Packers' all-time 'Go-to guy'

What they needed was a miracle.<p>

It was their first playoff appearance in 25 years, the 1994 NFC Wild Card game. Here were the Green Bay Packers, desperately trying to pull out a victory in their personal Chamber of Horrors, the Pontiac Silverdome. Trailing 24-21 with 55 ticks left on the clock, Green Bay was 40 yards away from Detroit's goal line. Second down, four yards to go. As quarterback Brett Favre and his teammates broke their huddle, 68,479 hostile fans rose to their feet, whipping up a frenzied, deafening roar. They sensed a Lions victory. Favre had other ideas.

Fading back to pass, Favre was flushed out of the pocket and was running toward the left sideline, his eyes searching downfield, looking for somebody – anybody – to get open. Suddenly, Favre spotted number 84 streaking down the right sideline. There wasn't a defender within shouting distance of him. Favre stopped, pivoted to his right and heaved the ball as hard as he could across the field toward the end zone. Wide receiver Sterling Sharpe caught it at the back of the end zone and the Packers had themselves a stunning 28-24 victory.

Head Coach Mike Holmgren called it the "play of the year," a play that officially ushered in a new winning era for the Packers. But this winning TD was merely the latest big time catch in a career of big time catches for Sharpe.

Sharpe, who played for the Packers from 1988 until a neck injury prematurely ended his career in 1994, is the Packers' career leader with 595 receptions. He set the club's single-season record of 112 catches in 1993 and was named to five Pro Bowls. Sharpe never missed a regular season game and led the NFL in receptions three times, in touchdowns twice and even managed to snatch the receiving yards title from Jerry Rice of the 49ers in 1992.

Sharpe topped the 1,000-yard mark five times in his career and had 28 games with 100 or more yards receiving. He finished his career with 65 touchdown receptions, 8,134 receiving yards and an average of 13.7 yards per catch.

For these accomplishments and many others, Sharpe will be inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame on July 13. He and longtime Packer team photographer Vernon Biever will take their honored places in Packer history at the 32nd annual induction banquet to be held at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay.

"He was a joy to play with," said former Packer quarterback Don Majkowski upon learning of Sharpe's selection to the Hall. "It was such an honor to play with a guy that talented and it made it a lot of fun for me."

Sharpe was such a dominating receiver that he was Majik's natural "go-to guy" and even though defenders keyed on him, they were usually left grasping at air as he'd blow by them downfield. "I think that was a credit to Lindy Infante's offensive system and scheme," said Majkowski. "We used him a lot in motion and we used a lot of different formations. It's also a credit to Sterling's ability to beat double coverage many times. He was very smart in finding the open area to throw to and anytime anybody was daring enough to go single coverage on him, it was a given – it was pitch and catch. Nobody could single cover him, especially when they tried to bump and run him on the line of scrimmage. He was way too fast and way too strong and there wasn't anybody that he ever played against that could single-handedly cover him and that even included Deion Sanders at that time."

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Sharpe was Green Bay's first-round draft choice out of South Carolina in 1988. At South Carolina, Sharpe set a school record for 25 touchdowns, career receptions (163) and yardage (2,444).

Right from the start, the Packer brass knew they had someone very special. In his rookie season with the Packers, Sharpe burst dramatically on the scene by making 55 receptions, breaking Billy Howton's all-time club record (53) for a rookie receiver.

But as impressive as that first season was, Sharpe himself was not satisfied. He had hoped to make a bigger impact and said that he was looking to become one of the league's best the following year.

"I feel very strongly that I'm going to have a bigger year," Sharpe said at the time. "It was a learning year for all of us. You have to make people have confidence in you. You come out of college with ability and a lot of stats, but this is a new level. When everyone is watching game films, you want people to say, ‘This guy is getting behind people. Let's get him the ball.' That's what I want to do."

Sharpe's words proved to be prophetic. In 1989, his production jumped to 90 catches for 1,423 yards. He caught 12 touchdown passes and scored another TD with a recovered fumble as the Packers enjoyed their finest season in more than a decade, finishing 10-6 and missing the playoffs by an eyelash. One thing that clearly made Sharpe special was his ability to run after the catch – to turn a 9-yard catch into a 25-yard gain.

"He had deceptive speed," recalled Majkowski. "I don't know if many people gave him as much credit for his speed. He was more deserving. He was a fast guy and he was so strong. He could break tackles and it was like giving it to a running back once he got into the open field. He was a special talent being able to catch the ball the way he did, being so disciplined in his route running and he was a consummate professional. He studied the game plans and was very intelligent."

As one of Sharpe's teammates on the defensive side of the ball, former tackle Blaise Winter recalls having the best seat in the house to see Sharpe do his thing. "I loved when he was out on the field because usually things would happen that were electrifying," said Winter. "With Sterling, I'm really excited about the fact that he was so competitive and what I mean by that is that some people would misread that as being arrogant. Sterling Sharpe walked tall. To some that did not know him, it would be like ‘He's arrogant, bigger than life. He thinks he's better than anybody else.' But the bottom line is, there is a competitive fire in people like that and that's the only reason they achieve what they achieve. He was such a fierce competitor and he had such a great tunnel vision to what he wanted to do on a football field that I firmly believe he believed that nobody could stop him."

Sharpe had a hand in so many big plays that it is impossible to do justice in describing all of them. However, Majkowski had a few personal favorites.

"One of them was obviously the Bears game in '89, the one he caught in the ‘Instant Replay' game. That was probably the most famous play that I was ever involved in as a Packer. It's the most memorable and Sterling was on the receiving end of that touchdown pass. I remember one time in 1990 in Phoenix, in the game that I hurt my shoulder, I just threw him a little six-yard hitch pass and he made a defender move, split two guys and went about 80 yards for a touchdown. That was a pretty amazing play.

Also, there was the Minnesota game in '89 at Milwaukee County Stadium when he caught the go-ahead touchdown. He caught it at about the three yard line and had to bull through two guys, including Joey Browner. He had to muscle his way in and it was an unbelievable effort on his part to give us the go-ahead touchdown. Those plays kind of stand out but there were so many more, too."

Sharpe was, indeed, the proverbial ‘human highlight film'. But he is also remembered as a guy who truly loved the game. A player who actually enjoyed practice, who wasn't bothered by playing in cold weather and who could talk trash with the best of them.

"He was such a great teammate and he was the talk of the locker room and made everybody laugh," said Majkowski. "It was just all forms of entertainment and I think everybody (besides the players) probably perceived him as being more of a quiet, shy guy. But he was a great teammate and he really held things together in the locker room. That's what I'd like everybody to know and I think you're really seeing his personality really coming out now as a sportscaster with ESPN. He's so intelligent and he's really doing a great job."

Once a great competitor, always a great competitor.


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