State Your Case: Sterling Sharpe

Talk of Fame Network

by Ron Borges

You need more than ability to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You also need availability. There are few exceptions to this rule beyond Gale Sayers, whose brilliance shown for only seven seasons before knee injuries cut him down prematurely, but at least one more should be considered and that’s Sterling Sharpe.

Domination of your era is one of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s requirements. To enter arguably the most select Hall in sports you must not merely compile numbers. You must have been dominate in your time. Few wide receivers were more dominate between 1988-1994 than Sterling Sharpe.

In fact, only one was. That was Jerry Rice, a Hall of Famer who is nearly universally considered the greatest wide receiver of all-time. If that is the case, then what should be done with the man who was second for seven years when both were in their prime before a neck injury forced him to leave football at the top of his game?

Despite Rice’s presence, Sharpe led the NFL in receptions three times, led in touchdown receptions twice and is one of only seven players in NFL history to win receiving’s “Triple Crown” by leading the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in the same season, joining Don Hutson, Elroy Hirsch, Pete Pihos, Raymond Berry, Steve Smith and Rice. All but the still active Smith are in enshrined in Canton.

Sharpe’s strongest argument for induction is the kind that would make most receivers pale in comparison and that is putting his seven-year numbers side-by-side with Rice’s in his prime. What receiver would want that? Sterling Sharpe, is one.

Between 1988-1994, Sharpe’s 595 receptions were second only to Rice. His 65 receiving touchdowns were second only to Rice. And his 8,134 yards were third only to Rice and Henry Ellard (who has a case of his own to make). If the Hall of Fame is about dominance, it’s impossible to argue Sterling Sharpe was anything but.

Putting the raw numbers aside, there is another factor to consider. Sharpe played with five different quarterbacks prior to the arrival of Brett Favre in 1992. One, Don Majkowski, was a skillful but oft-injured passer who played only one full season with Sharpe in the four years before Favre’s arrival while Rice was playing the bulk of his career with back-to-back Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young.

That in itself may be looked upon by some as of no import but consider what happened upon Favre’s arrival. In their three seasons together, Sharpe AVERAGED 105 receptions, 1,285 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was 29 when his career ended, a time when Favre was only beginning to enter his prime.

During those three years, Sharpe twice led the NFL in receptions and receiving touchdowns and once led in yards. In their first year, he set a then NFL record with 107 receptions and the following year broke it with 112, making him the first receiver in NFL history with back-to-back 100 catch seasons. In their final season, Sharpe had 94 catches, 1,119 yards and led the league with 18 touchdowns. Obviously, it is not much of a leap to see what was likely to happen had that connection remained intact.

Because of the circumstances around him, Sharpe had only one shot at the playoffs but made it count. In 1993, he had one of the biggest games in playoff history, catching five passes for 101 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions, including a 40-yard game-winner with 55 seconds to play. A week later the Packers would be eliminated by the Dallas Cowboys but not because of Sharpe. He had six receptions for 128 yards and another score, bringing his career playoff totals to 11 catches, 229 yards, four TDs and a per catch average of 20.82 yards.

What might have been one never knows but what was for Sterling Sharpe are Hall of Fame credentials for the same amount of years Gale Sayers amassed them. Seven years is a brief moment in time perhaps but when it is as brilliant as Sharpe’s it creates a career worthy of serious Hall of Fame consideration. If the only man statistically superior to you during your time is the greatest wide receiver ever, doesn’t that say enough?

In a moving tribute to his brother, Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe said during his own induction ceremony in 2008, “I’m the only pro football player that’s in the Hall of Fame and the second-best player in my own family.”

Shannon Sharpe is right about that. It would be a shame if the best of the Sharpe family was forgotten because a freak injury laid him low in his prime.


Photo courtesy of Vernon Biever/Green Bay Packers

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  1. Rich Quodomine
    October 30, 2014

    Not to nitpick here, but Pihos is in the HoF:

    Sharpe has the misfortune of being up against Rice, Reed, Carter and Brown. Without any disrespect to his career, he was not quite as good as Rice in terms of catching, didn’t have the endurance of a Reed (particularly in terms of crossing routes and blocking), didn’t quite have the rep for scoring TDs like Carter did, and didn’t have the multiple skill set of Tim Brown (returner and WR and threat as both). And his first 4 seasons are simply very good, not great. It can be argued that Brett Favre was responsible. Don Majikowski was a pretty good QB in his own right, though not on Favre’s level, obviously. In those years, he averaged around 65 catches and around 1100 yards (Qucik math per, with 1 Pro Bowl. The question is: Did the move from a run-oriented game to a pass-oriented game in the NFL, along with Favre, create Sterling Sharpe, or was Sharpe, like his fellow WRs above, responsible for creating the modern game? If it’s the former, then he’s part of the Hall of the Very Good or Great but for Long Enough, like Terrell Davis. If you argue that it’s the latter, then he’s a candidate for the HoF.

  2. Rich Quodomine
    October 31, 2014

    Oops, sorry I misread the Pihos reference – mentally crossed it with Smith sentence next in the paragraph! My error.

  3. robert Haney
    January 11, 2015

    please send sterling sharpe up to seattle please first he picks st. Louis over the hawks them the ego manic picks the panthers over seattle we will even send him a one way ticket that’s all he,ll need he better not come to are nest that’s one dumb bird

  4. Rasputin
    August 20, 2015

    His brother was right: Sterling was the better player. Sterling Sharpe was one of the Big 3 great WRs of the 90s, along with Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice, all of whom were significantly better all around receivers than Carter, Brown, and Reed (the longevity guys). This is obvious from watching him play as well as his statistical dominance, and I’ve been arguing for his induction for years.

  5. Anonymous
    September 19, 2015

    Sterling, you should be in the pro football hall of fame. I loved watching you play!

  6. Jeff Pagenkopf
    September 19, 2015

    Sterling , you should be in the pro football hall of fame. It was a joy to watch you play.

  7. bachslunch
    March 20, 2016

    No question Sterling Sharpe belongs in the HoF. There are a precious few WRs who deserve the Gale Sayers treatment, and Sharpe, Del Shofner, and Mac Speedie pretty much constitute the list. And add Calvin Johnson in a couple years.

  8. Jim Geiger
    February 25, 2017

    Sterling Sharpe belongs in the HOF before t.o. Sterling was a man among boys during his 7 year playing career. He went up against the best corners the league had to offer, some of those corners are in the Hall, Sterling always seemed to be open and putting up better numbers than all the other wide receivers in the NFL. YES STERLING SHARPE DESERVES TO BE IN THE HOF!!!!!!!!!

    • February 25, 2017

      Do not disagree, Jim. With the election of Davis, maybe Sharpes abbreviated career gets more attention. Because it should But couldnt agree with you more.

      • Rasputin
        February 25, 2017

        Yeah, TD replacing GS as the Mendoza line for longevity makes Sharpe’s omission even more glaring. Sayers had 5 elite seasons, while Davis only had 3 elite seasons and 1 pretty good year. Sharpe had 5 elite seasons and 2 pretty good years.

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