Gold Jacket Spotlight: Shannon Sharpe’s work ethic took him from sideline to stardom

Gold Jacket Spotlight Published on : 3/4/2024
For most seventh-round rookies, making the roster for one of the 32 NFL teams poses a major challenge. Yet for SHANNON SHARPE, the 192nd overall pick in 1990, simply putting on a uniform and standing on the sideline come gameday was far from satisfactory. 

This week’s Gold Jacket spotlight looks back on Shannon’s rise from a potential roster cut to Hall of Fame tight end.

After the Denver Broncos took a flier on the 6-1, 221-pound “tweener” receiver, Shannon filled the third tight end position on the depth chart, behind Clarence Kay, who started all 16 games in 1989, and Orson Mobley, a third-year pro the Broncos drafted in 1986.

Given his immediate role on the team, a spot on the roster wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

“I was on the board to get cut,” Shannon said in a 2023 interview. “I’ll never forget this: We’re playing (the) Arizona Cardinals, and one of the coaches came to me and said, ‘Shannon, your name is on the board to get cut. Now you might, you might not, but your name is on the board. What you should do is go out there and bust your ass.”

Having already demonstrated a great work ethic, Shannon knew what was at stake during the rain-filled contest. He impressed the coaching staff enough on special teams to earn a spot on the roster.

Playing time wasn’t guaranteed, let alone any opportunities to catch a pass during a game. Shannon’s first reception didn’t come until Week 6 of his rookie season, a 12-yard gain. After only two addition receptions in the next seven weeks, a breakout performance ensued in Week 14 — 41 yards and a touchdown on three catches — one that caught the eye of head coach Dan Reeves.

“We could see that he was a mismatch for strong safeties and linebackers,” Reeves said in an interview reminiscing on Shannon’s play. “And that’s what you want from an H-back. You see a lot of guys with talent and settle on it. Shannon had a lot of talent, and he really worked hard.”

Despite totaling only seven receptions for 99 yards in his rookie season, Shannon left an indelible mark on the coaching staff. Denver had found a gem.

Years 2 and 3 saw Shannon’s receiving numbers and playing time jump significantly.

After his second season, his statistics grew three-fold to 22 receptions for 322 yards, and the now-full-time starter nearly doubled those numbers in his third season to 53 catches for 640 yards. Now considered an established tight end in the league, his play garnered the first of eight Pro Bowl nods in 1992.

Shannon’s success boiled down to his unmatched work ethic and dedication.

"My life for 14 years in the National Football League was football," he said in his 2011 Enshrinement speech. "I ate, I drank, I slept and thought football. That's all I wanted to do. I didn't take vacations, I didn't own a yacht, I didn't have a whole bunch of hobbies other than working out and getting ready for the upcoming season.”

The diamond found in the rough of the 1990 NFL Draft’s seventh round went on to compile an illustrious career, winning three Super Bowls and leading his team in receptions in seven seasons. His career totals of 815 receptions for 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns in 14 seasons for the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens all stood as league records for a tight end at the time of his retirement.