Former Green Bay wide receiver Sterling Sharpe isn’t among the 130 players on this year’s preliminary list for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that’s not an oversight. His 20 years of eligibility as a modern-era candidate expired this year.
So that makes him a senior candidate, and good luck. Once remote chances of reaching Canton just got worse.
Two reasons: 1) The pool of seniors is knee-deep in qualified Hall-of-Fame aspirants, including 59 all-decade choices, and 2) voters barely recognized Sterling Sharpe the past 20 years. Correction: They didn’t recognize him. He was never a finalist or semifinalist.
Puzzling? More like incomprehensible.
Sterling Sharpe was a dominant wide receiver until a neck injury in 1994 abruptly ended his career. He was invited to the Pro Bowl five times in seven years of play. He was a first-team All-Pro three times. He led the league in receptions three times, in touchdowns twice and in yards once. Heck, he led the league in all three categories in 1992, becoming the sixth player in league history to win the “Triple Crown” of receiving.
He broke league receiving records. He broke Don Hutson’s Packers’ records. He did virtually everything but have a long career, which is another way of saying: He was Hall-of-Fame worthy.
But tell that to voters who stiff-armed Sharpe the past two decades. Not once did they make Sharpe one of the Hall’s 25 annual semifinalists, and I don’t get it. Then again, neither does former Green Bay GM Ron Wolf, elected to Canton in 2015 and who appeared on this week’s “Eye Test for Two” podcast to stand up for Sharpe.
“I think what made him so special,” Wolf said, “was he was really tough and really dedicated to the game in his way. He was not intimidated by anything … or anybody … or any situation. He’s a perfect football player. I don’t know what else to add to that.
“He could do everything you would want a receiver to do. He would go anywhere to catch a ball. He would go in and catch it. He would go out and catch it. He would run hooks, run-outs, run-ups. He was just an exceptional football player.”
In Sharpe’s last season he caught a career-best 18 touchdown passes, then second only to Jerry Rice’s 22 in 1987 as a single-season record. The previous year he became the first player to have consecutive 100-catch seasons, with a then-league record 112 which broke his own mark of 107 set in 1992.
But then he was gone, the victim of a neck injury suffered in the last two games of 1994 and’s been forgotten ever since … at least by Hall-of-Fame voters who valued durability.
However, the elections of Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley in 2017 changed that dialogue and should’ve helped Sharpe, whose career lasted from 1988 through 1994. Unfortunately, they didn’t. He’s never been a blip on the Canton radar, and it’s time someone schools voters on what they’re missing.
Wolf was only too happy to volunteer.
“What they need to know,” he said, “is that you have to consider who he played for. He played for a lousy Green Bay Packers team until Mike Holmgren and I got there and kind of changed the fortunes. But he’s the reason for the change.
“In 1992, with that collection of players that we had, Mike Holmgren and his staff were able go 9-7 and have a winning record – which was remarkable. But the real reason for that was Brett Favre and Sterling Sharpe.
“I’m sure every defensive coordinator that got ready to play the Packers said, ‘All we have to do is take Sharpe away, and we’ll beat them.’ Well, you know what? They never took him away. He led the league in receptions.
“He was just a tremendous football player. Hard to believe that he was as good as he was, considering what he had around him as a team.”
Harder to believe he was as good as he was, and Canton hasn’t noticed.