By Douglas Etten
EDGEWOOD TAHOE — The following for Chico, Calif., native Aaron Rodgers was large and loud in Lake Tahoe Thursday as some of the most recognizable names in sports gathered for the 22nd American Century Championship.
One of his biggest fans was on the course with him and knows a thing or two about Green Bay Packers quarterbacks.
Sterling Sharpe is a name most Green and Gold fans elevate to the top of their list when thinking about some of the greatest wide receivers in franchise history.
Sharpe came into the league a Green Bay Packer, retired a Green Bay Packer and 15 years after makes no room for debate that he’s still — above all — a Green Bay Packer.
“I’m not a former anything. Once you’re a Green Bay Packer, you’re a Green Bay Packer for life,” Sharpe said Thursday. “We’ve got a few organizations like that. The Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dallas Cowboys — you’re never a former anything. You’re always going to be a Green Bay Packer.”
Sharpe’s career was cut short by a freak-spinal injury that put the all-pro on the shelf when many around the league thought he was still in his prime. He’s one of only a handful of receivers ever to lead the league in receptions, yards and touchdown catches in the same season, and says he’s not ashamed about anything he ever did or didn’t do through his years on the field.
Off the field he works with the NFL Network as an analyst, and says he still stays close to the current NFL champs.
“I’ve got a lot of friends on that team. From Donald Driver and Gregg Jennings, guys that I talk to a lot,” he said. “(I talk) to Aaron Rodgers who I’ve gotten to know over the years. I’ve got a lot of friends. There are guys like Jimmy Campen who was my center when I played, he’s now the offensive line coach. So yeah, I walk around like I own the place.”
Sharpe was asked if he thought there was one person in particular that fueled Green Bay through the late season and into the playoffs — aiding them to their title game victory.
“I can’t really say one individual,” he said.
But he did point to a position he knows well.
“The receivers played really well and that was the strength of their team. Of course A-R did a HECK of a job throwing the football around and he threw it so much. He protected it. That was very impressive.”
Sharpe and Favre made a name for themselves as one of the top QB-WR tandems in football when they were moving up together. Seeing Don Majikowski’s career fall short after ankle injuries, then staying with the same QB through his retirement, Sharpe says in today’s game it’s hard to put credit or fault on one individual. If so, it falls to the front office or coaching staff.
“I don’t think any one individual can take the credit (for winning last year). I think as a whole, anytime you can overcome the type of injuries that they had all season and still end up getting there and winning the thing, I can’t just single out one individual,” he said. “If I had to, I’d have to say head coach Mike McCarthy. If they had a guy go down, they’d plug another guy in and they got the job done. Your hat’s got to go off to all those guys. Usually you’re not ready to play in that situation, but somehow they found a way and were ready to play. They did a great job in free agency, they did a great job in the draft so their team was put together very, very well.”
The questions about his former teammate and friend, Favre, and how he would compare to today’s quarterback — someone like Rodgers — weren’t avoided by Sharpe who says he’s glad to have a relationship with A-Rod. That works vice-versa, according to the Packers current QB.
“Sterling’s a great guy and is a great Green Bay Packer,” Rodgers said. “He’s as genuine as they come and I respect him a lot.”
Sharpe thinks A-Rod’s not too bad either, and also says the comparisons between he and Brett aren’t apples-to-apples.
“I don’t want to compare A-R to Brett because Brett was in a totally different situation. A-R was drafted for that specific spot. He was drafted for that situation,” he said. “I’m not going to let Aaron hang-the-moon just yet, but I was impressed the way he stepped in. Mike McCarthy giving him plays that he felt comfortable with — surrounding him with players who could orchestrate that offense to the best of their ability.
“I was impressed with the way A-R played as far as him being a quarterback, throwing it around that much. I mean usually that is something that’s reserved for a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning, but he threw it around a lot because that was his strength and the strength of that team. He did a good job protecting the football and he didn’t turn it over. I was impressed with those two concussions that he was still able to finish except I think that one game up in New England.”
Sharpe was also asked if he thought Favre and the Green Bay franchise would eventually meet in the middle. And if so, who should initiate the make-up.
“Obviously Brett is upset with the organization, obviously he didn’t leave the way he wanted to,” he said. “I don’t think you can reach out to him at all. I think you have to let time heal those wounds and I think you have to let him come to you (if you’re the Green Bay Packers).
“Brett’s a good guy. And I know he’s gotten a bad rap over the years, retiring and coming back and all that stuff, but talking to him he’s a good guy. Brett understands what he means to that organization, and that organization has a great understanding of what Brett Favre means to the Green Bay Packers. I think they have to let the ball be in Brett’s court, leave Brett alone and let him enjoy retirement, enjoy his family. I think Brett will approach them. He’s that kind of character guy — he will approach them. He knows where the Green Bay Packers stand and he knows what the Green Bay Packers want to do for him. So I just think they should sit right back, relax and enjoy the Super Bowl.”
Of course, being an analyst, he didn’t get away without giving his prediction on whether he thought Green Bay could repeat based upon the lack of off-season workouts and what could be a shortened season.
“I don’t think anyone can (who will be successful this season). You just don’t know how these teams are going to handle this new shortened period,” he said. “Green Bay is in a good position because they have a lot of guys that they are going to keep. A lot of guys they have are coming back know their positions, know their responsibilities. They are one of those teams that has a leg up regardless of when they start.
“I think the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots … I like the Philadelphia Eagles as well. I think a team like Carolina could struggle early … I think the Denver Broncos, getting John Fox in there may struggle a little bit early because of a new coaching staff and a new system.”
Sharpe talked about the matter at hand also saying he feels that his golf game, right now, is as good as it’s ever been and ready to put him in the top five of the 85-member field — alongside the favorites for the 2011 championship: Billy Joe Tolliver, Rick Rhoden, John Smoltz and Tony Romo.
“If I can control my nerves, I feel like I am hitting it as well as I ever have in my entire life,” Sharpe said. “I’m seeing the lines real well and I’m swinging at it with confidence. If I can get some putts to go in, maybe get a couple of breaks where in the last two years I got in some pretty bad ones, I should have a chance come Sunday. Believe it or not, this is more pressure than any football game I have ever played in.”
Douglas Etten is Sports Editor at the Tahoe Daily Tribune, South Lake Tahoe, Calif.