In my mind, today is known as “The day the game died” – for on this date in 1995, the Green Bay Packers released “with reluctance” Sterling Sharpe, the wide receiver who so silently glided through his career in Titletown.
His career in the NFL and the Packers was cut short by a neck injury – cutting him down in his prime after only seven seasons with the Packers. Though he refused to talk to state reporters because of an incident early in his career, he let his actions on the field speak for him.
Drafted seventh overall in the first round by the Packers out of South Carolina in 1988 after a record-breaking college career, Sharpe caught 55 passes his first season and then started to come alive in his second season, grabbing a league-leading 90 receptions for 1,423 yards.
It seemed like bright lights and a Hall of Fame career was ahead, as Sharpe broke records belonging to the great Don Hutson along the way that second season.
In his third and fourth seasons, the rug got pulled from beneath him – his battery mate, Don “Majik Man” Majkowski, was hurt and had trouble staying on the field, so Sharpe had to take the gridiron with the likes of quarterbacks Blair Kiel, Anthony Dilweg, and Mike Tomczak. His production dropped significantly.
In 1990, Sharpe caught just 67 passes for 1,105 yards and in 1991 the numbers were similar – 69 receptions for 961 yards.
Then a miracle occurred … Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman and Mondovi, Wisconsin, native Tim Krumrie sacked Majkowski in the third game of the 1992 season. When Majik writhed in pain on the field, Brett Favre warmed up on the sideline, entered the game, and wouldn’t be unseated from the position for 16 years.
The next three seasons cemented the connection between Sharpe and Favre and had Sharpe not gotten injured at the tail end of the 1994 season, who knows what kind of statistics the two of them could have put up? In my humble opinion, it could have matched, if not exceeded the numbers that were put up by the Joe Montana/Jerry Rice combination. In addition, the Packers, under Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf, were just starting to put together a team that would go to two straight Super Bowls, winning in 1996.
In 1992, Sharpe had what may have been his finest season ever, but followed it up in 1993 and 1994 with comparably great seasons.
Sharp caught everything that was thrown his way in 1992. He had a career high 108 pass receptions for 1,461 yards, 13 touchdowns and an average 0f 91.3 yards per game. His longest reception of that season went for 76 yards. We were watching history in the making.
He followed up that performance in 1993 with 112 receptions (a new career high) for 1,274 yards, 11 touchdowns and a per-game average of 79.6.
Then in 1994, his final season, Sharpe recorded his third straight 1,000-yard season with 94 catches for 1,119 yards, a career high 18 touchdowns and a per-game average of 69.9 yards.
What was even more phenomenal was that Sharpe never missed a game over that seven-year span. He started 112 games, caught 595 passes for 8,134 yards, 65 touchdowns, and a per-game average of 72.6 yards.
His brother, Shannon, upon his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said it best when he said he was the second best receiver in his family.
“I’m the only player, of 267 men that [have] walked through this building to my left, that can honestly say this: I’m the only pro football player that’s in the Hall of Fame, and I’m the second best player in my own family.”
Had Sharpe not gotten injured, would this team have established a dynasty that could have matched the Packers of the 1960s? We’ll never know, but the possibilities at that time seemed endless.
So when Sharpe announced that he was forced to retire because of the injury, it was indeed a sad day – “the day the game died.”
Here are some videos of Sharpe in his heyday:
Here is a video entitled “Sterling Sharpe Gets Career-Ending Injury.” While Sharpe suffers a neck stinger on this particular play, it was the injury that forced him to retire. That would come later in the season when the Detroit Lions’ Bennie Blades hit him. However, this video shows the play when Sharpe’s neck condition came to the forefront – at least publicly.