Packers: Sterling Sharpe’s phenomenal career, impact

Packers Sterling Sharpe was on his way to the pro football Hall of Fame before injury struck. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Packers Sterling Sharpe was on his way to the pro football Hall of Fame before injury struck. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

With all the offensive turmoil last season caused by Jordy Nelson’s season-ending ACL tear, there was another great Green Bay Packers’ receiver whose injury ended his career far too early.

Sterling Sharpe was the best wide receiver in Green Bay Packers‘ history, and had he been able to avoid such a catastrophic injury, he would have rivaled the legendary Jerry Rice.

On Christmas Eve in 1994, Sharpe would play his final NFL game. He was only 29 years old.

As a microcosm of his extraordinary talent and toughness, Sharpe was actually hurt the week before, but played the final game of the season to help the Packers get back into the playoffs.

All he did in that game was catch nine balls for 132 yards and three touchdowns.

The neck injury that occurred a week earlier was re-aggravated in the Packers’ 34-19 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sharpe was diagnosed with “an abnormal loosening of the first and second cervical vertebrae,” and advised never to step foot on the field again.

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He made the smart decision and listened, though it had to be excruciating to know he was giving up a chance at personal NFL records, a Hall-of-Fame bust, and multiple Super Bowl championships with an up-and-coming MVP quarterback.

Despite playing in only 112 games, Sharpe ranks 2nd in receptions (595) and receiving touchdowns (65) in franchise history. He also holds the 3rd spot in receiving yards (8,134).

It’s truly a shame we couldn’t watch him for another 10 years.

He was the man in Green Bay, even if Don Majkowski was seen as the “savior” originally. Sharpe’s size, strength and hands were at elite levels, and he was faster than a lot of people gave him credit for.

As mentioned above, he could’ve challenged Rice as the best ever. He was that good.

But let’s take a look at what Sharpe did accomplish in only seven seasons, and how amazing he and Brett Favre could’ve been together as Favre hit his peak years.

In 1992, Favre’s first season, Sharpe won the Triple Crown of receiving as he led the NFL in receptions (108), receiving yards (1,461) and receiving touchdowns (13).

His 108 catches broke the single-season record, just the sixth time in NFL history a receiver had reached 100 receptions.

That was the second time he had more than 1,400 yards receiving, and it represents the 3rd-highest single-season total in Packers’ history.

The next year, Sharpe would break his own receptions record with a 112 grabs, becoming the first player to ever have consecutive seasons with

Brett Favre would’ve had another Packers bust in the Hall of Fame had Sharpe played a full career. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

100+ receptions.

He did slip to 3rd in both yards (1,274) and touchdowns (11), behind only Rice and Andre Rison. He did all this without practicing the final eight weeks of the season due to severe turf toe.

In his two playoff games following the 1993 campaign – the only two of his career – Sharpe had 11 receptions for 229 yards and four touchdowns.

He had over 100 yards in each contest, and fans will never forget his performance in Detroit with three touchdowns. Of course, that included the game-winning 40-yard bomb from Favre to give the Packers their first postseason victory (in a non-strike season) since 1967.

Then came the 1994 season. It began poorly after Sharpe had surgery in March for his injured toe, then held out during the preseason. He would return to start in the opener, but struggle throughout the year with a variety of ailments.

The injuries limited his snaps and Sharpe saw 45 fewer targets than in 1993.

However, he still caught 94 passes (5th) for 1,119 yards and an NFL-best 18 touchdown catches. Those 18 scores are the 3rd-most in a single season in NFL history, behind elite wideouts Randy Moss (23) in 2007 and Rice’s 22 in 1987.

Sadly, that would be the last we saw of Sharpe in a Packers’ helmet.

In Sharpe’s three seasons with Favre…he averaged 105 receptions, 1,285 yards and 14 touchdowns per season.

From 1989-1994, Sharpe tallied 540 receptions for 7,343 yards and 64 touchdowns for an average of 90 receptions, 1,224 yards and 11 touchdowns in the six seasons following his rookie year.

That was with a number of different quarterbacks, whereas Rice had all-time greats Joe Montana and Steve Young.

In Sharpe’s three seasons with Favre at the helm, the numbers would spike: 314 receptions, 3,854 yards and 42 touchdowns. That’s an average of 105 receptions, 1,285 yards and 14 touchdowns per season.

During that same span, Rice had 294 receptions, 4,203 yards and 38 touchdowns. That’s a strikingly similar comparison of the two. Let’s not forget that Rice was already an established, premier receiver while Sharpe was just hitting his stride.

Meanwhile, can you imagine if Sharpe had the luxury of playing with Favre as he was winning three straight MVPs? And he probably would’ve had more if Sharpe was still in the lineup.

If we slightly knock down Sharpe’s averages with Favre to assume the affects of age, and then give Sharpe seven more seasons to the age of 36, he could have realistically finished his career with:

  • More than 1,200 receptions – good for 3rd all time
  • More than 16,000 yards – good for 2nd all time
  • More than 130 receiving touchdowns – good for 4th all time

That’s obviously assuming a lot, but one could argue those numbers are low considering he would’ve had a bunch of years with one of the greatest QB of all time, in his prime, throwing the ball to him.

And how about what might have happened with the Packers as a team, with an offense that would’ve been even more dangerous?

Consider that in 1995, the first year without Sharpe, Robert Brooks had 1,497 yards and 13 touchdowns of his own. Put Sharpe on the other side and it’s pretty easy to picture a way the Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys in that season’s NFC Championship game.

That game may have even been at Lambeau Field instead of in Texas, because Green Bay may have had the better record that season. Win that one and I’d give the Packers a better than 50-50 shot at beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.

Of course, the Packers did win Super Bowl XXXI, so jump to the 1997 season as the defending champions – and maybe the two-time champs.

Brooks put up 1,010 yards and 7 touchdowns (on only 60 receptions) and Antonio Freeman had 1,243 yards with 12 scores.

It’s not hard to envision a few more Lombardi Trophies for the Packers with Sharpe still playing into the 21st century. Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Is it hard to imagine, with yet another weapon in the 31-year-old Sharpe, that Green Bay would beat the Denver Broncos for a second or third straight title?

Seriously. It may have been an epic run.

Had the Packers been to three straight Super Bowls and won two or three of them, maybe Mike Holmgren stays and the dynasty continues. Like it or not, Holmgren’s departure hurt Favre and the rest of the organization.

They might have been on top for a while and had a historic decade if Sharpe and Holmgren were still with the team that whole time.

Speaking of Favre, what would his numbers have looked like with Sharpe added to the mix

Another six or eight touchdowns per season perhaps (some would be taken from Brooks and Freeman). You’re talking a handful of 40+ touchdowns in multiple seasons for who knows how long.

And that was during an era where QBs weren’t throwing 35 touchdowns on a regular basis. There

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might have been even fewer interceptions too with a security blanket like Sharpe around.

And if Holmgren doesn’t leave, Favre probably doesn’t go full-on gunslinger like he did with Ray Rhodes and Mike Sherman leading the team, a pair of guys who let Favre do too much without pulling him back like Holmgren could.

With all that said, it’s amazing to think how one injury, to an all-time beast like Sterling Sharpe, not only cut short his own terrific career, but may have greatly impacted an entire franchise.

While it didn’t cripple them by any means, it could’ve been far more amazing.

Fortunately, Sharpe didn’t succumb to the pressure of playing and potentially end up paralyzed, a likely scenario with his injury. It’s also a bonus that the Packers didn’t suffer a complete offensive breakdown without him like the 2015 crew did without Nelson.

Though Sharpe was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2002, it’s important to remember that he was easily an NFL Hall-of-Fame caliber wide receiver. He proved in his short time that he was one of the most dominant players in his era.

Next: Packers: Re-Grading the 2014 draft

Even his brother, Shannon Sharpe, acknowledged at his own Hall-of-Fame induction that Sterling was the better of the two. That says a lot coming from a guy who, at that moment, was entering a fraternity reserved for the best of the best.

Thus, for all of the reasons above and more, we should look back extremely fondly and appreciate number 84, another athlete in a long line of unbelievable talents the Packers can call their own.