On August 8, 2015, Ron Wolf will receive his well deserved bronze bust and take his rightful place in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Next year, Brett Favre will be enshrined. Both of these events will be exciting for Green Bay Packers fans and I too look forward to the party.
On the other hand, every time I watch one of these NFL Hall of Fame ceremonies on TV I am reminded of Sterling Sharpe’s great career as a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers and what should have been, if he could have played longer.
I hate playing the “what if” game. I hate it, because I beat myself up until I have internally rationalized a satisfying resolution. In the case of Green Bay Packers wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, I’m going to play the “what if” game, because his NFL career was sterling (pun intended) and then he was robbed of his chance at becoming an NFL Hall of Fame bust.
After a fantastic college career at the University of South Carolina, Sterling Sharpe was selected by the Green Bay Packers with the seventh pick in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft. According to pro-football-reference.com, he started all 16 games as rookie, catching 55 passes for 791 yards and a touchdown. Sterling instantly became a fan favorite in Packer Nation.
During his second season (1989) with the Green Bay Packers, Sterling Sharpe set team records with 90 catches and 1,423 yards. His 12 touchdowns were the second-highest total in the NFL. Sharpe was now beginning to dominate!
In his third season (1990) Sharpe earned Pro Bowl honors. He caught 67 passes for 1,105 yards and six touchdowns.
However, in 1991 Sharpe’s production took a “slight dip.” He failed to top 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since his rookie season. He ended the season with 961 receiving yards.
Be reminded from 1988-1991 Sterling Sharpe played with quarterbacks Don Majkowski, Mike Tomczak, and Anthony Dilweg. It was not until 1992 that Sharpe finally had an opportunity to play with a raw, but talented quarterback, when a young Brett Favre was given the starting job, following Majkowski’s injury.
With Favre pushing the buttons and running the controls, Sterling Sharpe responded with one of the greatest seasons by a wide receiver in NFL history. In 1992 he led the league in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns by a receiver, becoming just the sixth man in NFL history to do so. His 107 receptions that year broke the single-season record set by Washington Redskins wide receiver Art Monk, who caught 106 passes in 1984. Art Monk was inducted into the NFL HOF in 2008.
In 1993, Sharpe broke his own single-season reception record by hauling in 112 passes-setting another NFL record. He became the first NFL wide receiver to top 100 receptions in consecutive seasons-setting yet another NFL record. It was fun to watch Sterling Sharpe catching Brett Favre cannonballs for TD’s. The QB/WR combination gave Packers fans hope and life.
Finally, for the first time in Sharpe’s career, the Green Bay Packers in 1993 advanced to the postseason. In a wild card game against the Detroit Lions, Sharpe scored 3 touchdowns. The third TD was a “come-from-behind-game-winner” from Brett Favre with under a minute to go. At the time he is one in a handful of wide receivers to accomplish this feat in an NFL playoff game. Sharpe now seemed unstoppable.
Then the unimaginable happened. The game Sterling Sharpe loved so much came to a screeching halt in 1994 when he suffered a severe neck injury against the Atlanta Falcons. He never played in another NFL football game and retired at the age of 29.
In his eight-year Green Bay Packers career, Sterling Sharpe played in all 112 games. He caught 595 passes for 8,134 yards and 65 touchdowns. When he retired at the age of 29, only three NFL players averaged more receiving yards per game. Only eight players had more career receptions and receiving touchdowns.
What if Sharpe had played with Favre until the age of 36, rather than 29? It’s too difficult to project, but safe to say, Sterling Sharpe would have posted ridiculous receiving totals. Heck, given Sterling Sharpe’s pace, he could have ended up owning a few more NFL wide receiver records had he played that long with Favre.
One thing is for sure. If Sterling Sharpe had played until the age of 32, he would have earned a Super Bowl ring after the 1996 season and he would have played in another Super Bowl in 1997. He might have been the missing piece which would have helped the Packers beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. Heck, he may have even been the SB MVP. Who knows?
On the other hand, this we know, Sterling Sharpe proved beyond a shadow of a doubt from 1988-1994 that he was an NFL Hall of Fame football player.
If Sterling Sharpe hadn’t suffered a career-ending neck injury, the Green Bay Packers would be without a doubt boosting of another NFL Hall of Fame player. Including Class of 2015 inductee Ron Wolf, the Green Bay Packers have 23 individuals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brett Favre will be #24. Sterling Sharpe should be in there too.
Todd Stelzel, a loyal Packers fan since 1966, is a contributing writer with
You can follow him on Twitter at @ToddStelzel for more Packer news.