CANTON, Ohio -- There was a time in Shannon Sharpe's Hall of Fame acceptance speech that he stopped looking at his notes. When he stopped looking at the former teammates, family members, friends and fans in the crowd, and started looking towards the heavens, back in time.
If you were watching, you noticed it too. It happened 14 minutes and 17 seconds into his speech. He stopped pausing in between sentences to look down and make sure he remembered to thank everyone he wanted. A determined, intense, purposeful look came over his face, and then, like he did 815 times over the span of 14 NFL seasons, Shannon Sharpe reached out and described how he caught the pass thrown by the most important person in his life.
The Broncos legend, who held NFL records for tight ends in career catches, yards and touchdowns at the time of his retirement in 2003, was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday evening. But from the moment the charismatic and verbose tight end took the podium in Canton, Ohio, Shannon Sharpe was the last thing on Shannon Sharpe's mind.
The first half of his speech mimicked his routes on the football field. It was different, fluctuating and unforeseeable. His speech wasn't filled with the jokes and laughter fans have come to expect from him as they listened to him talk on the football field. Although he did dish out a joke here and there, like when he was thanking his quarterback and current Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway and talked about his first game starting at tight end.
"As I would motion past John, he would turn around and tell me what I had to do, block the end, block the linebacker, run the out, run a corner," Sharpe said. "We won the game. I'm standing on the sideline, and I can see John walking towards me. Instead of being angry and upset with me, he walks up to me and he says, 'I think next week we need to learn the plays.' Thanks, John, for teaching me how to be a pro."
But Elway wasn't the first person Sharpe thanked. That person wasn't his mom, brother, sister or teammates. It was his high school remedial reading and Spanish teacher, Ms. Elaine Keels. He went on to also thank Coach Hall, his high school football coach, track coach and driver's ed instructor -- proving that no matter how many touchdowns he caught, it was his roots that established his foundation. As he showed throughout his speech, he never forgot that.
He also never forgot about his older brother, Sterling, who presented him Saturday evening and helped him unveil the bronze bust. It was clear that Shannon wished he could do the same for Sterling, whose promising career ended abruptly after a spine injury in his seventh season.
"I'm the only player of 267 men that's 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 the second best player in my own family," Sharpe said of Sterling.
To that, the crowd rose to their feet and gave Sterling a standing ovation as tears streaked down his cheeks.
But that was only the beginning.
Shannon spent a minute begging the Hall of Fame voters to take his brother's accomplishments into account. And while that first half of his speech could have gone a number of directions like the start of his routes, the ending was never in doubt.
Sharpe's grandmother, Mary Porter, passed away in July. She raised Shannon and his siblings from the time he was three months old.
"It's my turn to bring Mary Porter to life with my voice," Sharpe said. "It's time for me to give Mary Porter a face for all those that don't know who she is. It's my turn now."
Sharpe went on.
"What do you say about a person that gives you everything but life? How do you start to say thank you, granny, for a woman that raises nine of her kids and your mom's three, and she sacrificed more for her grandkids than she did her own?
"The only regret that I have in my 43 years that I never told my grandmother just how much she means to me."
Sharpe described how he was getting ready to leave for college at Savannah State with two brown grocery bags. Some parents feel the need to give their child a Hollywood-style life lecture as they prepare to leave the nest. But not Mary Porter. Sharpe said she never got up from the bed she was napping in as he went to leave.
"My grandmother never told me when I was getting ready to leave for Savannah State, 'Shannon, don't do drugs. Shannon, don't drink. Shannon, go to class. Shannon do your homework. Shannon, be respectful. Shannon, iron your clothes.' She figured she had laid that foundation for 18 years, a 10-minute speech wasn't going to work now," Sharpe said.
Sharpe revealed that much of his drive for success, much of the reason for his hard work, was to please his grandmother. Growing up in dilapidated conditions, where he and his grandmother would wake up wet after a night of rain, all Sharpe wanted to work for was to give his grandmother the life she deserved, with a roof over her head that would keep her dry.
"It broke my heart that my grandmother, all she wanted was she's got two grandboys that are making millions of dollars, and she wanted a house that wouldn't leak," Sharpe said. "That's all she wanted. That's all my grandmother wanted. That's what drove Shannon. That's what got me here."
At moments throughout Sharpe's speech about his grandmother, tears ran down his face and his brother's. It was clear that while Shannon loved playing football and entertaining millions of people each week, he loved his brother and his grandmother much more than words can describe.
Sharpe ended his speech by saying, "Thank you for allowing me to share 14 minutes 23 seconds of your time." In reality, he spoke for 29 minutes. But the last 14 minutes and 23 seconds of his speech will be all that anybody remembers. Those words didn't come from notes or a teleprompter. They came straight from the heart.