An Analysis of NFL Network’s “Sharpe Focus: Journey to Canton”
The Shannon Sharpe Hall of Fame special that aired on NFL Network this week had me absolutely riveted for the entire hour. I’m not going to lie; it got a little dusty in my office towards the end. I love shows like this because it exposes you to the actual person behind the facemask. They become more than just the character you see on the field or read about in the newspaper. Sharpe Focus: A Journey to Canton was not only a chance to reminisce about the good old days of the Denver Broncos franchise, but it gave us an inside look into Sharpe’s journey from a little shack in Georgia all the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The program followed Shannon Sharpe and his older brother Sterling as they toured their old house in tiny Glennville, Georgia. They also walked around their old high school, talked with old coaches and mentors, and showed old pictures and home videos from his younger days. Shannon and Sterling both talked in great detail and emotion about their grandmother who raised them and a platoon of aunts and uncles with almost no money or the modern day amenities we take for granted now. They also showed clips from his days with the Denver Broncos including some of his biggest plays and best moments. Dan Reeves and John Elway were both interviewed at length and their thoughts were sprinkled throughout the program. In the end, Sharpe’s boyhood home was shown one last time to emphasize the bare bones beginnings from which Sharpe came. Overall, it was an emotional and inspirational program that immediately made me love Shannon more than I already did. It was a great piece of work all the way around, and I give kudos to the NFL Network on this one.
Several things struck me right away. The first was how ridiculously ripped Shannon Sharpe looked. Good Lord! He looks like he could suit up tomorrow and still dominate an unlucky defensive end or outside linebacker. It was especially noticeable next to his brother Sterling who has let himself go a little bit since his playing days.
Secondly, his boyhood home was so small and dilapidated. I could not believe the true depth of the poverty that Sharpe came from. It was a 1,000 square foot shack with no running water, central heating or air, or any modern day features. As many as a dozen family members lived in the house at any time, and if you needed to use the bathroom, you simply took a walk into the neighboring woods. It’s hard for most of us to fathom living like that, especially those of us that grew up in the 1980’s.
I already knew that Shannon was extremely close to his older brother and his grandmother. But the show really exposed just how much they all mean to each other. Shannon Sharpe constantly followed in Sterling’s footsteps when they were growing up, and Sterling’s successes drove Shannon to get better no matter how far he had already come. After Sterling Sharpe’s career was shortened by injury, Shannon gave his first Super Bowl ring to his brother because in his mind Sterling was the reason he had won it. Some of the most poignant moments were when Shannon talked about how hard he would work to keep his grandmother from going back to the life they had when he was young. He was always afraid of losing everything he had worked so hard for, so he was a mainstay in the gym and on the practice field. Because of this, he admittedly had to forego many personal relationships and experiences so that he could maintain his training regimen. This included skipping the trips to the Whitehouse after the Broncos Super Bowl victories. In his own words, “Because some guy in college wanted my job. And if I let up for one second, that was going to give them the opportunity to get my job. Nobody was going to take my job.”
The saddest moment was when Sharpe informed the audience that his grandmother had passed away the night before the interview took place. The sincerity of Shannon’s emotions was enthralling. He came to the conclusion that because she wasn’t physically able to be in Canton with him, that she couldn’t sit in the audience and hear him, her leaving this world was the only way she could be with him and listen to his speech. It was a heartbreaking moment of grief that many of us can relate to.
We also got an in-depth look at the career arc of Sharpe, even though most of us already know it inside and out. After being drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 7th round of the 1990 NFL Draft, Sharpe would go on to play 12 of his 14 seasons with Denver and he would shatter all the receiving records for tight ends along the way. He would win 3 Super Bowls during his stellar career (2 with the Broncos after the 1997 and 1998 seasons), and he was named to the NFL 1990’s All-Decade team. At retirement, he held league records for a tight end in regards to receptions, yards, touchdowns, receiving yards in a game, receptions in a playoff game, longest touchdown reception in the playoffs, and he still holds the modern NFL record for consecutive playoff games won with 12. That streak went from the start of the 1997 playoffs through a victory in the wild card round while with the Baltimore Ravens in 2002. Think about that for a minute. 12 straight playoff victories; and he was a big part of all of them. There have been thousands of players in NFL history who have failed to win a single playoff game, let alone a Super Bowl. But Sharpe found a way to rise above the rest; something he has been doing his whole life.
The thing that resonated loudest was Sharpe’s fierce competitiveness, unequaled work ethic, and hardened resolve to be better than everyone else. I immediately thought of how much better the NFL would be if all players had a fraction of Sharpe’s attitude. He may have gotten a lot of grief over the years for his mouth and his antics on the sideline, but almost all of it was good natured, and in the end it was his play on the field that spoke the loudest. There also isn’t a critic out there who wouldn’t have drooled at the thought of having Shannon Sharpe play on their favorite team.
In this day and age when the average player stays with a team for such a short time, and many embarrass an organization and their fans rather than give them reason to cheer, it’s important to recognize and celebrate the truly good people who have played this game at the highest level. For that reason, Shannon Sharpe deserves the recognition of the Hall of Fame, and he has made the Denver Broncos community extremely proud.
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