Let the words begin

12-19-01, 2:25 P.M.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals outside linebacker Takeo Spikes pulled on his Bengals' stocking cap for the cameras Wednesday and then pulled no punches ripping the Ravens' talkative tag team of middle linebacker Ray Lewis and tight end Shannon Sharpe.

It all began last week with Lewis objecting to Steelers running back Jerome Bettis saying Spikes is as good as Lewis and Sharpe saying the comparison is like comparing the hit move, "Titanic," to the bomb, "Dude, Where's My Car?"

Now the Bengals are in Baltimore Sunday, where Spikes said he'll be like "a mad dog in a meat house. It's time to eat."

"I don't really care how (Lewis) took it. In a way, he didn't disrespect me. He was just saying what he felt," Spikes said. "My thing is if, you're the best, you don't have to talk about it. The thing that really got me going was his little sidekick Shannon Sharpe. That disrespected me.

"If he wants to be Steven Spielberg and rate movies or Siskel and Ebert, I'll rate this movie," Spikes said. "I see him as the movie 'Bring It On.' He's nothing but a cheerleader. That's what he does best. Cheerleader. Go by his side and try to find a conversation and rally behind it. That's what he's good at."

Spikes also couldn't resist a shot at Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac, the man he picked off twice in the Bengals' 21-10 win at Paul Brown Stadium Sept. 23, although one was negated by penalty. The man who upset him during the offseason when he didn't sign with the Bengals because Grbac said he wanted to play for a winner.

"Elvis is my man," Spikes said. "Elvis is my man."

But Lewis and Sharpe aren't. The Bengals, who have quietly been rated

the NFL's 10th best defense for the last three weeks, seem rankled at the Ravens' pedestal.

"They take it as being an insult. Ray is on this planet that nobody else is on," said Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons. "As far as Takeo, if I was him, I would take it as an insult."

As for Simmons, he's not going to say he's the second best middle linebacker on the field Sunday.

"I'm not going to sit here and say anybody in the league is better than me," Simmons said. "I'm not going to say I'm the best. But I feel I'm as good as anybody that plays my position."

What heats Spikes is all the Raven talk despite Cincinnati's win in September.

"Last I checked, we're 1-0 against the Baltimore Ravens," Spikes said. "Making statements about Jerome must have been insane and he must have had a concussion. . .Hello, we're 1-0. That must mean something. They've got something to prove. They lost last week at home. We're out of the playoffs. They're still right in it for their spot. So all the pressure is on them."

There's no question that Spikes, the best linebacker you never heard of if it's not Simmons, is enjoying the play.

"Being in a small media market like Cincinnati," Spikes said. "(And) for the last week, week and a half my name has been tossed around more so, I wouldn't say more than bin Laden, but it might be up there. So I must be doing something right."

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