The always funny and opinionated Shannon Sharpe’s birthday is today, Saturday, June 26, and that triggers a flood of memories about how he earned spots in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Everyone knows by now that Shannon was raised by his grandmother and other supporting individuals in rural Georgia, where they survived through poverty in conditions that he later called “dirt poor.” When he left home to go to Savannah State, Shannon carried all his belongings in two grocery store paper bags.
He was then about as far from National Football League stardom and a media career as was imaginable.
But Shannon always worked harder than anyone else. Sometimes it is difficult to determine what someone’s talent level is because of how hard they are working, and that was the case with Shannon Sharpe.
I remember when the Broncos drafted him in the seventh round (the 192nd-overall selection) of the 1990 NFL draft, I was reading his bio and noted to myself how he had a vast volume of receptions at Savannah State. If he did it there, he will likely do it here, I reasoned.
And so he did, but in those first few seasons, he seemed unwilling to block and had a variety of minor injuries that kept him out of a practice or two.
Then Mike Shanahan became our head coach in 1995.
He called Shannon in and told him that he was well aware of Sharpe’s ability to catch the ball, but he had to be in great shape (not good shape, great shape), stay on the field and block. The better Shannon was at those things, the more he would get the ball. And the inverse was also true, said Shanahan.
Shannon Sharpe walked out of that office like a reborn tight end.
He hit the weight room like no one before and lifted so many weights that he wound up on the cover of Muscle Media magazine.
Shannon was one of the leaders of our back-to-back Super Bowl winning teams in 1997 and 1998 and ultimately was named the first-team tight end on the NFL 1990s All-Decade team, which was decided by Hall of Fame Selection Committee members.
He took a quick detour to the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame in 2009 before heading to Canton as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
But as is often the case, the anecdotal is sometimes what I remember the most.
I remember seeing Shannon using a handheld vacuum to clean out the very bottom of his locker, where the shoes are kept. He was in so deep one could only see his rump as he vacuumed his locker.
When he emerged, teammates asked him why he would go to so much trouble.
“Because if you live like a pig, you play like a pig,” Shannon replied, adding that his choice was the opposite of that.
When we defeated the Atlanta Falcons to win Super Bowl XXXIII, Sharpe did his postgame interviews and showered, then reached into a duffel bag he had brought with him and produced a letterman’s jacket that already had the logos of both Super Bowls on it, with the words “World Champions.”
Shannon was always the first in to lift and the last out, watched his body and his diet meticulously, and was quick to tell his teammates to do the same.
I remember him telling a teammate, “You are going to eat your way out of the NFL.” The fellow had a fine career, but it did end a few years earlier than it might have.
Sharpe himself brought his own lunch to the Broncos. Grilled or broiled chicken without the skin, in a plastic container, along with a green vegetable, in a separate container.
On Fridays we would bring in fried chicken and pizza, and Shannon would eat that with his teammates — but more out of bonding than a desire for the food itself.
And then he adjourned to the weight room to exercise until he felt like he had gotten rid of the unwanted calories. As long as it took.
He was meticulous about every aspect of his life, including his wardrobe.
Once upon a time on a road trip we were on the same bus, and I commented that he was wearing a very nice lavender-toned shirt.
“Sacco, I’m surprised at you,” Shannon said. “This is periwinkle.”
Broncos fans probably remember the key first down he made on a reception at Pittsburgh in the 1998 AFC Championship Game.
I remember the huddle, when future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway looked at future Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe and said, “Just get open and I will throw you the ball.”
Sharpe got open, Elway threw the ball, Shannon caught it, we went to Super Bowl XXXII and legends continued to grow.
I remember the press conference when the press somehow began asking about academics, and Shannon said, “Some guys graduate magna cum laude. I graduated ‘Thank you, Lawdy.'”
Everybody laughed, but he was dumb like a fox.
No one was ever more prepared for a post career job in media.
Shannon always understood his own wit, but also when to use it and when to be serious. His football knowledge is at the top of the list, and it is no surprise that he is as good as he is in the media.
The real surprise would be if he were not.
Shannon, it is hard to stay a step ahead of you, or even to keep pace, but happy birthday to one of the greatest players in pro football history!