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The "What Could Have Been"s of Sterling Sharpe

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The "What Could Have Been"s of Sterling Sharpe

As I flipped through channels on a lazy Saturday, I hit the NFL Network and allowed myself to be yelled at by one of my all-time favorite Green Bay Packers, Sterling Sharpe. I don't think he was yelling specifically at me, though its hard to tell. Let's just say I'm glad it wasn't me that ticked him off.

As I heard him compare his career numbers to those of Calvin Johnson, it made me ponder two things. First, he's still trying to compare his career to every wide receiver in the league twenty years after he was forced to retire?

But, secondly, it made me think about exactly what kind of career he might have had if he had been born just ten years later. I've alluded in my last few articles about the neck injury that he obviously played with for years before retiring, choosing to risk it by tying the back of his helmet to his shoulder pads to prevent any further injury. When he finally injured it again and had to retire, his career would be cut short at seven seasons at the age of 29.

But in those seven seasons, he managed to compile some awfully impressive statistics, catching 595 balls (still good for 62nd all time in the NFL) for 8134 yards (80th) and 65 touchdowns (45th). Donald Driver managed to extend his career for twice as long as Sharpe and still didn't manage to break Sharpe's touchdown total.

Sharpe was charismatic and polarizing. He immediately cut off the local press when he received some criticism as a rookie, leading to endless cheap shots from the local beat writers. Behind the scenes, he developed a reputation for being arrogant and a me-first player in the huddle. The season after he retired, ESPN did a feature in which Brett Favre and the rest of the Packers talked about how much better the team was without Sharpe. They complained about his constant talking and demanding the ball in the huddle. Chris Berman came out of the segment and went to a split-screen with Sharpe and tried to damage control, telling Sterling how much they loved him and how much he was missed.

The look on Sharpe's face clearly communicated he wasn't buying it. And that was the first time I watched him television and heard him yelling at me. Well, he wasn't yelling at me, but perhaps at the world. Yelling that his glorious statistics and impact on the team was still important and should be respected.

But, in the end, Sharpe was a great player on teams ranging from terrible to average. And he never had a quarterback of the caliber of Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers in their prime. Oh, he had Brett Favre all right, but that was pre-MVP Favre, a kid so wild and undisciplined his head coach nearly benched him.

There were those who quickly dismissed Sharpe, as it was the year after his retirement that the Packers took that step from wild-card contender to Super Bowl contenders, and Favre won his first MVP without his former security blanket. A giddy fan base quickly chalked Sharpe up as a necessary casualty and embraced Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks as their new favorite receivers.

Perhaps, Sharpe was born too early. Imagine, for a moment, that he entered the league ten years later than he did. Instead of having Randy Wright, Don Majkowski, Mike Tomczak, and an immature Brett Favre throwing him passes, he would have entered the league in 1998. Favre would have been a former MVP and Super Bowl Champion, and have most of the ego filled up in the huddle already.

Had Sharpe started his seven-year career then, at a point of transition from the old Holmgren era to the Rhodes/Sherman eras, he might have been in a position to make a larger impact on the postseason games. Remember, Sharpe only played in two postseason games in his career, going 1-1 in 1993.

Imagine the mature, aging Favre having Sharpe as a #1 receiver. Ron Wolf often reflected he had done very little to put top-flight weapons around Favre, and having Sharpe might have saved the wasted second-round pick of Robert Ferguson in 2001 and the washout of the first-round pick of Javon Walker in 2002.

Now, imagine that 2003 playoff game against the Eagles: you know, the 4th-and-26 game. How might that game have been different with Sharpe? How would all of those Sherman playoff games have been different with a truly great wide receiver in his prime, one that, yes, might challenge the abilities of the Calvin Johnson of today?

Perhaps, as is the custom of Favre-led teams, Sharpe wouldn't have caught as many passes as when he was the only option in the late 80's and 90's. Maybe he wouldn't have owned the record for most receptions in a season as he did in 1992. But maybe, he would have changed the complexion of those Sherman teams just enough to give them a little more success when it mattered.

Now, pretend that Sharpe's career is juxtaposed ahead twenty years, and he enters the league as a Green Bay Packer in 2008, Aaron Rodgers' first year as a starter. While the Packers had Greg Jennings and Donald Driver already at wide receiver, what might the addition of a player like Sharpe done for Rodgers' formative years? More importantly, what might it have done for that Arizona playoff game in 2009, or the New York Giants playoff game in 2011? What might it have done for the San Francisco playoff loss last year, which would correspond to Sharpe's best season ever in 1992?

Again, Aaron Rodgers likes to spread it around, and its unlikely that Sharpe would have as many receptions as he would have in his real career. But what would a mega-talented player like Sharpe have been able to contribute under some real leadership? Let's be honest: Lindy Infante, who became the Packers' head coach in 1988 (Sharpe's rookie year), had a reputation for a country club atmosphere in the locker room, where the players took liberties and essentially ran the club as they saw fit. Imagine Sharpe entering the league under Mike McCarthy's approach and Ted Thompson's expectations.

It's hard to say exactly how great of a player Sterling Sharpe truly might have been if his career hadn't been cut short. To this day, he still ranks 14th all time in the NFL for most reception yardage per game (72.6). How long could he have continued that production? I'm sure he's spent many hours extrapolating his statistics over eleven, twelve, and thirteen seasons. I'm sure he still measures those ghostly numbers against players like Jerry Rice and Calvin Johnson.

But even harder to say is how Sharpe might have fared under better leadership, catching passes from a mature NFL-great quarterback like Favre and Rodgers in their prime, with a talented team around him. Maybe instead of counting up his numbers and trying to compare them to the greats, he might be counting the number of Super Bowl rings on his hand.

Then, when I'm flipping through the channels on a lazy Saturday afternoon, Sterling Sharpe would be yelling at me about the quality of his playing days, not the quantity of his statistics.


C.D. Angeli is a lifelong Packer fan and feature writer at CheeseheadTV.  He is the co-host of the weekly Packers podcast Cheesehead Radio and is the good cop running Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (65) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Mark in Montana's picture

I believe a full-career Sharpe would have been mentioned in the same breath as Jerry Rice, if not for pure numbers then as an archetype of the modern wr position. Sure he was/is a blowhard, but even that lead to amusing, whiny, on-air rants from Tom F'in Pipines.

Longshanks's picture

I would love to imagine James Lofton playing with the team Rodgers has now but it's still pointless as it's not going to happen. We could write this about alot of Packers greats. Sharpe was an a hole in my professional opinion. He's one of the rare players where you actually hate him more as time goes on vs. less.


Stroh's picture

Your professional opinion? What profession is it that allows you to make a statement like that? Or is it really your amateur opinion?

The TKstinator's picture


Longshanks's picture

"He’s one of the rare players where you actually hate him more as time goes on vs. less."

This statement also applies to you Stroh. You want answers? Who are you to think you are entitled to answers from me or anyone else? You are a nobody Stroh. A former strength and condition coach now subjected to bullying people on a message board because nobody wants to hire you because you are too well liked. With your professional expertise I would think Green Bay would be courting you to help with their hamstring problems.


Bearmeat's picture

Will both of you lay off of it? Seriously. STHU.

Stroh's picture

Oh, is the poor guy all bent out of shape cuz someone challenged your "professional" opinion? If you had just said in your opinion I wouldn't have responded. So The question stands. What gives you reason to call it a PROFESSIONAL opinion?!

Its not bullying, it was responding to you calling yourself a football professional or was it psychiatric professional?

When I say something is my opinion I don't say professional. And even when discussing matters of conditioning, I don't say I'm a professional!

Just answer the damn question...

Longshanks's picture

All you have done so far since I've been here is bully people Stroh. You feel you are superior to all others. Only you the mighty Stroh know it all would question my professional opinion than insult me by saying I am some amateur. Go to hell Stroh!! You want respect and answers than maybe try acting like a human being you jackwagon!! and yes, that's my professional opinion about you!!


Stroh's picture

I didn't say you were an amateur, I asked in what way your a professional and the asked if amateur would be a more apt opinion. Your the one stating your a professional of some sort. So what are you a professional of?

Just anwer the damn question...

Hell even when discussing Conditioning or a related subject I don't call myself a professional. I state that I'm a Former S and C coach and that in my somewhat reliable opinion.

I've never called myself a professional of anything on here. On a side note, I do consider myself to have a higher football knowledge, than most others, but that comes from friends who have told me that. One who played college football and another who is an anchor for the worldwide leader in sports. I'm sure there are a few fans that know more, but I haven't met them. If you wanna call that conceited so be it. I could care less.

Longshanks's picture

lol.. You crack me up Stroh. That was good. lol


tundravision's picture

I am fully convinced that not only is Longshanks the Jay Cutler of Packer fans, I believe he is literally JC Lombardi.

Longshanks's picture

Let's stick to the article shall we? You and Stroh need to check your egos at the door.


Stroh's picture

Your the one who called himself a professional of something! Maybe you should check your ego!

Bearmeat's picture

Good. Lord. Both of you please grow up.

It would make it a lot more pleasant around here for everyone else.

Professional at Life's picture

Can we all just have a group hug and make up?

Bearmeat's picture

Sharpe would have been an all time great and a surefire HOFer. Had he played 15 years, I'd bet GB wins at least another SB in the 90's, and maybe in the early years of the Sherminator's tenure too.

Then again, if Nick Collins/Tramon hadn't gotten hurt, IMO we'd have been MUCH better on D in 2011 and 2012 too. Could we have added another since SB 45?

Who knows.

The TKstinator's picture

I'm thinkung a stud wr can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, he draws coverage and creates opportunities for other receivers. On the other hand, he can still beat double teams etc and the qb needs to get him the ball.

In the early Sharpe days I would have gone all out to contain him and let the Commodore (the immortal Perry Kemp) beat me. And I doubt he would have. No big secret there, but look at how productive Sharpe was anyway.

I think what makes the current team dangerous (when at full strength) is that Rodgers simply wants to hit the open man, and GB has so many good receivers that it is really a case of "pick your poison" for defenses.

In addition, this year's team has run the ball so successfully that defenses not only have to account for numerous threats in the passing game, they also have to play honest vs both run and pass.

Maybe the biggest key to all this is the play of the o-line. When an o-line sucks, nothing works.

Bomdad's picture

On the other hand, with increased medical care for players with neck injuries, maybe he would have been diagnosed with stenosis earlier or not allowed to continue to play the game. And his brother is less inspired and turns out as JAG.

Longshanks's picture

lol... now that is funny. Actually that could have easily happened.


Uncle Louie's picture

Longshanks your screen name appears at the top of your post, no need to sign off at the bottom of your comments. Save yourself some time & effort

Uncle Louie

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture


Jamie's picture

"Sharpe was charismatic and polarizing. He immediately cut off the local press when he received some criticism as a rookie, leading to endless cheap shots from the local beat writers. Behind the scenes, he developed a reputation for being arrogant and a me-first player in the huddle. The season after he retired, ESPN did a feature in which Brett Favre and the rest of the Packers talked about how much better the team was without Sharpe. They complained about his constant talking and demanding the ball in the huddle. Chris Berman came out of the segment and went to a split-screen with Sharpe and tried to damage control, telling Sterling how much they loved him and how much he was missed."

I'm sorry, but can anyone else confirm that this happened? I don't recall it, and just can't see that least not the way it was described.


tundravision's picture

It happened. Kind of that thing you have to do when you put something in print. Not the same as sitting in a bar and telling fish stories.

Longspanks's picture

Great post, CD. Very informative piece. I have forgotten all the Sharpe related drama. Great player, classic WR temperament.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

"I don’t recall it, and just can’t see that happening"


Longshanks's picture

So you are calling C.D. Angeli a liar? That's quite the accusation.


Jamie's picture

More an embellisher.

tundravision's picture
Jamie's picture

So you're admitting you made it up for fun? Cuz that link doesn't confirm a single word that you wrote...

Longshanks's picture

Jamie, I reviewed his link and you are correct he made it up. Nothing in the link supports his article above. Embellishment is a good word. Excellent work Jamie. I just wonder if C.D will attack you as bad as he did me last week knowing a woman called him out on this. This should be interesting to say the least.


packeraaron's picture

It was absolutely as CD describes.

packeraaron's picture


" the local media, especially the hometown Green Bay Press-Gazette. Stung by the scrutiny, Sharpe shut down and stopped talking to the media"

From the book "Tales From the Green Bay Sideline" by Chuck Carlson.

I realize this would necessitate your picking up a book, but yeah. CD didn't make it up.

Oh, here. Found a link for you:

Bears Love Cheddar Biscuits's picture

Sharpe may have been a jerk, but you can't question his production or his toughness. The guy played through a devastating neck injury and still had 94 catches.

Favre calling out Sharpe for being a crappy teammate after his forced retirement seems like a pretty classless move. Kind of like rubbing salt in a wound. It may have been true, but do you really need to say it?

Complete Non sequitor: There are so many things unintentionally hilarious about this Longshanks post. His four marriages, picking up "whitetail" at bars at the age of sixty, even a reference to "jungle-type music."

Is this some sort of Kaufman-esque gag or is this guy really this unaware?

packeraaron's picture

So Jamie? Longshanks? Any response to basically calling CD a liar and being proven totally wrong?

I have no doubt you'll show the utmost grace and humility. I just know it. That's the kind of measured, intelligent people you are.


Longshanks's picture

I never called him a liar. It was Jamie that called him out on it. I merely agreed with her that the link he provided did not match what he said in the article. I was trying to play a mediator between the two of them and sided with Jamie on that particular link issue.

As I said, Sterling to me was an asshole though I can't provide a link to prove my thoughts. All I have is my personal experience from seeing him at local watering holes in Green Bay in 1989 and 1990. How C.D. handles this dispute with a female is what interests me and if I was a sexist as you claim I wouldn't side with Jamie right?


Jayme Snowden's picture

Seeing as you are the only one so concerned with the gender of the author of posts and comments, it might be smart for you to realize that Jamie is male. It has only been stated in TWO previous post/comment threads that you have replied to.

tundravision's picture

If it makes you feel better about yourself to believe I made it up, go right ahead.

Two hours of labor put in, with no pay, for you to read for free....and all you can do is accuse me of embellishing my article?


Stroh's picture

Sharpe was definitely a Prima-donna, but then so was Favre as time would show. I was living in GB through the entire time and was also a frequenter of the watering holes. I never saw Sharpe in them but I saw "The 3 Amigo's" out pretty regularly. Doesn't mean Sharpe didn't frequent them tho.

In the end, both Sharpe and Favre gained a lot from their working relationship. Sharpe got a QB that could get him the ball and that he could rely on and lean on to catch his fireballs in his early, formative years in GB. Favre got one of the most productive WR to ever play in GB, who would have been a HOF WR if not for the neck injury.

As for Sharpe talking that he needed the ball in the huddle. Look at the other receiving options in the huddle most of the time. Of course Sharpe had every right to demand the ball. He was far and away the most talented and productive receiving option. Holmgren did everything he could to get Sharpe the ball, but he also told Favre to get the ball to Sharpe early and often every game!

Don't really see the need to take issue w/ either side. Both were prima-donnas that benefitted together and both were doing what Holmgren asked them to do.

Longshanks's picture

I saw Sharpe at a place called Lothario's / Shabooms alot in 1989 and 1990. At that time I just turned 60 and was recently divorced from my third wife (I divorced her by the way) so I was out gandering around looking for whitetail. I used to see him there with some blonde with big hair always sitting at the bar with a big shovel on his face. Wouldn't talk or socialize with anyone. Just the type of person who would bring down a room with his mood. He was totally unapproachable. Lots of the players would go there after a loss as they played alot of jungle type music which I didn't care for. As I said I only went there to pick up some whitetail. Met my 4th wife there eventually.


Stroh's picture

If you were gonna see Sharpe, or most other black Packers at that time, LoWhorio's would have been the place to go. Probably why I didn't see him out. I was in college around that time at UWGB. And didn't get to that corner of GB.

I actually met Sharpe in Bristol Conn. I was visiting my buddy that's the ESPN anchor, and Sharpe was doing work for ESPN. Sharpe is very aloof and didn't socialize at all w/ fans. I never had a problem w/ him as a player, but he was a jerk. He didn't care about meeting a fan from GB whatsoever. I asked him a couple questions said "hey big fan" and he barely responded. He didn't seem to want any part of the exchange.

He was a great player, and a great jerk. No doubt about it.

Infante's Swanky Boots's picture

Look - I really don't want to come across as defending Sharpe...I said that I would no longer do this after a couple of things I've heard about and have personally experienced over the last few years. But Longshanks' post is so laughably pathetic that I just have to weigh in for a bit. First of all - I'm amazed that Longshanks could acquire a "professional opinion" about Sharpe in the process of chasing "whitetail" at the local GB watering holes. How does this work? I want to know the secret to these special powers. Actually, I could have used your skills 20 years ago - then maybe I could have acquired my "professional" engineering degree while sleeping in all day, shopping, and watching TV.

Sorry - but you just provide all kinds of details that make the process by which you obtained your "professional opinion" suspicious. And the zinger that sank your post to the depths of incredulity is when you characterize the music that was playing during these adventures as "jungle music". Do you not realize how that phrase alone decimates the credibility of any negative personal (err - "professional") opinion you render on Sharpe? Actually, writing something like that has certain implications that extend well beyond Sharpe.

I'm inclined to think that - in your case - it wasn't so much anything that Sharpe did to you directly that got under your skin. The real problem was how washed-up, pale, and thrice-divorced Sharpe made you feel as he sat at that bar with his blonde girlfriend not apologizing for being the handsome black star whom most of the "blondes" likely had their eyes on.

When it comes to "proving" Sharpe's abrasiveness, Stroh comes across as more credible (though you lower the bar so much, that this is no great feat). And someone like a Rick Telander would have a legitimate case, judging from this "oldie but goodie" article:

dullgeek's picture

CD, I suspect that the *vast* majority of chtv readers, love what you do. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed this article.

But there's always going to be a bunch of jerks in the comment thread. You should ignore them. It's too bad that there isn't a way to allow others to vote on the value of comments. I suspect that would force commenters to add value to the conversation or have their comments voted into oblivion.

So please don't let the comment thread detract you. You write great stuff and I suspect the vast majority of us love it.

Luke's picture

Longshanks is over 80 years old?

Ceallaigh_k's picture

No, I remember the Sharpe dramacakes. Just because you don't remember it doesn't mean it did not occur.

Ruppert's picture

I remember that piece, too, CD.

Two things: Since I'm leaving to drive from my house in lower MI through the UP to GB for tonight's game in a few minutes, I refuse to rip on Sterling Sharpe for anything he ever did. And here's why: "After further review...we have a reversal. TOUCHDOWN!!!" It's Bears week, for God's sake. That still means a lot to us old farts who remember the loud-mouth, obnoxious jerkoffs under Ditka's regime and their equally obnoxious fans coming up to WI every week acting like assholes. For two weeks out of every year, All 53 guys on the 1989 Packers walk on water in my mind. Hell, Lindy too.

Secondly, I just happened to drag up a ton of old Sterling (and '89 Pack) highlights this weekend in remembrance of the Instant Replay game. People, Sterling was a beast. An absolute beast. Younger people, go to the internet and drag up every old highlight you can find. And he was tough as nails. Dude played practically a whole year without practicing due to a turf toe that looked like a giant bruised, purple light bulb. And he delivered. We all remember his attitude. But this week, it doesn't matter.

The Bears still suck.

Luke's picture

I still give my Dad a hard time for leaving the "Instant Replay Game" early. In his defense, he was just at the tunnel when they finally announce that the TD would stand.

Luke's picture

The thinks I remeber most about Sharpe was 1) Him being the only reason for a 9 year old to watch the Packers pre-Favre and 2) The great Nike commercial with him and Dennis Hopper as the "Ref". The Feight Train!

dullgeek's picture

Yep. Like a freight train with stick'em

Jamie's picture

That escalated quickly.

I should apologize for two reasons:

1) I didn't realize this would be such a big deal...seems like everybody tends to be a little revisionist, embellishing a bit if you will, when telling a varying degrees. I am not a writer (I know, "you don't say"), so I likely don't understand what this does to someone that is. My apologies to you CD for troubling you on something that I was just looking at as getting an answer on. Your feelings were not considered, and in this quaint setting should have been. Man, I'm an asshole sometimes. Have I said I'm sorry?

2) I copied too much of the story to be clear about what I was questioning. I really do not recall an ESPN feature of that nature, and it just seems like it would have been memorable. Maybe I missed the feature when it aired, I'm not saying 100% it didn't happen...would like some type of specific confirmation.

FTR...Nagler, your quip was pointless. I'm not questioning the overall impression Sharpe made to his teammates, the fans, the hack media at the time. I simply do not recall a piece aired by ESPN of this nature.

Carry on.

Longshanks's picture

Jamie, no need to apologize. You as a reader have every right to question what these people write. C.D. claiming he doesn't get paid for this is no excuse. We don't get paid to read his article or comment on it the last time I checked. It works both ways and in this case I reviewed both sides and you were still right regarding that link. Again, I am just a neutral person trying to resolve this issue.

You have nothing to apologize to these people for as you were simply asking for clarification and got attacked viciously. If anything both of them should apologize to you and even me but I know better than that.

I have a perfect solution for all of this. Why doesn't Cheesheadtv offer an open forum section for all the people here so we can post our own Packers topics to discuss. I think it would be a hit and that way people like C.D. and Jayme can spend more time with their families etc. It would be a win win for everyone in my professional opinion.


Mr Smith's picture

Start your own. We'll all follow you there...

Bears Love Cheddar Biscuits's picture

Oh the discussion thread possibilities....

Point Packer's picture

I truly enjoyed reading this piece. Haven't thought about ol' Sterling for years. Forgot how talented he was. Had no idea that Favre was less than thrilled with him after his early retirement. Kind of ironic given Favre's end of career antics. Thanks for posting, CD.

Longshanks's picture

Did you also forget how less than thrilled people were about your sexist comments towards women Point Packer? I didn't!! here is your quote below.

By Point Packer Oct 29, 2013 6:57 p.m.

"Amazing my wife can do anything but serve my every need and pop babies out"

P.S. Nice new I.D. with your "Longspanks I.D. Yet another sexist name towards women. Congrats you moron!!


Point Packer's picture

You have severe mental issues.

Longshanks's picture

By Point Packer Oct 29, 2013 6:57 p.m.

“Amazing my wife can do anything but serve my every need and pop babies out”

Point Packer's picture

Keep posting that, no one will care and it will further add credence to your status as a bumbling lunatic.

BrianD's picture

So, in other words, he's Larry Fitzgerald.

Evan's picture

Fitz is a diva? Or do you mean just a wasted talent?

BrianD's picture

Wasted talent. I love that Fitzgerald and Peterson, two of the best players at their positions, are so humble.

Timbo's picture

I don't agree that Javon Walker was a washout. He had three very good seasons in GB (made the Pro Bowl in '04) and then tore his ACL in '05. He was never the same player after that. He got involved in an ugly contract dispute in GB, yes, but it was the injury that really ended his career.

Longshanks's picture

I agree Timbo. Walker was a top 3 receiver. Ascending!! A James Lofton type talent then Favre led him into no man's land with that pass at Indi and his career was over with for the most part. As you said, he never was the same.

Shanahan gambled with him and lost and Teddy Tee got an optimum draft pick for damaged goods. Damaged knee and damaged mind from being involved in that murder in that limo of one of his teammates in Denver. Damn though was he great for that one season. It would have been Sherman's greatest pick, instead it was Scotty Wells.


Stroh's picture

Kampman was Shermans's best draft pick. Certainly Wells turned into a good one, but Kampman was much better.

Jordan's picture

That local media was very powerful back then (so to speak).
I always thought sterling sharpe snubbing the local media was hilarious.

Too bad the Packers couldn't get their hands on his brother Shannon. Might have been a couple more Lombardi trophies if they could have.

Fish crane's picture

I was at sharpest last game in Tampa. He had three or four Tds and was unstoppable. A sure hof'er. And I think he should still get in.

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