Throughout NFL history, there are many players have seen their time in the league end shorter than anticipated. Sterling Sharpe falls directly in that disappointing category as he has was on pace to put forth an illustrious career that would have landed made him a sure-fire Pro Football Hall of Famer next to his younger brother Shannon Sharpe. Instead, the former Green Bay Packers sits in the realm of what could have been as his impressive run in the NFL was cut short that leaves many still wondering what could have been.
Sterling Sharpe’s NFL career
Sterling Sharpe entered the league with plenty of hype around him as he was the seventh overall pick out of South Carolina by the Packers in the 1988 NFL draft.
Sharpe played at a record-setting place during his three years at the collegiate level as he set school records with 169 catches, 2,497 receiving yards, and 17 receiving touchdowns. That put him on the fast track toward a promising NFL career as he quickly found his footing in the NFL.
It didn’t take long for him to dominate as he led the league with 90 receptions in his second campaign while racking up 1,423 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He garnered more than 750 receiving yards in all seven seasons he played, including more than 1,000 yards five times. That also saw him reach at least 90 catches four times and top more than 100 receptions twice, which he led the league in that regard in each instance.
During his career, he earned five Pro Bowl selections and three First-Team All-Pro nods. He also became one of six players to earn the “Triple Crown” at the wide receiver position by leading the league in a single season in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and catches. Meanwhile, he was the first player to have consecutive campaigns with more than 100 receptions. However, his impressive career came to a tumbling halt after a devastating injury.
How Sterling Sharpe’s career came to an end
In his seventh season in the league, Sterling Sharpe had firmly established himself as one of the wide receivers.
Sharpe was a dominant factor in the passing game that played a vital part in the Packers’ success as Brett Favre’s favorite weapon in the passing game. That all came to a sudden stop during the 1994 campaign, which he put eye-popping numbers once again with 94 receptions for 1,119 receiving yards and a league-best 18 receiving touchdowns.
The Packers star wideout suffered a neck injury in Week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons after his head was jarred back while blocking safety Brad Edwards. It left him down on the field for several minutes before he walked off on his own power. Things progressively got worse in the regular-season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after he was tackled.
Sharpe was tested that showed he had “an abnormal loosening of the first and second cervical vertebrae.” That required surgery to fuse the two vertebrae in an operation that took eight months to recover. Sharpe hoped to return to the football field, but the risk of serious injury forced him to retire at age 29.
Does Sterling Sharpe belong in the Hall of Fame?
Sterling Sharpe was forced to retire in the prime of his career, which could have seen him string together many highly productive seasons ahead.
Through seven years, he tallied 595 receptions, 8,134 receiving yards, and 65 touchdowns. At the time of his retirement, he was one of three players averaging more than 72.6 receiving yards per game. Sharpe could have added more statistical dominance playing alongside Favre that could have seen him finish near the top of the list in many accolades in NFL history.
It’s safe to say that he would have secured a sure-fire Hall of Fame nomination, but he remains on the outside looking in for that honor. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2002 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014. Although his career was cut short, Sharpe certainly meets the exception to get in one day.