Sharpe

A year after James Lofton departed, the Packers drafted a worthy successor out of South Carolina with the seventh overall pick, Sterling Sharpe. Sharpe, born April 6, 1965, had a completely different style than Lofton, but was perhaps even more dominant. Jerry Rice was still in his prime in the early 1990s, but at that point Sharpe was a better receiver. He is by far better than any of the herd of wide outs who have been elected to Canton recently…Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Cris Carter. None of those men could dominate a game like Sharpe. When Sterling’s brother Shannon was inducted in Canton in 2011, he made this true statement, “I’m the only pro football player that’s in the Hall of Fame [who’s] the second best player in my family.” That’s not to detract from Shannon Sharpe as a great player, but Sterling was even better.

The only reason Sharpe is not in the Hall is the career-ending spinal injury that cut his career short at seven years. In those seven years, Sterling exceeded 1,000 yards five times, scored 65 touchdowns with a high of 18 in his final season and won the receivers’ Triple Crown in 1992 by leading the NFL in receptions, yards and touchdown receptions. He was the first player to catch over 100 balls in consecutive seasons and in his last three years averaged 105 catches for 1,285 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Sharpe was fast enough to get deep, but did not have the acceleration or leaping ability of Lofton. Instead, the 6-foot 210-pound Sharpe was tougher with better hands and moves. Sharpe lived over the middle of the field and was an excellent runner after the catch. He only got to play in two playoff games for Mike Holmgren’s resurgent Packers, but caught 11 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns in those games.

His most famous play came in his first playoff game against the Lions when he made a sight adjustment and slipped away from coverage to catch a 40-yard game-winning touchdown that Brett Favre threw all the way across the field with 55 seconds to play. One of the reasons that Favre was able to quickly develop in Holmgren’s offense was the presence of Sharpe consistently getting open and presenting a sure target to the young gunslinger.

Sharpe, of course, was a prickly guy in the locker room and got to the point where he refused to do interviews with the media. In a rare interview in 1991, Sterling told Bud Lea, “I just want to catch every pass. I don’t put any pressure on myself. I don’t have anything else that I feel like I have to prove. I came in my first year and proved I could play in the league. I proved I could get better my second year. I proved I could play hurt last year. My only thing now is to be consistent.” That he was till he was injured.

Sharpe also caused some resentment when he walked out on the team on the eve of the 1994 season opener in order to force a salary re-negotiation. He got what he wanted, but burned some bridges in doing so. When he was hurt and forced to retire at the end of that season, some Packers seemed to go out of their way to assert the team would go on without him and might even be better by spreading the ball around more. Indeed, Green Bay did win a Super Bowl two years later, but just think how much stronger the offense would have been if Sharpe were still there, if the more slightly-built Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman had to bear less of the receiving burden. Maybe the Pack wins two or three Super Bowls. Sharpe was a dominant force at wide receiver.

(adapted from Green Bay Gold)

1988tssharpe  1989tssharpe

Custom cards in Topps style.

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