In 1992, Sharpe set an NFL record with 108 catches and also led the league with 1,461 yards and 13 touchdown receptions. A year later, he broke his own record with 112 catches, accounting for 1,274 yards and 11 touchdowns, although he was bothered by Achilles and turf toe injuries that prevented him from practicing for most of the second half of the season.
Healthy or not, thanks to his rare combination of strength and quickness, Sharpe was still virtually unstoppable. And the Packers were determined to maximize his ability. In 1993, they threw it to him a league-high 193 times.
“The more times Sterling touches the ball, the better chance we have to win,” Jon Gruden, who was an original member of Holmgren’s staff and wide receivers coach from 1993-94, once said. “It’s no different than when the Chicago Bulls rode Michael Jordan for those three championship rings.”
Because he lacked great speed, Sharpe was never considered a dangerous deep threat. Where he was most effective was inside the hashmarks and inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He was fearless. He had a special feel for finding open spaces when plays broke down and Favre abandoned the pocket. And, more than anything, tackling Sharpe anywhere on the field was more like tackling the great Barry Sanders, a stumpy 203-pound running back, than the comparably great Jerry Rice, a graceful, 6-2, 200-pound wide receiver.
In 1993, for example, Sharpe caught 83 percent of his 112 passes within 10 yards of the line – with his average catch point 6.8 yards – but averaged 11.4 yards per catch.
“To me, it’s an incredible statistic what he does after the catch,” said Gruden. “I like to look at the great receivers in all of football – the Michael Irvins, the Sterling Sharpes, the Jerry Rices, the Andre Risons, all those great receivers – to see what they get after the catch, and Sterling’s right up there on top of the league.”
Sharpe started the 1994 season by walking out of camp the day before the opener over a contract dispute, only to settle matters that night and play the following day. He ended the season by missing the Packers’ two playoff games when it was discovered that he had two loose vertebrae at the top of his spinal column. In the second-to-last regular-season game, Sharpe had experienced temporary paralysis in both arms following a collision and a week later endured a burning sensation in his right arm after sustaining another blow.
Sharpe underwent surgery for a neck fusion of his top two vertebrae in early February 1995 and less than a month later the Packers waived him. Sharpe’s career was over at age 29. At the time, Wolf said: “My experience in pro football is you get a Hall of Fame-type player at his position every 20 years. He was either No. 1 or No. 2 when they called the role. So, you don’t replace a player like that.” Nevertheless, the Packers won a Super Bowl two seasons later.
In seven seasons, Sharpe never missed a regular-season game. He played and started 112. He also caught what was then a club-record 595 passes. His career yardage total of 8,134 yards was second to James Lofton and his 65 touchdowns were second to Don Hutson. Sharpe’s average per catch was 13.7 yards. Additionally, he and Favre connected on 41 touchdown passes, also a team record at the time for a receiver-quarterback duo.
Sharpe also played in two postseason games following the 1993 season, catching 11 passes for 229 yards, a per-catch average of 20.8. The most memorable of those receptions was his 40-yard, final-minute game winner in the corner of the end zone at the Pontiac Silverdome that gave the Packers a 28-24 victory over Detroit in an NFC Wild Card playoff.
Born April 6, 1965. Given name Sterling Sharpe.