The Vikings media guide lists Sharper as having the most interceptions since 2000, but Sharper said he perceives himself to not get enough credit.
"Overlooked and underrated still," Sharper said of himself. "When it comes to recognition, I have gotten some, but I don't think I've been appreciated for the things I do. That's the thing I always carry on my shoulder because I know what I can do and what I have done. But the thing in saying that is that you are talking about what other people think. I've got my own opinion, but it's always how other people analyze you.
"You watch other guys on tape and you can always do comparisons, but I just think overall that's just the way I perceive it – I don't think I get my respect that I think is necessary. That's just how I approach the game and that just kind of still drives me – whether it's in truth that I'm not respected or appreciated as much as I need to be, who's to say that? But that's kind of the attitude that I have."
It's not uncommon for professional athletes to use snubs – real or perceived – as motivation on the playing field. But Sharper was the NFC's starting free safety in the Pro Bowls following the 2000, 2002 and 2005 seasons. The first two of those Pro Bowl seasons came while playing for the Green Bay Packers, but, despite being a starter since his rookie season in 1997, going to the Pro Bowl two times and leading the team in interceptions for the fifth straight season, the Packers wanted Sharper to rework his contract during the 2005 offseason, a move he declined, which led to his release.
The Packers, behind new general manager Ted Thompson, wanted Sharper to take a drastic cut in salary in 2005. He was due a $2.6 million roster bonus and was slotted to count $8.3 million against the salary cap. Both sides tried to negotiate a new deal but never came to terms, so Sharper was released.
The Vikings were ready and willing to take advantage of that opportunity and signed him to a four-year, $14 million contract that included a $5 million signing bonus, and his career took an immediate upturn. He led the NFC and was third in the NFL with nine interceptions in 2005, earning his most recent Pro Bowl honor.
Still, he feels he believes he is overlooked, in part because of where he came from – William & Mary – before he was the last pick in the second round of the 1997 draft. It's not exactly a school found in the college preseason polls.
"Everyone is in here preaching about a national championship team and I can't even speak about playing in them. When I talk about playing in the playoffs, they say, ‘You mean high school playoffs?' Yeah, we still have playoffs where I came from and I still carry that with me," Sharper said.
In fact, he earned All-America honors twice at the Division I-AA school and was named All-Yankee Conference three times while setting a school record with 24 interceptions and the Division I-AA record with 468 yards on interception returns.
Despite the lower level of competition, those skills still translated into the NFL.
He has 51 career interceptions for 965 yards and has nine career defensive touchdowns, the most in the NFL since 1997, and his interception Friday night showed that he still knows how to read offensive play and turn that diagnosis into an interception.
"With the formation they came out in, after playing 11 years I can predict what they were doing," Sharper said after the game. "They had two guys close together with one guy crossing my face and the other guy over the top. When one guy is going out there is another one coming? I read Chad Pennington's eyes and he threw it right to me."
Less than five minutes into the game, Sharper started a defensive scoring barrage that turned into a preseason-record three defensive touchdowns for the franchise, but both Sharper and head coach Brad Childress were quick to point out that the safety's big play was all within the scheme of the defense.
"There's nobody freelancing out there. Freelancing is for freelance artists, not freelance football players," Childress said when asked about the play. "Eleven guys have a responsibility. Now, they have flexibility within that scheme disguise-wise, which we spend a lot of time talking about holding looks. Does the quarterback give any tells? Like in poker, is there a time when you can tell the ball is getting ready to be centered? They did a nice job of disguising, showing him one thing. As a matter of fact, one time you saw him have to use a timeout because we showed him one thing and we were going to do something quite different."
Said Sharper: "We have different calls that put people in different spots, but I don't say that I'm allowed to do anything – you have to do things within the defensive scheme always."
Even if it might leave you a bit underappreciated at times.
"You'd like to be able to get him in here as soon as possible and get some reps under his belt," Frazier said. "It's been a while since he has played in some competitive situations. Hopefully some of those issues will get resolved here real soon and we can get him on board and get him on the football field."