In 1990, Shannon Sharpe joined the Broncos as a little-known wide receiver out of Savannah State.
By the end of his career, he retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns by a tight end. And the Broncos faithful were behind him every step of the way.
“From the very first day I got there, they’ve always cheered me,” Sharpe said of the fans. “They’ve always treated my family and me, for that matter, with the utmost respect. I do feel like that’s my home. They treat me so well when I do come back. I don’t get back often, but every time I come back they always talk about the great times when we were winning championships.”
This afternoon at halftime, Sharpe is back home at Sports Authority Field at Mile High to receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring.
And he wouldn’t want the ceremony to take place anywhere else than in front of the fans that helped make his Hall-of-Fame dream a reality.
“Basically, without them, there is no ring,” he said.
The ring ceremony is part of the Broncos’ annual Alumni Weekend, when dozens of former Broncos head back to the Mile High City to renew friendships and reminisce about their days in orange and blue.
The event, staged every year by Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen, is a big hit with the attendees.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Terrell Davis, who has been to his fair share of alumni weekends. “I don’t know how other owners do it, but to me that is just another reason why I think Pat Bowlen is one of the best owners in the sport. He doesn’t forget the players. He’s always trying to give recognition to the guys who have helped serve that franchise. Those things mean a lot to the players. Most of us won’t be in Canton and we won’t get that national recognition, but it’s always good to get something that’s local.”
The last time Sharpe took a Sunday off from his job as a commentator with CBS Sports to head to Denver for an alumni weekend was the Broncos’ season opener in 2009, when he was inducted into the Ring of Fame.
Sharpe said Bowlen “goes above and beyond” to help keep the Broncos feeling like a family, and he’s excited to be back in Denver with former teammates.
“It’s always great to see those guys,” Sharpe said. “Guys that you won championships with and were part of great teams. For the most part, none of this would’ve even been possible without a lot of these guys.”
Some of those same teammates -- including Davis, John Elway, Dwayne Carswell, Byron Chamberlain, Ray Crockett, Steve Atwater, Keith Burns and Rod Smith -- were also in Canton, Ohio to hear Sharpe’s enshrinement speech.
Sharpe said he has gotten nothing but positive feedback about his emotional address.
“I’ve always felt that I’ve been kind of waiting for that moment, rehearsing that moment, it seems like my whole life,” he said. “For me, 14 years was for me. The Hall of Fame was about everybody else that made it possible for me to get there. I just wanted to thank some of the people, give them a face to a name that a lot of people had heard.”
Since that August enshrinement ceremony, Sharpe has been making sure his children were ready to head back to school, and getting himself ready for the “20-week grind” of his job as a commentator during the NFL season.
And just as he said after he first heard his name called as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2011, he doesn’t feel like his life has changed.
“It’s a great honor, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “It’s the crowning achievement of one’s professional career in his or her particular sport. People address me differently, but my life really hasn’t changed. People still call me Sterling. So in that regard, really nothing in my life has changed. I still have the same expectation level for myself, my kids, my friends. No one treats me any differently. So I would honestly have to say nothing in my life has changed.”
But Sharpe has two tokens to remind him of the way his football life has changed -- a bust in the Hall of Fame and a gold jacket in his closet.
He’s plenty happy with both, especially the way the bust represents him -- and the part in his hair.
“My grandfather gave me that (part) back in 1973, and there’s not been a day that I’ve gone and gotten a haircut that I haven’t had it,” he said. “I told them, ‘I don’t really care what the bust looks like, as long as you have that part in there, I think people will understand who that is.’ He did a great job. There are some scars on my face that he captured. The wrinkles in the back of my head he got on the bust. So I was very pleased with the bust, and so was my family.”
As for the jacket, it’s in his closet, and he suspects this weekend might be the final time he wears it.
And he can’t think of a better reason to put it on than to get his ring in front of 76,000 Broncos fans.
“It’s fitting that there are no more awards for me to receive, now, and the final one will be where it all started back in 1990,” Sharpe said. “Twenty-one years later, here I am getting the final piece of the puzzle.”