look first to the other side of the field.

They just didn't realize how well.

"I caught the ball and I thought (Pope) would make the tackle and I'd give our team some room to punt the football," Sharpe said. "He missed the tackle and I said, 'Uh-oh.' Then Stokely flashed across me and blocked (free safety Anthony Dorsett) and I said, 'Uh-oh, uh-oh.'

"It was like, 'You could go all the way,' and I did."

Sharpe is 32, with 10 years in the league, and he doesn't move as well as he thinks he used to. But there he was, racing the length of the field down the left sideline.

"I consider myself pretty fast, but I was like, 'Wow, it's taking a long time to get to the end zone,' " he said. "It seemed like I was running forever. I had to go 96, and I went 96.2."

On the sideline, the Ravens couldn't wait to celebrate -- and to jab Sharpe before he started making the play sound even better than it was.

"When he first came over, I had to remind him that he's not that fast," Billick said. "We didn't want him to get too carried away."

Between the emotions of his personal loss and the excitement of his professional accomplishment, there was a lot going on, even for Sharpe, who has emerged a winner in 10 straight post-season games. One minute, talking about his best friend's funeral. The next, how he hopes the plane home stops in Dallas to pick up more champagne.

"We're going to Tampa," he said. "We're going to Busch Gardens."

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