When it’s all about Shannon Sharpe, where does one start or leave off?
His selection Saturday to the Pro Football Hall of Fame-the fourth Denver Broncos player to be elected into the illustrious honor society in the last eight years-has already led to a spate of stories and columns about the great tight end.
I thought I would offer my own take on Shannon Sharpe one more time, with apologies if you have read this before.
His selection had to happen sooner or later, and Sharpe did not make it due to numbers his first two years of eligibility-for example, when the voters decided to go for the very deserving Mr. Ralph Wilson, his age was a factor in putting him in right away, probably costing Sharpe a spot. Same thing happened this year-not to Sharpe, but to someone-when they went for the very deserving Ed Sabol, who is 95 years old. Ed has waited in enough lines in his life and career, he should never be in another.
So Shannon altogether waited two years, not a very long time compared to the 18-year wait endured by the elegant and classy wide receiver Lynn Swann.
Shannon set the gold standard in a lot of ways.
It is now fashionable to talk about Tony Gonzalez as the all-time reception leader at the tight end position-more catches, yards, and touchdowns now than Sharpe.
When he retired, Sharpe was number one in all those categories, plus all time Pro Bowl honors for tight ends, but he really made his mark with postseason play.
Just think, the next playoff win that Tony Gonzalez participates in will be the very first one of his career.
Shannon had 12 straight postseason wins at one point, a total almost impossible to duplicate, finishing with 13 overall, including three Super Bowls.
But not only was he a part of all that winning, he did the talking in advance of the games, and always backed it up with his play.
He came out of Savannah State as a late draft choice but brought with him some staggering pass catching figures. I remember the day, and I remember thinking that if he caught all those passes in college, he likely would catch a lot as a pro as well. Sometimes things are simpler than we make them out to be.
One of the biggest plays in the 1997 AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh was John Elway calling Sharpe’s number on the last big third down play of the game for the Broncos, with Sharpe guaranteeing his Hall of Fame quarterback that he would be there and get the ball, no matter what. A huge play, one of the biggest in Broncos history. Sharpe backed up everything he ever said.
I remember after we won the first Super Bowl and received the championship rings for Super Bowl XXXII, with no announcement or fanfare of any type Shannon gave his ring to his brother Sterling. Everyone knows how close they were, but many people still do not know Shannon performed that ultimate act. Sterling wears the Super Bowl ring to this day. Months later, after the word spread quietly within the organization, Mike Shanahan just as quietly called Shannon to his office and gave him another ring. I don’t know who paid for it, but it was a very classy gesture.
I remember when we won the second of our back-to-back Super Bowls, beating the Atlanta Falcons, after talking to all the press, showering and dressing, Shannon opened a duffle bag and pulled out a leather jacket that already was engraved with the logos of both games, noting in bold lettering that the Broncos were back-to-back champs. He put on his jacket and exited the locker room. He was ready for the moment. Sharpe was always ready for the moment.
He was ready when he went to the Baltimore Ravens, too, helping them to win their only world title before being brought back to Denver, where he always belonged.
I remember a time during a busy week when a player had made a big commitment to talk to about a dozen media members at one time, by phone-in our business, it is called a conference call-but then backed out, literally, at the second I was going to place the call. With barely seconds to spare, I walked over to Shannon and told him the situation with a “What in the world am I going to do?” look on my face. He just whispered to me, “Get them on the phone, tell them he had a commitment, but that Sharpe will do it if that’s OK.” Sharpe was one of the game’s superstars and the press at the other end of the line could barely believe their good luck in getting Sharpe as a “substitute.” The point is, he completely solved a problem for me, acting once more like the captain that he was.
He used to say that “your locker is a microcosm” of your life, and he would routinely take all the contents out, shoes, papers, playbook, etc. and get down on his knees and clean it out with one of those hand vacuums. This man was meticulous.
Like all teams, the Bronco served food to the players every day, to make sure they got a hot meal.
Sharpe brought his own. A broiled no skin chicken breast, and green vegetables. Every day.
On Fridays we served pizza, and Shannon would often have a slice with his teammates. But only as a matter of camaraderie, not nutrition.
He was one of a kind. A lot of men are self made men, but most of them stopped the work halfway through the project. Sharpe did nothing halfway, and he did not stop halfway on his journey to the Hall of Fame, either.
As I said to him the day he retired, “See you in Canton, Shannon.”