Sterling Sharpe, HOF nominee, should not be forgotten
Probably not but you should. More to the point, members of the 48-person Hall of Fame selection committee should before it’s too late.
Sharpe was one of 102 names on this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee’s list released today. While some are courtesy calls acknowledging great careers that probably fall short of Canton, a large number of those names deserve a hearing in front of the selectors, who will cut that list to first 25 and then 15 before a final, day-long debate and vote on the finalists on “Selection Saturday,’’ the day before the Super Bowl. Many of those named today will one day be enshrined in Canton. Others will be forgotten. A few, although on this preliminary list, already are.
Sterling Sharpe should not be among those lost to the dust bin of history.
Sharpe was one of the two greatest wide receivers of his time, a 1990s All-Decade first team selection and a player who retired 24 years ago yet has never once been discussed by Hall’s voters. He has two more chances to get into that room before he slips into the great abyss which is the Senior Pool. That pool is deeper than Lake Baikal, which is the deepest lake in the world. You get the point.
Certainly 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, and Terrell Davis, who was inducted two years ago despite having only three Hall of Fame worthy seasons (and playoff performances to match) before a dreadful knee injury ended his career.
If those two are “exceptions’’ to the long-held longevity standard, at least one more should be made. It should be made for Sterling Sharpe. The reasons are clear and, from this view, undisputable.
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 universally recognized as 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 Smith, who recently retired and is not yet Hall of Fame eligible, 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 Jerry 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 and is also on the list of 102 nominees this year). 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. That is why those 48 voters, of which I am one, should ignore all the noise we hear these days that this guy, that guy and the next guy is a “FIRST BALLOT HALL OF FAMER’’ as if having to wait a year or two is some sort of sin or blot on your induction.
It is not. But what would be a blot on the Hall of Fame is if Sterling Sharpe is forgotten for the 24th time in favor of newer faces who, quite frankly, didn’t all that he did in the amount of time he was given. Some players last a long time and they should be praised for it.
Others aren’t as lucky. Sterling Sharpe was one of the latter but in the seven years he was on the NFL stage, few stars shown brighter. Isn’t that enough for him to be selected to be debated on “Selection Saturday?’’