Sterling Sharpe had a brilliant career for the Green Bay Packers, but it was cut tragically short because of a neck injury. Even so, his career was one of the most prolific in NFL history at the wide receiver position. Yet he is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is, unfortunately, not in contention to get there anytime soon.
Why? Because common sense hasn’t been applied to his career. We at packershistory.com want to change that.
This argument is actually quite an easy one to make, so bear with us here.
It’s very simple, Sharpe surely isn’t in the hall for one of four reasons. Which are the uncomplicated reasons that could, and should, keep any player out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So lets take a look at those reasons.
Regarding Sharpe, the voters must feel as though: 1.) His career was too short. 2.) He wasn’t deemed a “winner” despite football being a team sport. 3.) He didn’t dominate his peers. 4.) He didn’t put up enough individual statistics to be honored with the ultimate individual award.
One of those reasons must be keeping him out.
Those are the only possible reasons for keeping Sharpe, or any player, out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Nothing else should impact who gets into the Hall. If a player played enough games to qualify, helped his team win games, clearly dominated his peers and put up statistics above others of his era — he should be in.
Like we said, it’s simple.
But somehow he’s slipped through the cracks. So lets look at these reasons with a little more detail until we can figure out which one is hurting his Hall of Fame odds.
Lets examine reason number one: “Career was too short”
Well, no. That is wrong.
Exhibit A.) Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers.
“The Kansas Comet” was a truly dynamic running back and was definitely one of the best at his position during his injury-shortened career. Even though his career was short, he is proudly enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thus, you cannot say that Sharpe’s injury is what’s keeping him out of the Hall because Sayers’ last game came in his seventh season (the 68th game of his career). Sharpe also played seven seasons, but amassed 112 games played in those seven years. So 112 games is too short a career, but 68 isn’t?
No, that is illogical.
Just look at newly enshrined running back Terrell Davis. He is entering the Hall despite playing in just 78 games in seven seasons (remember Sharpe played 112 games in seven seasons).
Is 78 games enough to warrant a call into the Hall, but 112 isn’t?
No, again. That can’t be it.
In fact, Sharpe was incredibly durable during his career until it abruptly ended. He started 16 games for all seven years of his career, until he was forced to retire. Sayers and Davis cannot say the same about their seven year careers.
OK, so we’ve established that Sharpe’s relatively low number of games played in the NFL is not the reason he is not in the Hall because others have made it while playing far less. So it must be another reason that is keeping Sharpe out.
Lets examine reason number two: “No rings”
“Terrell Davis won two rings and Sharpe didn’t even win one” someone will inevitably say when asked why Davis is in the Hall and Sharpe is not.
Well guess who else didn’t win a ring: Eric Dickerson, Bruce Smith, Deacon Jones, Barry Sanders, Dan Marino, Dick Butkus, Randy Moss, Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Tony Gonzalez, John Hannah, Paul Krause, Anthony Munoz, Merlin Olsen and countless other Hall of Fame inductees are all enshrined void of a championship.
Oh, the same goes for Gale Sayers. He didn’t win a championship either and only played seven injury-riddled seasons. Yet he is still in the Hall.
How about the other top receivers from Sharpe’s era? Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Andre Reed and James Lofton never won a ring either, yet they’re in the Hall.
OK, so Sharpe’s lack of a ring definitely isn’t what is keeping him out of the Hall. We have established that.
So what could it be?
And it isn’t as if he wasn’t a “winner” in his career. In the nine seasons before he was drafted by the Packers the team had one winning season. When he was with Green Bay the team posted four winning seasons in seven years and won its first playoff game since 1982.
But again, football is a team sport. The Hall of Fame is an individual honor.
Alright onto the next.
Lets examine reason number three: “Didn’t dominate peers”
Perhaps the thought is that Sharpe did not dominate his peers as thoroughly as Sayers did.
(We keep using Sayers as a reference point because he also had a championship-less career shortened by injury).
I mean, Sayers did lead the NFL in rushing yards twice and all-purpose yards three times. Despite the fact that Sayers never led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, he was undoubtably statistically dominant.
Maybe that statistical dominance over his peers is why Sayers is in the Hall, but Sharpe is not?
Wait a second…
Sharpe led the NFL in receptions three times. He led the NFL in touchdown receptions twice. And he led the NFL in receiving yards once.
You could easily make the argument that Sharpe dominated his wide receiver peers at a higher rate than Sayers dominated his running back peers in his career. At the very least their dominance over their peers was equal.
Sayers led the NFL in fumbles in 1967 with eight. Sharpe had nine fumbles in his entire career. Different positions yes, but it’s an interesting stat.
In 1992 Sharpe broke the NFL’s all-time record with 108 receptions in a single season. The following season he re-broke his own record with 112, becoming the first player in NFL history with two consecutive 100+ reception seasons.
How can that brilliance be denied?
Sharpe is one of three modern receivers (Jerry Rice and Steve Smith) to win the wide receiver “Triple Crown” by leading the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in the same season. Sharpe accomplished that feat in 1992 when Jerry Rice was in his prime and, like Sharpe, started all 16 games that year.
In fact, Sharpe led the league in touchdown receptions more times than Tim Brown, Michael Irvin, Andre Reed, Art Monk and James Lofton combined. Despite this, all of those wide receivers reside in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he is not.
Common sense, surely you agree, has not been used in voting for the Hall.
So we know that he did dominate his peers at a historic level. Thus, that can’t be why he hasn’t had a bust carved yet.
Maybe Sharpe is not in the Hall because people feel as though Sharpe’s overall production doesn’t stack up to the all-time greats at the wide receiver position?
That, if true, would be a reasonable claim.
Lets examine reason number four: “Not great enough statistics”
Lets compare Sharpe to the other great receivers of his era. For that is truly the only way to adequately judge a player’s greatness as the game continues to change with every new era.
We used a little simple math here to illustrate how truly legendary Sharpe’s career was next to the receivers he played against.
Below is the career average for touchdown receptions per 16 games played (or NFL season):
Jerry Rice: 10.40 touchdown receptions per season.
Sterling Sharpe: 9.28 touchdown receptions per season.
Cris Carter: 8.88 touchdown receptions per season.
Michael Irvin: 6.54 touchdown receptions per season.
Tim Brown: 6.27 touchdown receptions per season.
Andre Reed: 5.94 touchdown receptions per season.
James Lofton: 5.15 touchdown receptions per season.
Art Monk: 4.85 touchdown receptions per season.
The six great wide receivers statistically ranked below Sharpe are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So is the man ranked, just barely, above him.
“But Sharpe only played seven seasons, so his per-season touchdown averages are higher than players that played full careers” And “Sharpe didn’t accrue as as many total touchdowns in his career as other great wide receivers” some critics would utter.
Well, Sharpe had 65 career touchdown receptions in those seven seasons. Michael Irvin had 65 touchdown receptions in 12 seasons in the NFL. Art Monk had 68, just three more than Sharpe, despite playing 16 seasons in the NFL (or nine more than Sharpe).
Yet Irvin and Monk are in the Hall of Fame and Sharpe is not.
Common sense eludes us again.
Don’t trust the averages and want raw numbers instead? OK, what if we compare total receiving touchdowns for all of those wide receivers in their first seven seasons? That’s fair right?
Below are the total touchdown receptions of each player in their first seven NFL seasons:
Jerry Rice: 93 touchdown receptions.
Sterling Sharpe: 65 touchdown receptions.
Andre Reed: 49 touchdown receptions.
Cris Carter: 42 touchdown receptions.
James Lofton: 41 touchdown receptions.
Michael Irvin: 40 touchdown receptions.
Tim Brown: 36 touchdown receptions.
Art Monk: 28 touchdown receptions.
OK, so why isn’t Sharpe considered one of the best receivers in the history of the NFL?
How about this tidbit of information: Sterling Sharpe was named First-Team All-Pro three times in his short career.
Cris Carter, Tim Brown, James Lofton, Michael Irvin, Andre Reed and Art Monk combined for five First-Team All-Pro nods between them.
Jerry Rice was named First-Team All-Pro a ridiculous 10 times, which was 47% of his seasons. Although it should be mentioned that Sharpe was named First-Team All-Pro in 42% of his seasons.
So, we have come to the conclusion that Sharpe’s statistics and individual awards (or lack thereof) aren’t what is keeping him from entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So what is keeping him out?
What is the next reason that could be the one that is keeping Sharpe out of the Hall?
Wait, what? We went through all four reasons that could keep a player out of the Hall, but his career stood up to every test?
THAT’S RIGHT, THERE ARE NO REASONS LEFT. WE WENT THROUGH ALL FOUR REASONS THAT COULD KEEP STERLING SHARPE, OR ANY PLAYER, OUT OF THE HALL OF FAME AND NONE OF THOSE REASONS HOLD UP WHEN COMMON SENSE IS APPLIED TO THE CONTEXT OF HIS CAREER.
If you’re frustrated right now with his lack of inclusion in the Hall, then definitely don’t read what is written next.
Jerry Rice vs Sterling Sharpe: It’s closer than you’d think
Many don’t know that there was a three-year stretch from 1992-94, with both Sharpe and Rice in their absolute prime, when Sharpe out-preformed Rice.
In those three years Rice amassed a whopping 38 touchdowns and 294 receptions, by far the second most in each category.
However Sharpe racked up 42 touchdowns and 314 receptions in that same time period.
Yeah, Sharpe was the only receiver to keep pace with the player (Rice) many consider the best receiver of all-time — and at times even out-preform him.
But that’s not good enough for the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I guess.
If not for Sharpe’s injury, his career statistics would have been absolutely mind-blowing. How can I confidently say that? He led the NFL with 18 touchdown receptions in his final season and he hadn’t even turned 30 yet.
What’s interesting is that if you took his career touchdowns per season average he would have scored at least 140 touchdowns if he played 15 seasons. That would be the fourth-most all-time. That is a mild estimate though, as he was averaging 14 touchdowns per year over his final three NFL seasons and was far from a decline in production (many would say he was still ascending as his career ended).
But as we’ve broken down in this piece, his accomplishments, in just those seven seasons, were more than enough to enshrine him with the all-time greats. We don’t need to extrapolate or guess or wonder what could have been. Because what was, was enough.
Or should have been enough, that is.
Looking at Sharpe’s Era:
Sharpe, like Rice and the others we’ve been talking about, played in an era when receivers could still be manhandled by defensive backs. In their day going across the middle was a danger. Despite that, he put up numbers that were incredibly impressive and in some ways unprecedented at that point in NFL history.
The NFL was more brutal in the late 1980s and early 1990s than today, yet he never missed a single game during his playing career. He found a way to be physical enough not only survive, but thrive.
Speaking of his era, many consider Jerry Rice to be the greatest receiver of all-time and we just saw how the two stacked-up against each other when both were in their prime with Hall of Fame quarterbacks throwing to them.
Although it should be mentioned that Sharpe only had a Hall of Fame quarterback throw to him for three seasons whereas Rice had two Hall of Fame quarterbacks throw to him for a combined 15 years.
One way that people like to determine if a player is Hall of Fame worthy is asking the question: Was he one of the two or three best players at his position in professional football for a definable 3-5 year stretch? Could the argument be made that he was the best for that time period? Did he truly separate himself from his peers?
The answer to that question, in Sharpe’s case, was absolutely yes.
What about if that question is asked about Tim Brown? He never led the NFL in any of the three major receiving statistical categories even once. Either did Andre Reed. And either did James Lofton. This isn’t a knock on these players, it’s to show how great Sterling Sharpe truly was.
You cannot blame Sharpe for the lack of overall postseason success in his career.
He only got to play in two playoff games in his career. His Packers went 1-1, but his statistics were nothing short of special. In fact, his per-game production will likely never be surpassed.
Sharpe caught 11 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns in his only two playoff appearances (including a game-winning 40 yard touchdown reception with 55 seconds left on the road against the Detroit Lions in 1993). It was one of the biggest postseason catches in Packers history.
Tim Brown caught just three touchdown passes in his 12 career playoff games. Three.
Art Monk caught seven touchdowns in 15 career playoff games.
In 14 career playoff games Cris Carter caught eight touchdowns, the same number that James Lofton caught in his 13 playoff games and, coincidentally, the same number that Michael Irvin caught in his 16 games.
Andre Reed played in 21 playoff games and caught nine touchdown passes.
Despite this discrepancy in per-game production Sharpe is not in the Hall, but these men are. The discriminatory process of judging a player based on his team’s success has always rubbed us the wrong way.
Just because a player got more opportunities to play in the playoffs, or won a ring, doesn’t make them a better individual player.
The Hall of Fame is an individual honor.
Beyond the Numbers:
But what isn’t mentioned enough about Sharpe is that he helped change the culture in Green Bay to a winning culture again. He was one of the precursors to the winning times that were to come for the Packers. He elevated his teammates and the franchise as a whole. He undoubtedly helped get Brett Favre’s career off to great start; the confidence he gave that quarterback, and subsequently a franchise, cannot be understated.
If Sharpe wasn’t in Green Bay when Favre was traded to the Packers, who knows what the 1990s would have been like. He doesn’t get nearly the credit nationwide for the impact he made on the Packers and the league as a whole. And that is because he isn’t in the Hall.
A look at Sterling Sharpe’s family makes his success even more poignant.
Sterling’s younger brother, Shannon, registered an impressive 62 touchdown receptions in 14 seasons as an elite tight end. He was rewarded with inclusion into the Hall of Fame. Remember, Sterling caught 65 in exactly half as many seasons. Different positions, yes, but it just points out how prolific Sterling was.
We believe that just because a player amasses gaudy statistics over a 15-year career doesn’t make them a better player overall. Large statistical totals are impressive (because longevity should be valued) but singularly dominating your competition, and peers, for a five year stretch is, in our opinion, more impressive. More iconic. More impactful.
It’s just a common sense fact that 50 touchdowns in five seasons is more impressive than 50 touchdowns in ten seasons.
And the Hall of Fame voters agree with us about that. How else could they explain Terrell Davis and Gale Sayers being in the Hall — so why does Sterling Sharpe not have a gold jacket?
Running Back DeAngelo Williams has 61 rushing touchdowns in 141 games and won’t get near the Hall of Fame. Same with Clinton Portis and his 75 rushing touchdowns in his career in 113 career games. Davis had 60 career rushing touchdowns in 78 games, Sayers had 39 in 68 games.
It’s quite clear that it’s not about your raw total numbers, but the way in which you dominated the league for a few short years that matters to Hall of Fame voters.
Why is this logic not applied to wide receivers?
Common sense alone fixes his omission from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sterling Sharpe deserves to be there, perhaps more than some of the other receivers from his era that, as you can see, did not dominate at the same impressive rate that he did.
Common sense puts Sterling Sharpe in the Hall, where he belongs.
Don’t forget to call your local Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee Member.