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Sterling Sharpe Biography

Chronology, Career Statistics, Awards And Accomplishments, Further Information


American football player

Awide receiver for the Green Bay Packers from 1988 to 1994, Sterling Sharpe made it to five Pro Bowls with his team during his career. A receiver of exceptional ability, Sharpe is the first player in the National Football League (NFL) to make 500 catches before playing seven seasons in the NFL. In 1993, Sharpe's 112 receptions broke the record for the most number of receptions in a single season. In his last season, in 1994, his 18 touchdown receptions were the best in the league. A spinal injury he suffered in December 1994 forced an early retirement for Sharpe, and in 1995, he became an analyst for ESPN, working on the NFL Game Day and NFL Prime Monday shows.

Sterling Sharpe was born in Chicago in 1965. When he was still in elementary school, he and his family moved to farm country near Savannah, George, where their grandparents lived.

Sterling Sharpe

Sharpe knew from an early age that he wanted to play pro football. So did his brother, Shannon Sharpe, and both eventually realized their dream. As their high school football coach, William Hall told the Star Tribune's Patrick Reusse, "They kind of knew what they wanted to do—those two young men. When they would come back from college in the summer, I would get a call, and I would go down and open the weight room for them. Sterling and Shannon were dedicated athletes. And, said Hall, "Sterling put us on the map for the college recruiters."

Sharpe was playing football seriously by the time he was in junior high school. While playing on his junior high school team, he attracted the notice of his future high school football coach, William Hall. Hall later told Reusse, "The first play I ever saw Sterling Sharpe was a kickoff, and he brought it back for a touchdown. That was quite an impression."

Sharpe excelled on the high school football team as well as on the track team, where he developed a reputation for playing through painful injuries. He took his track team to the state finals, where he injured a leg winning first place in the long jump. Over the protests of his coach, he immediately ran the relay, taking second place in spite of his bad leg. Shannon Sharpe, too, played on the high school football team and ran on the track team, where he broke the state long jump record for his class.

Sharpe attended college at the University of South Carolina. There he played on the school football team, breaking numerous school records, including those for career receptions (169), receiving yards (2,497), and receiving touchdowns (17).He graduated in 1988 with a double major in interdisciplinary studies and retailing.

On graduation, Sharpe was the number one draft choice of the Green Bay Packers. He became a starting wide receiver immediately, playing a total of seven years for the team—from 1988 to 1994. With an intense focus on the game, he avoided giving interviews to the media and signing autographs. His brother, Shannon told Jon Saraceno of USA Today in 1994 that Sharpe refused to give interviews because he felt he was treated unfairly by the press in his rookie year. "He hasn't been willing to forgive or forget."

From the beginning, Sharpe was exceptional, in his first season catching more passes, 55, than any other rookie in the history of the Packers. Even so, he felt he could do better, according to the Milwaukee Journal's Bob McGinn, as reported by Saraceno the following year, "I didn't really go out with the intensity the other guys played with. I continued to play with the same college attitude. I'm going to change my work habits in practice."

In 1989, Sharpe was selected for the Pro Bowl. That year he caught 90 passes for a total of 1,423 yards. The press loved him, but still he refused to grant interviews, a practice he was to carry on throughout through his career. In a rare interview on a radio station in Green Bay, said Saraceno, Sharpe hinted that his silence was a kind of revenge for being written about unfavorably at the start of his pro career. "It's one way of me saying, 'Guys, for what you did to me back then, I'm finally getting a chance to pay you back."

Sharpe's younger brother Shannon Sharpe followed Sharpe into the NFL as a player for the Denver Broncos in 1990. Shannon started as a wide receiver, then switched to tight end, becoming a starter in 1991, and a Pro Bowl player in 1992. In 1992, Sharpe and his brother became the only brothers to have led their separate teams in receiving in the same year.

In 1992, Sharpe made 108 receptions, and the following year, his 112 receptions broke the NFL record for the most receptions in a single season. He eventually caught more passes than any one else in the history of the Packers. He also set a Packers' record by playing 103 straight games with at least one pass reception.

In January, 1994, Sharpe was instrumental in the Packers' winning their first playoff game of the 1990s. With only a little over a minute remaining on the clock, Sharpe made a 40-yard touchdown to beat the Detroit Lions 28-24—his third touchdown of the game. Not only did he win the game for the Packers, but he became the first receiver in the history of the NFL to catch 100 or more passes two season in a row.

Sharpe's performance in 1994 was all the more remarkable considering that an injury known as turf toe kept him from practicing with his team for half of the season. Sharpe's turf toe was a painful hyperextension of his left big toe. "I wear a size 8 1/2 or size 9," he told Frank Litsky of the New York Times, "and I can't wear that size shoe. I have to wear a 10 on my left leg. It's very painful to go out and try to play. You're not able to do the things you're accustomed to doing. You really can't go out and be the type of player that you want to be. You've got to try and improvise."

But Sharpe's improvisation could not save his game after he suffered a debilitating injury to the top two vertebrae in his neck. The injury occurred when his neck snapped back while blocking a player in a game. Although he received a clean bill of health immediately following the incident, the injury worsened when he was tackled in the next game he played, resulting in numbness and tingling in his limbs. The team physician, Patrick McKenzie declared that Sharpe would require surgery to fuse the dangerously loose vertebrae. It was the final blow to Sharpe's career, and it forced his retirement from the game.

In 1995, the year after he retired from playing football, Sharpe became a broadcaster for ESPN, analyzing games for the NFL Game Day and NFL Prime Monday shows. Since leaving the Packers, Sharpe has also become part owner and chief executive officer of Pro Bowl Motors, an auto purchasing and selling service in Columbia, South Carolina, where he lives.

Sketch by Michael Belfiore

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