State Your Case: Sterling Sharpe

Talk of Fame Network

by Ron Borges

You need more than ability to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You also need availability. There are few exceptions to this rule beyond Gale Sayers, whose brilliance shown for only seven seasons before knee injuries cut him down prematurely, but at least one more should be considered and that's Sterling Sharpe.

Domination of your era is one of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's requirements. To enter arguably the most select Hall in sports you must not merely compile numbers. You must have been dominate in your time. Few wide receivers were more dominate between 1988-1994 than Sterling Sharpe.

In fact, only one was. That was Jerry Rice, a Hall of Famer who is nearly universally considered the greatest wide receiver of all-time. If that is the case, then what should be done with the man who was second for seven years when both were in their prime before a neck injury forced him to leave football at the top of his game?

Despite Rice's presence, Sharpe led the NFL in receptions three times, led in touchdown receptions twice and is one of only seven players in NFL history to win receiving's "Triple Crown'' by leading the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in the same season, joining Don Hutson, Elroy Hirsch, Pete Pihos, Raymond Berry, Steve Smith and Rice. All but the still active Smith are in enshrined in Canton.

Sharpe's strongest argument for induction is the kind that would make most receivers pale in comparison and that is putting his seven-year numbers side-by-side with Rice's in his prime. What receiver would want that? Sterling Sharpe, is one.

Between 1988-1994, Sharpe's 595 receptions were second only to Rice. His 65 receiving touchdowns were second only to Rice. And his 8,134 yards were third only to Rice and Henry Ellard (who has a case of his own to make). If the Hall of Fame is about dominance, it's impossible to argue Sterling Sharpe was anything but.

Putting the raw numbers aside, there is another factor to consider. Sharpe played with five different quarterbacks prior to the arrival of Brett Favre in 1992. One, Don Majkowski, was a skillful but oft-injured passer who played only one full season with Sharpe in the four years before Favre's arrival while Rice was playing the bulk of his career with back-to-back Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young.

That in itself may be looked upon by some as of no import but consider what happened upon Favre's arrival. In their three seasons together, Sharpe AVERAGED 105 receptions, 1,285 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was 29 when his career ended, a time when Favre was only beginning to enter his prime.

During those three years, Sharpe twice led the NFL in receptions and receiving touchdowns and once led in yards. In their first year, he set a then NFL record with 107 receptions and the following year broke it with 112, making him the first receiver in NFL history with back-to-back 100 catch seasons. In their final season, Sharpe had 94 catches, 1,119 yards and led the league with 18 touchdowns. Obviously, it is not much of a leap to see what was likely to happen had that connection remained intact.

Because of the circumstances around him, Sharpe had only one shot at the playoffs but made it count. In 1993, he had one of the biggest games in playoff history, catching five passes for 101 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions, including a 40-yard game-winner with 55 seconds to play. A week later the Packers would be eliminated by the Dallas Cowboys but not because of Sharpe. He had six receptions for 128 yards and another score, bringing his career playoff totals to 11 catches, 229 yards, four TDs and a per catch average of 20.82 yards.

What might have been one never knows but what was for Sterling Sharpe are Hall of Fame credentials for the same amount of years Gale Sayers amassed them. Seven years is a brief moment in time perhaps but when it is as brilliant as Sharpe's it creates a career worthy of serious Hall of Fame consideration. If the only man statistically superior to you during your time is the greatest wide receiver ever, doesn't that say enough?

In a moving tribute to his brother, Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe said during his own induction ceremony in 2008, "I'm the only pro football player that's in the Hall of Fame and the second-best player in my own family.''

Shannon Sharpe is right about that. It would be a shame if the best of the Sharpe family was forgotten because a freak injury laid him low in his prime.


Photo courtesy of Vernon Biever/Green Bay Packers