Before Shannon Sharpe was battling Skip Bayless on Fox Sports 1’s Undisputed, he was catching passes in the NFL. He was very good at it too. Sharpe played in the league for 14 seasons, spending time with the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens. The now-TV personality joined the All the Smoke podcast as a guest and told entertaining stories from his rookie season in Denver.
Shannon Sharpe struggled to learn the Denver Broncos playbook
The Denver Broncos drafted Shannon Sharpe in the seventh round of the 1990 NFL Draft out of Savannah State. His older brother, Sterling Sharpe, was already a star for the Green Bay Packers and gave his younger brother some advice. “Just be ready,” he said.
As a seventh-round draft pick, the path to making the official roster was challenging. Sharpe had to come in and outwork everyone else to earn a roster spot. It was much more complex than he anticipated, though.
The first step was to learn the offensive and the playbook. “I had to learn all these positions, and I’m struggling,” he said on All the Smoke. He recalled one particular situation when a teammate duped him. He asked the player what route to run on the play, and he told him the route. However, it turned out to be the wrong route.
The competition was stiff, and the other player was looking to get any advantage he could get over Sharpe. After how that moment made the rookie feel, Sharpe vowed never to do that to anyone else.
Sharpe took advantage of his opportunity during the season
Clarence Kay and Orson Mobley were the primary contributors at tight end for the Broncos during the 1990 NFL season. The tight ends on the roster mainly were injured halfway through the season, which opened up a spot for Shannon Sharpe to practice with the team.
The Broncos put Sharpe on the scout team offense. He said that he’d lost about 15 pounds since training camp by the time he got on the field. As a result, he struggled in run blocking situations. “Man, they rag-dolling me, they throwing me all around in practice,” said Sharpe.
Once it was time for pass-catching drills, the Chicago, Illinois native began licking his chops. It was his time to shine. The defenders relished lining up against Sharpe when he struggled at blocking, but now it was time for payback.
“I’m cooking,” he said. This was a breakout moment for the rookie, and he made sure to let the defenders know about it. Sharpe enjoyed himself so much that whenever he made a play, he’d celebrate by spiking the ball or punting the ball. He needed to make sure they knew he was not to be messed with.
Wade Phillips was the Broncos defensive coordinator and told head coach Dan Reeves that his defense couldn’t stop Sharpe. He suggested they put the tight end in a live regular season game to see if other teams could stop him.
“They put me in the game, and as they say, the rest is history,” said Sharpe.
Shannon Sharpe developed a close bond with John Elway and his coaches
By the time Sharpe started playing meaning for snaps for the Denver Broncos, he had developed a close relationship with John Elway. Elway was in his eighth season as the starting quarterback in Denver but was drawn to Sharpe.
“Maybe it was because I joked,” said the eight-time Pro Bowler. Sharpe said he was big in the locker room and always kept things fresh and exciting.
The first-year tight made transitioned from wide receiver to tight end during the season and was still trying to get the plays down. He said that Elway was always patient with him, however. “He had a large part to do with my success because he was very patient with me,” Sharpe said.
Sharpe played special teams and showed how committed he was to getting better. That stood out to the coaches. He said he played as a gunner on punt returns and loved to hit players and dish out punishment.
When Mike Shanahan became the head coach in 1995, Sharpe says the coach asked more of him. Shanahan had high expectations for his team, but especially for his star players.
Gary Kubiak was his offensive coordinator, and he counted on the tight end to get the energy flowing in practice. “84, I need you to strike up the band today,” said Kubiak to Sharpe.
The Broncos players continued to grow closer together. As the chemistry grew, so did the team’s production on the field. Denver won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998 behind Sharpe, Elway, Rod Smith, and Terrell Davis.
Shannon Sharpe’s tenure in Denver is why he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference