Shannon Sharpe's Life Seems Like a Movie
In the world of television sports commentary, more often than not, ex-athletes come and go in pretty rapid fashion. If you're not good, you're cycled out. Your 40-yard dash time does nothing for you once the cameras start rolling, so if you can't deliver, it's back to the minor leagues for you — start your own podcast or do local radio.
Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe is one of the few who have endured, despite numerous setbacks. He now finds himself in the enviable role of being one of the most powerful voices on television, opposite former sport columnist/firebrand Skip Bayless on FS1's "Skip and Shannon: Undisputed" since 2016.
What Sharpe endured to get to this point, from his childhood through his NFL career through his post-playing career, is nothing short of a story that could be a movie.
Here's how he did it.
Grandmother's Love Trumps All
No story about Shannon Sharpe would be complete without saying how his relationship with his grandma, Mary Porter, defined his life.
Porter came from tiny Glenville, Georgia (pop. 3,500) to Chicago in the fall of 1968 to get Sharpe when he was just 3 months old to take him and his siblings back to Georgia with her. Shannon's father brought him back to Chicago a few months later, but he was back in Georgia for good by the time he was 2 years old, where his family lived in abject poverty.
"We were so poor, a robber once broke into our house, and we ended up robbing the robber," Sharpe once joked.
The one that held the entire family together, somehow, was Porter, who scrimped and saved and gave everything to her family, raising nine kids of her own, then Sharpe and his two siblings. She even shared a room with Sharpe from the time he was a child until he was a junior in high school. That's sacrifice.
'The Only Guy I Ever Wanted to Be Like'
Shannon Sharpe had one big advantage when it came to his football career — he had his older brother, Sterling Sharpe, cutting a swath through defenses to clear a path for his younger brother.
Before Shannon starred at Glenville High, Sterling starred there first. Three years older, Sterling was also a three-sport star at Glenville High in football, basketball, and track and field — the same sports his brother would star in. Sterling went on to star as wide receiver for the University of South Carolina before being drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in the 1988 NFL Draft when Shannon Sharpe was a sophomore at NCAA Division II Savannah State.
The first thing Sterling did with his first big payday? "He called and told us to go look at houses for grandma," Shannon said. "We asked her what kind of house she wanted, and all she said was 'When it rains, it would be nice to not get wet.' And I realized in 66 years of living in the same house, there had never been a time where it rained where it didn't get wet in the house.
"My brother ... is the only guy I ever wanted to be like. He's my hero."
Savannah State's Shining Star
Academic issues kept Sharpe on the outside looking in when it came to big-time college football. "Some people say they graduated (from high school) summa cum laude," Sharpe once joked. "I graduated, 'Thank you, lawdy!'"
All jokes aside, Sharpe found a home at NCAA Division II Savannah State, where he also played basketball and competed in track and field in throwing and jumping events. In football, Sharpe led Savannah State to the two best seasons in school history — 7-3 in 1988 and 8-1 in 1989 (his junior and senior seasons). He was also named an All-American as a senior in 1989 when he had 61 receptions for 1,312 yards and 18 touchdowns, including three games with more than 200 receiving yards.
Throwaway Pick in 1990 NFL Draft
There were five Hall of Famers selected in the 1990 NFL Draft. Three were picked in the first round, one in the second round ... and one in the seventh round.
The Denver Broncos picked Shannon Sharpe at No. 192 overall, where he was the eighth out of nine tight ends picked in the draft. And it couldn't have been a more perfect fit for the tight end.
The Broncos featured arguably the NFL's most exciting player in quarterback John Elway, who was at about the midway point of his career, and were coming off their third Super Bowl loss in four seasons.
Becoming an NFL Superstar
Shannon Sharpe was not your typical NFL tight end — he was undersized at 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds and came from a non-football power school at NCAA Division II Savannah State.
By his second season, with John Elway throwing him passes, it didn't matter. Sharpe had 22 receptions for 322 yards and one touchdown in 1992, then a breakout season in 1993 with 53 receptions for 640 yards and two touchdowns on the way to making the first of seven consecutive Pro Bowls.
Back-to-Back Super Bowl Victories
The Denver Broncos and star quarterback John Elway lost in the Super Bowl three times in the 1980s and by an increasing margin each time, culminating in a crushing 55-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIV following the 1989 season.
Almost one decade later, the Broncos finally made it back to the Super Bowl as heavy underdogs against the defending champion Green Bay Packers. But the team pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history with a 31-24 win for the first championship in franchise history and ended a 14-year streak of Super Bowl wins for the NFC.
The Broncos repeated as Super Bowl champions the next season, this time taking down the Atlanta Falcons, and Sharpe was a star on both teams, with a career-high 1,107 receiving yards in 1997 and a career-high 10 touchdown receptions in 1998.
Touching Moment Between Brothers
Sharpe's older brother, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Sterling, was one of the most dominant players in the NFL during his short time in pro football — a three-time NFL All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler in just seven seasons before a neck injury forced him to end his career in his prime following the 1994 season.
After the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl following the 1997 season, Shannon made eyes water all over the football-loving world when he gifted his older brother with his Super Bowl ring.
"I don't have blood, sweat and tears in my Super Bowl ring," Sterling Sharpe said. "I have love ... this guy loved me so much that he gave me something that he may never get another one of."
Third Super Bowl Win, Full Legend Status
Shannon Sharpe only played five games in his final season with the Denver Broncos in 1999 because of knee and collarbone injuries, as the team floundered after back-to-back Super Bowl wins and the retirement of John Elway, going 6-10 for their worst record since Sharpe's rookie year in 1990.
After rehabbing his injuries, Sharpe cashed out as a free agent with a Super Bowl contender, signing a four-year, $13.8 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens. In his first season with the team in 2000, Sharpe had 67 receptions for 810 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season but saved his best moments for the postseason.
In the 2000 AFC Championship Game against the Oakland Raiders, Sharpe caught a short pass on third-and-18 from the Ravens' 4-yard-line and took it 96 yards for a touchdown — still the longest scoring play in franchise history. Sharpe finished the postseason with six receptions for 230 yards and two touchdowns in helping lead the Ravens to their first Super Bowl win and his third Super Bowl in four seasons.
Greatest Moment in 'Hard Knocks' History
There is no greater moment in the history of HBO's long-running "Hard Knocks" series than what occurred when HBO's cameras followed the Baltimore Ravens at training camp before the 2001 season.
Coming off a Super Bowl win, the Ravens held a "Rookie Talent Show" that featured rookies doing various skits — mostly singing their alma maters — but rookie linebacker Tim Johnson's impression of Shannon Sharpe has remained a viral staple for over 20 year since it occurred.
It also gave us our first real glimpse into how Sharpe was away from the field — hilarious and self-deprecating. And it gave us the now-famous line: "I want my restitutions."
Back to the Broncos
Sharpe left the Baltimore Ravens and returned to the Denver Broncos for his final two NFL seasons in 2002 and 2003. Despite playing 14 seasons in the NFL, he was as good as any tight end in the league over his final two seasons, with 1,450 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
Sharpe actually made NFL history on Oct. 20, 2002, with a game for the ages against the Kansas City Chiefs. In a 37-34 overtime win, Sharpe had 12 receptions for an NFL single-game tight end record, 214 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Following the 2003 season, Sharpe hung up his cleats for good.
Shannon Sharpe's NFL Career: By The Numbers
1990 NFL Draft: 7th Round, No. 192 Overall (Denver Broncos)
Career: 14 seasons (1990-2003)
Teams: Denver Broncos (1990-99, 2002-03), Baltimore Ravens (2000-01)
Career stats: 815 receptions, 10,060 receiving yards, 62 touchdowns
Career highlights: Three-time Super Bowl champion (1998, 1999, 2001), five-time NFL All-Pro (1993, 1995-98), eight-time Pro Bowl (1992-98, 2001), NFL 1990s All -Decade Team, Denver Broncos 50th Anniversary Team
Career earnings: $22.3 million
'Second Best Football Player in My Own Family'
Sharpe was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility in 2010, in one of the most stacked classes of all time alongside Art Modell, Deion Sanders, Jerome Bettis, Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk.
And his Hall of Fame induction speech was one of the most memorable of all time. Introduced by his older brother and former NFL wide receiver Sterling, Shannon brought the crowd to tears with his remembrances of a childhood in poverty, the strength of his grandmother and his love for his older sibling. "I'm the only Hall of Famer who is the second-best football player in my own family," Shannon said.
Did somebody cut up some onions in here?
How to Navigate a Post-Football Career
Sharpe's post-football career has somewhat mirrored his NFL career — succeeding amid the doubters.
Sharpe spent a decade on The NFL Today Show with CBS until he was replaced by another former NFL tight end, Tony Gonzalez, in 2014. But in the last decade, he has become much more well known for his role as the co-host of "Skip and Shannon: Undisputed" on FS1, which is essentially the FOX Sports answer to ESPN's First Take.
In a pretty deft move, Sharpe made a point to embrace social media early on and now has millions of followers between his Twitter and Instagram accounts. He also has a critically acclaimed podcast, "Club Shay Shay," that was named to the Apple Best Podcasts list in 2021 after his interview with NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace.
Courting Controversy, Raking in Big Bucks
One way to remain relevant as a sports commentator is to remain in the headlines with your hot takes — something Sharpe has proven to be an expert at.
Sharpe has been especially critical of quarterback Tom Brady and the Dallas Cowboys — co-host Skip Bayless' favorite team — but in the last year has taken his profile to another level. He's also been an unabashed fan of NBA superstar LeBron James and has gone viral several times for his love of "living his best life" and drinking Hennessy on air.
First, Sharpe refused to show up to host "Undisputed" after Bayless' insensitive tweet following the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin.Less than a month later, Sharpe was once again in the headlines after he attended an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies in Los Angeles in January 2023 and got into an in-game altercation with the Grizzlies and star Ja Morant's father, Tee Morant.
The result of all of this? It's continued to make Sharpe very, very rich — he receives a reported $3 million salary from FOX for co-hosting "Undisputed" and has an estimated net worth of between $15 to $20 million.
Not bad for a poor kid from Glennville.