Reporters and cameramen filled the entry of the Baltimore Ravens' training facility Tuesday morning, all waiting for Deion Sanders, all looking for any indication that the former Pro Bowl cornerback had ended his three-year retirement and joined the defending AFC North champions.
By the time Sanders finally showed up in the evening -- wearing a black shirt, a black hat and jeans -- most of the media had gone. Sanders was able to walk through the quiet halls with his good friend -- and now his teammate -- Corey Fuller. It was a rather low-key return for the player called "Prime Time."
"I'm here for a Super Bowl," said Sanders, who had just passed his physical and signed a one-year contract. "I'm not here to just kick it. I'm here to win. I'm here to help my little brothers fulfill their dream. Corey hasn't won one yet, and Ray [Lewis has] won one and he wants another. That's the only reason you come."
Eugene Parker, Sanders's agent, declined to reveal specifics. Baltimore's WJZ-TV, citing a team source, reported that Sanders will receive a base salary of $1.5 million, and that incentives could push the deal to $3 million.
Sanders will be officially introduced as a Raven at a news conference on Wednesday, following a morning practice in which he is expected to participate. The Ravens will depart for New Jersey in the early afternoon for their final preseason game Thursday night against the New York Giants.
Coach Brian Billick said that he would determine whether Sanders would join the Ravens in New Jersey or stay in Maryland for an additional workout or classroom session after meeting with Sanders. Regardless, Billick expects Sanders to be ready when the Ravens open their season Sept. 12 at Cleveland.
"This game is not all that complicated," Billick said. "Obviously, we're going to try to ingrain it as quickly as we can, and make sure we know where he's at physically, so this will be a progression. He's here early enough for him to be an impact for us at Cleveland."
The seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback, who won Super Bowls with San Francisco and Dallas, won't be asked to be the centerpiece of the Ravens' defense; that role is held by Lewis. Instead, Sanders will be asked to fill one of the few holes in what is one of the league's best defenses: He will play nickel back, at least initially. His role could expand as the season progresses, Billick said.
Sanders said that he decided to return to football "a while ago," but that he had to get in condition to play. He touched on several other subjects:
* On his enthusiasm: "I feel 10 times better than I felt my last season, in terms of passion and fire. I got my dog back, in African American language, your dog meaning your passion, your fire."
* On reports that he worked out for two weeks before making a decision: "I worked out way more than two weeks. I've been working out for quite some time. We just didn't let you guys in on it."
* On reports that his trainer timed him at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash: "He might've gotten it slow. That was after workouts."
Lewis and Fuller were the key figures in bringing Sanders back to the NFL. Lewis made the initial call, after veteran Dale Carter -- who was slated to be the team's nickel back -- was lost for the season with a blood clot in his lung. He told Sanders that he wanted Sanders to play with him. Sanders thought he was joking. Lewis convinced him he wasn't.
"This man has everything," Lewis said. "He has money, he has rings, he has fame, he has all of that. The simple mathematics to it all is that he's just coming back to have fun and to play football with his friends."
Sanders said the Ravens were the only team he would have come out of retirement for, because of his friendship with Lewis and Fuller. A return to the Washington Redskins -- with whom he played his final season, in 2000 -- was not an option.
"I love Dan Snyder, I really do," Sanders said of the Redskins owner. "I love what they're doing over there. It'll be a period of time before I think they reach the point they want to reach. They may reach it this year, some sort of way, but realistically, no one's talking Super Bowl. They're talking playoffs."
Although he hasn't played in three seasons, he remains a charismatic figure, a point reinforced by the media attention surrounding his possible return.
Tuesday morning, Billick conducted his daily news briefing before five television cameras and a crowd of 30 people; reporters and cameramen outnumbered players in the locker room before practice.
Said Fuller, as he surveyed the throng that cornered him in the locker room, "I think y'all want to see [Sanders] more than we do, to believe it, to make sure it's real."
It's real. Sanders is back.
"The fact that I'm back, allows you to know that I never really left," Sanders said. "I don't think I'm back, I think I'm home."