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'The Crowning Achievement'

Posted Aug 2, 2011

Denver Broncos legend Shannon Sharpe is set to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.

When Denver Broncos legend Shannon Sharpe watches the NFL Network, he still can't believe what he's seeing.
Even if he's seen the same words thousands of times scroll along the bottom on the screen, he looks closely every time his name is about to appear under the Hall of Fame heading to assure himself he's not dreaming.
"Still, when I watch the NFL Network and I see them scroll across the bottom of the screen, the 2011 Hall of Fame inductees, I still wait and see if my name is still going to come up at the end and then I can turn the channel and watch something else," Sharpe said during a conference call Tuesday. "Because it still is so surreal to me."
The surreal is about to become the reality for the former All-Pro tight end when he is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday. For Sharpe, who has won three Super Bowls -- two with the Broncos -- it is the ultimate accomplishment.
"If you're a football player, this is the crowning achievement," Sharpe said. "The Super Bowl is great, but to be of the 20,000-plus players that play the game and to know my image is forever bronzed in Canton, Ohio, just seems surreal. I just have a hard time believing that people thought so much of the way I played the game that I was awarded this great honor."
Sharpe wishes his late grandmother, Mary Porter, who raised him but passed away last month, could be in Canton this weekend to hear his speech. But many of his other family members and friends will be on hand to see him through. That includes brother Sterling, whose career was cut short in 1994 when he suffered a brutal neck and spine injury.
Many people speculate that Sterling was on his way to a Hall of Fame career of his own before his injury. Shannon credits Sterling for teaching him about football and life as he grew up, and to show his gratification for his older brother, Shannon will have Sterling present him on Saturday.
"There's no question, I wouldn't be where I am without him," Sharpe said. "He told me what to expect in college, in the National Football League, and he was just always there. For me to share this moment with him, it was supposed to be the other way around -- I was supposed to be presenting him and not him presenting me -- but we're going into Canton together."
Going back to his playing days, Sharpe was as dominant as they come. He played 14 seasons in the NFL, 12 with the Broncos, and retired as the all-time leader amongst tight ends in catches (815), receiving yards (10,060) and touchdowns (62). He made the Pro Bowl eight times and was named to the All-Pro team in four of those years.
Sharpe knows he wouldn't be where he is today if it wasn't for another Broncos Hall of Famer, quarterback John Elway. Sharpe credits his relationship with Elway and their communication and teamwork on and off the field to much of his success.
"I was very fortunate to play with a quarterback for nine years that believed in me, that trusted me, trusted my decision-making," Sharpe said. "We talked a lot about how he wanted me to run the route, but at the end of the day it came down to me asking, 'John, how deep do you want me to get?' Because it needs to time up with his drop. So once his back foot hits, he needs to know I'm in my route and he can throw the football. As long as he was ready to throw the football, I was ready to catch it. That was all that mattered between he and I. We had a great relationship."
Sharpe's receiving-like abilities revolutionized the way the tight end position was played. Immediately teams around the league took notice and started drafting more athletic, tight end/receiver hybrids. Pro Bowlers Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates directly followed Sharpe as the dominant position players and Gonzalez has now overtaken him in many receiving categories.
Sharpe recognizes that the position has quickly evolved from a role that was predominately blocking to a role that incorporates the passing game. He says that the players who are most suited for that role are former basketball players, like Gonzalez, Gates, and Broncos rookie Julius Thomas.
"Now you're starting to see these guys are who too short to play in the NBA, but they know how to move without the ball -- Antonio Gates, Tony, the Broncos took a guy this year who was a basketball player -- everybody's trying to get that guy who's like a 6-4, 6-5 about 235, 245-ish and can run," Sharpe said. "I've always felt that was where the best matchup was. A tight end on a linebacker and a tight end on a strong safety."
As an analyst for CBS, Sharpe still spends a lot of time thinking about and watching football. As a result, he thinks the NFL is a league that is becoming increasingly friendly to receiving tight ends.
"The rules they've implemented to help the passing game and offense, there's never going to be a day again where you see the 250-pound guy and all he does is block," Sharpe said. "You need a tight end that can get you 50, 60, 70, 80 catches now in order to be successful and have a successful offense in this league."
So while Sharpe's playing days are over, his legacy lives on as teams look to him as the prototype tight end. Sharpe will continue to analyze and discuss the intricacies of the modern day NFL as a CBS analyst, but for this weekend, he will be content to drift into the past with family, friends and teammates who helped him get to where he is today.
"I'm going to enjoy it," Sharpe said. "Some of my teammates who are coming I haven't seen in 20 years. A lot of my family, my kids, my mom, my sister, my high school coach, one of my high school teachers, will be there. It's going to be a great experience for me in realizing that so many people will come from such great distances to share my speech and support me."

To listen to Shannon Sharpe's full interview, click here.