Had it not been for a freak neck injury during the1994 season that abruptly ended his seven-year NFL career, Sterling Sharpe would’ve been in the Pro Football Hall of Fame by now.
Sharpe led the NFL in catches, receiving touchdowns, and receiving yardage at various points of his pro football tenure.
He even won the elusive “Triple Crown” in 1992 when he led the league in those three statistical categories.
Sharpe not only caught the football like it was second nature to him, but he also displayed exemplary route-running and blocking skills.
It’s just unfortunate his career had to end during the peak of his NFL career. The career-ending incident conjured images of Joe Theismann, Johnny Knox, and Mike Utley.
Still, Sterling Sharpe is one of those NFL stars who made a profound impact on the game despite a short career on the pro gridiron.
Sterling Sharpe was born in Chicago, IL on April 6, 1965.
Sharpe grew up in Glennville, GA with his brother Shannon and sister Libby. Shannon Sharpe became a Hall of Fame tight end with the Denver Broncos in the National Football League.
Their grandmother Mary Porter raised them and her nine children in Glennville. She passed away due to diabetes at the age of 89 in 2011.
Sterling Sharpe attended Glennville High School. He excelled in basketball, track and field, and football.
Sharpe played on both sides of the ball on the high school gridiron: he played linebacker, quarterback, and running back.
However, he would rise to stardom by becoming a go-to wide receiver with the South Carolina Gamecocks in his college football career.
College Days With The South Carolina Gamecocks
Sterling Sharpe earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of South Carolina: one in interdisciplinary studies and another one in retailing.
Sharpe told the Gamecocks’ official athletics website he looked up to running back George Rogers and Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Anthony Carter.
Sharpe suited up for the South Carolina Gamecocks from 1984 to 1987. During that stretch, he established himself as one of the best wide receivers in program history.
Sharpe and sophomore quarterback Todd Ellis were a formidable pair for the Gamecocks in the 1987 NCAA season.
Sharpe set a new school record when he had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Duke Blue Devils during his sophomore campaign in 1985.
62 days until #Gamecock football!
In 1987, Sterling Sharpe recorded 62 receptions for 915 yards. He was drafted 7th overall in the 1st round of the 1988 NFL draft.
— Vizor Sports (@VizorSportsSC) July 5, 2020
Ellis had 3,206 passing yards and 10 touchdowns that year. Sharpe, the senior wide receiver and team captain, had 915 receiving yards and five touchdowns in his last year in Columbia, SC.
During a game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack that year, Sharpe received the opening kickoff and stutter-stepped his way to the opponent’s 27-yard line. He racked up 58 yards while eluding tacklers with relative ease.
“Sterling is like a 10-speed bike,” Ellis told SI.com in November 1987. “He’s got a different gear for every situation.”
Not only did Sharpe play college football at different gears, but he also displayed a vast and complete repertoire: he had elite blocking skills that took out fearsome linebackers from the equation.
With that, football experts considered Sharpe one of the elite wideouts in the college ranks along with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s Tim Brown.
Sharpe helped the Gamecocks win eight of twelve games in his final season. South Carolina received an invite to play in the 1987 Gator Bowl against the seventh-ranked LSU Tigers.
Unfortunately, the Tigers prevailed, 30-13.
At the end of the 1987 NCAA campaign, Sterling Sharpe set new school records including single-season catches (74), career catches (169), single-season receiving yards (1,106), and career receiving yards (2,497).
Sharpe also had at least one catch in 34 straight games for the Gamecocks. He also had 10 games with at least 100 receiving yards.
Once Sharpe’s senior season at South Carolina ended, he earned his second First-Team All-Conference honors, became a First-Team All-America selection, and received the Enright Award for leadership.
Sharpe also suited up in the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game.
After making his mark on the college football ranks, Sterling Sharpe would become a household name in one of the NFL’s most historic franchises for the next seven years.
Pro Football Career
The Green Bay Packers made Sterling Sharpe the seventh overall selection of the 1988 NFL Draft.
Today in 1988: With the seventh overall pick of the 1988 NFL Draft, the Packers snag South Carolina WR Sterling Sharpe. Sharpe earned Pro Bowl accolades five times and was a two-time first team All-Pro in seven seasons before neck injuries prematurely ended his career. pic.twitter.com/59WWvoNg7q
— Packers History (@HistoricPackers) April 24, 2019
The Packers teams Sharpe played for from 1988 to 1991 hardly resembled a championship-caliber squad.
They averaged just six wins per year and missed the postseason every time.
For Sharpe’s part, he played all sixty-four games for Green Bay during that stretch. He had two 1,000-plus-yard seasons from 1988 to 1991.
Sharpe showed why he was the Packers’ go-to receiver in his second year in the pro ranks. He had 1,423 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on in 16 games in 1989. He also led the league with 90 receptions.
Consequently, he earned the first of his three First-Team All-Pro and the first of his five Pro Bowl honors that year.
With the acquisition of future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre in 1992, the Packers turned their fortunes around.
The tandem of Favre and Sharpe helped the Packers win nine games for three straight seasons and reach the NFC Divisional Round in 1993 and 1994.
84 days til kickoff. Packers-Lions. 1993 NFC Wild-Card game. Brett Favre to Sterling Sharpe. 40 yard game winning touchdown. Brett Favre's first playoff win. Brent Musbeger's call made it that much better. #GoPackGo. pic.twitter.com/RMoi4VEGlw
— 🧀 Packers #1 Fan™ (@ParkerMoes) June 17, 2018
Sharpe became entrenched in Packers lore when he caught the game-winning touchdown against the Detroit Lions during a postseason game on January 8, 1994.
The win ended a decade of playoff futility for Green Bay and solidified Sterling Sharpe’s status as one of the best wideouts in the NFL.
It was also Packers quarterback Brett Favre’s first postseason win.
Surprisingly, no Lions defensive back was within arm’s reach of Sharpe when he scored with 55 seconds left to play.
Sharpe explained to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s J.R. Radcliffe that Detroit played a zone defense that fooled the Lions’ free safety.
With the Lions leading 24-21, Favre rolled to the right and promptly dragged the entire Detroit defense his way.
When he spotted a wide open Sharpe, he threw the football in his direction. That one play ended the Packers’ playoff misery and started a winning tradition that has gone on for more than two decades.
It was Sterling Sharpe’s third touchdown of the game despite dealing with a turf toe injury. The Packers prevailed in stunning fashion, 28-21.
Just as the Packers were slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with, Sterling Sharpe’s fortunes took a turn for the worse.
Toward the end of the 1994 NFL campaign, Sharpe’s head jarred back during a blocking play against the Atlanta Falcons.
Sharpe played through the pain and had 132 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a week later. The Packers won and clinched their second straight postseason berth.
However, a tackle on Sharpe during the game seemingly worsened the injury he sustained a week earlier.
“It was kind of a funny feeling in my right arm and I really didn’t want to try to get up and maybe make it worse than it really was,” Sharpe told FOX Sports (via USA TODAY) at the end of the game.
After further testing, physicians determined Sharpe had “an abnormal loosening of the first and second cervical vertebrae.”
Packers team doctor Pat McKenzie considered it a life-threatening condition that required immediate surgery.
Sterling Sharpe had played his last down in the National Football League. He was just 29 years old.
Despite the abrupt end to Sharpe’s spectacular NFL career, he made his mark on the gridiron.
Sterling Sharpe had 8.134 receiving yards and 65 touchdowns on 595 receptions in his seven-year NFL career, all with the Green Bay Packers.
Sharpe led the league in receptions in 1989 (90), 1992 (108), and 1993 (112). He also had the most receiving touchdowns in the NFL in 1992 (13) and 1994 NFL seasons (18).
Sharpe also won the NFL’s elusive Triple Crown during his breakout campaign in 1992. He led the NFL in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns that year.
He became one of just eight players in NFL history to pull off the gaudy feat. The others were Jerry Rice, Steve Smith, Sr., Raymond Berry, Pete Pihos, Elroy Hirsch, and Don Huston.
As of this writing, only Sharpe and Smith aren’t enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Remarkably, Sterling Sharpe achieved his accomplishments without missing a single NFL game.
All it took was a freak injury that ended that remarkable seven-year streak.
Sharpe has a twenty-eight-year-old daughter.
He told the Packers’ official website in 2002 he had no regrets about not earning a Super Bowl ring. The Packers beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXX two years after he played his final down in the NFL.
“When they went to the Super Bowl, I’m not sure anyone in that locker room was happier than me because I knew so many of the guys and, with my brother (Shannon Sharpe) also playing in the National Football League, I knew what may of them had gone through to get there.”
Sharpe didn’t single out any particular moments with the Packers that stood out. Instead, taking the field with teammates such as Randy Wright, Brett Favre, Don Majkowski, Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Ken Ruettgers, Ron Hallstrom, Tunch Ilkin, and Billy Ard made his seven-year NFL stint special, per Packers.com.
Sharpe became a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame on July 12, 2002.
He made his NFL Network debut as an analyst in September 2003. Sharpe has also worked for ESPN in the same capacity.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 2, 2013
Sharpe confessed to the Packers’ official website the thought of doing television work never crossed his mind after he retired from the NFL.
In fact, he felt he didn’t get the job after his preliminary audition with ESPN. He was pleasantly surprised when it turned out otherwise. He discovered the job “worked out to be a pretty good fit for me,” per Packers.com.
Sharpe’s daily routine as a football analyst during the NFL season was driving his daughter to school on weekdays and flying out for the ESPN studios in Connecticut on Saturday mornings.
He flew back home on Tuesday mornings. If he didn’t do prep work for his job, he spent lots of time at the golf course.
The College Football Hall of Fame inducted Sterling Sharpe on May 22, 2014. He became just the second South Carolina Gamecocks player to earn that distinction.
Sharpe owns a children’s clinic in South Carolina named after him: the Sterling Sharpe Pediatric Center.
Sharpe is a passionate golfer who plays 200 rounds every year. He began playing with his father-in-law in 2002. He enjoyed it so much he now plays golf regularly.
Sharpe had a tournament score of 66 and tried qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open in 2017.
He also told Sportsnet in 2018 he met Toronto Blue Jays legend Joe Carter by playing golf.
It’s Arnie week on the PGA tour. Bring back all those good ole days with the king pic.twitter.com/yFkz2vMTzR
— Sterling Sharpe (@Thro284) March 4, 2021
Sharpe has played in various golf courses including Sage Valley, Manhattan Woods, Quaker Ridge, Winged Foot, Friar’s Head, Augusta, Cypress, and Pine Valley.
Sharpe also told Sportsnet he doesn’t follow football since he retired from the NFL after the 1994 NFL season:
“I don’t follow football anymore…No, I play golf. If a football game is on, it has to be a big one for me to watch. I think I saw three minutes of the Super Bowl, and not together.”
“I got no reason to watch. When I played, I watched. When I did TV, I watched. I don’t do either anymore, so I don’t have to watch.”
When Sportsnet’s Luke Fox asked Sharpe if there’s anything he missed about football, he replied in the negative.
Sharpe told Fox all he wanted was a chance to play in the National Football League. He wound up playing in the NFL for seven seasons before he abruptly retired.
Sharpe never aspired to play in the NFL for more than a decade, become an All-Pro, or play in the Super Bowl. Now that he had reached pro football’s higher level, he doesn’t miss anything about the gridiron anymore.
If he had a son and he wanted to play football, Sharpe has no reservations about it. While he acknowledged to Fox it’s a violent game, he feels he has no right to get in the way of the boy’s aspirations. Whether he wants to become a race car driver or president, Sharpe will support him.
Sharpe told Sportsnet in 2018 he wasn’t worried about developing CTE:
“I’ve had 53 wonderful years. I’m not living my life through someone else’s pain…I’ve got no complaints,” Sharpe said.
Twenty-three years after Sharpe hung up his cleats, he admitted to Fox he didn’t talk to the media during his playing days because he had nothing much to say.
Aside from Carter, Sharpe is also close to other former athletes such as Victor Green, Barry Larkin, Dan Marino, and Ronnie Lott.
Sharpe’s 20 years of eligibility as a modern-era candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame expired in 2020. If he should make it to Canton, he will be enshrined as a senior candidate.
Somebody asked who I think is the best eligible player not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Retired at 29 due to injury.
1992-1994 (his last 3 years):
Sharpe: 314 rec, 3854 yds, 42 TD
Jerry Rice: 292 rec, 4203 yds, 38 TD pic.twitter.com/RUaXNrI4rE
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) August 31, 2020
Former Packers general manager Ron Wolf told the “Eye Test for Two” podcast on FullPressRadio.com (via SI.com’s Clark Judge) in October 2020 it’s a shame Sharpe isn’t in Canton considering he was “a perfect football player.”
In Wolf’s opinion, Sharpe’s toughness and dedication set him apart from other wide receivers. He also didn’t let anything intimidate him on game day.
Wolf also told FullPressRadio.com Sharpe was a versatile wide receiver who could catch the ball anywhere on the field running all sorts of routes.