Arguably the most charismatic player to ever wear a Denver Broncos uniform Shannon Sharpe’e rise to the Hall of Fame was one of the most compelling stories in sports history. Sharpe shared that story at the NFL Class of 2011 enshrinement ceremony held in Canton, Ohio last Saturday. Inspiration, dedication and motivation for Sharpe’s stellar 14-year career were divided between his brother Sterling and grandmother, the late Mary Porter who raised him from poverty in Glenville, Georgia.
Older brother Sterling Sharpe spent seven years in the NFL, a number seven overall pick in the 1988 Draft, all spent with the Green Bay Packers. His stint in the NFL was cut short by a career ending neck injury after averaging 85-catches per year. In comparison, an overlooked Shannon was drafted number 192 overall in the 1990 Draft, and had always looked up to his brother from childhood to high school, to college and pro sports.
Sharpe’s grandmother, Mary Porter raised nine of her own children and took in three of her daughters children including Shannon from three months old. The large family lived in a small shack in the deep woods of Georgia living a life reminiscent of slave labor, picking tobacco and catching chickens to survive. Porter died at the age of 89 in July of this year, just one month before Shannon was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“When I left my grandmother’s home in 1986 headed to Savannah State with two brown grocery bags filled with my belongings, nothing was going to keep me from realizing my dreams,” Sharpe said. “When people told me I wasn’t going to make it, I listened to the one person who told me I was, me. You may not know this, but I was never supposed to be a Hall of Fame tight end or any kind of tight end, or even a Hall of Fame player. I’m here today for a lot of reasons. Some have everything to do with me. Some have absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with the kindness and patience of all the people that guided me through my life.”
Outside of John Elway, Shannon was part of a cast of castaways of the Denver Broncos that were late round draft picks, undrafted or unwanted players from other teams. The band of misfits went on the win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. Terrell Davis – a 196th pick, Rod Smith an undrafted player, and Sharpe the seventh round pick teamed up with John Elway – the only first round pick – and became just the sixth team in NFL history to win two consecutive Super Bowls.
When Sharpe retired in 2003 he was the NFL all-time leader in receiving yards (10,060), catches (815) and touchdowns (62) by a tight-end. After winning two Super Bowls with the Broncos, Sharpe spent two years with the Baltimore Ravens winning one Super Bowl there in 2001.
Throughout his career Sharpe became known as the “Mouth from the South” for his trash talking on the field and witty sayings off the field. Restricted to around 10 minutes for his acceptance speech Sharpe more than doubled his time allotment. His speech was one of the most touching in recent memory at the Hall of Fame enshrinements. Sharpe closed his speech talking about his granny.
“As my grandmother was laying in that casket on Saturday morning, I walked over to her, and I asked her two things. I asked her two things: I said, ‘Granny, am I the man you thought I would be when you got on the train and you came to Chicago and got me at three months? Am I the man you thought I would be?’ And I stood there for about 20 seconds and I could see her smiling. Then I asked her, ‘Are you proud?’ I said, Granny, are you proud of your baby? Because everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve tried to please you.”
Joining Sharpe in the 2011 Hall of Fame Class was Deion Sanders, Richard Dent, Marshall Faulk, Ed Sabol, Les Ricter and Chris Hanburger.
Here are a few of Sharpe’s sharp comments over the years:
Faking a phone call on the sidelines; “President, we need the national guard.National Guard. We need as many men as you can spare! Because we are killing the Patriots! So call the dogs off! Send the National Guard please! (during a 34 – 8 rout vs. the Patriots on November 17, 1996) On running back Corey Dillon – “the biggest robbery since the Louisiana Purchase” On QB Jake Plummer – “They’re about to take out the ‘SN’ in Snake and put an ‘F’ in front of it.” CB Ray Buchannan who wore a dog collar to Media Day and guaranteed an Atlanta victory in Super Bowl XXXIII (which Atlanta lost to Denver): “Had anybody heard of Ray Buchanan before he got to Atlanta?” After Buchanan’s assertion that Sharpe looked like a horse: “I’ve never called anybody ugly. Do I think people are ugly? Yeah, I think he’s ugly, but I’ve never said that…Is he my friend? No. Did I ever view him as a friend? No. Do I view him as an acquaintance? No. Do I like him? No. If I see him in a snowstorm, his truck is broke down, mine is going perfectly, would I pick him up? No.”