Tight end Shannon Sharpe is being inducted into the Hall of Fame today in Canton, Ohio. Sharpe spent 12 of his 14 seasons in the league (1990-99, 2002-03) with the Denver Broncos, where he played with and for Texans coach Gary Kubiak and under Texans tight ends coach Brian Pariani.
Kubiak was a backup quarterback with the Broncos from 1990-91, Sharpe's first two years in the league. He was Sharpe's offensive coordinator in Denver from 1995-99 and again in 2002-03, when Sharpe returned from a two-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens. Pariani was Sharpe's tight ends coach from 1995-99 and 2002-03.
Sharpe led the NFL in receptions by a tight end from 1996-98, averaging 73 catches per season. He had 425 receptions for 5,373 yards and 38 touchdowns under Kubiak and Pariani. Sharpe retired in 2004 as the NFL career record-holder at the tight end position in receptions (815), yards (10,060) and touchdowns (62). He was the first tight end ever with 10,000 receiving yards. A seventh-round pick from Savannah State in 1990, Sharpe was an eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time Associated Press All-Pro.
On a break from practice and meetings during Texans training camp, Kubiak and Pariani reflected on Sharpe's induction into the Hall of Fame in the Class of 2011.
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak
Scurfield:You played with Shannon for a couple years – he came in as a rookie in 1990 when you were a quarterback in Denver. What are some of the first things you remember about him as a player?
Kubiak:Shannon was just a raw talent. He was really a big receiver out of college, and they were trying to figure out what the heck they were going to do with him. He came into training camp and it was obvious he wasn't gonna play wide receiver in this league. Tight ends were kind of bigger players back then. The H-back position wasn't a big position at that time. I remember us going through camp, I remember sitting in a meeting with (John) Elway and Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan. They were asking me and John what we thought about him – 'What do y'all think about that rookie, Sharpe?' I remember Elway going, 'He's talented; we've got to find a place for him to play.' Hence he became the H-back on the team, and next thing you know he's going to the Hall of Fame. He's a very good friend. Played with him – he was a buddy when we played – and then a very good friend of mine that I got to coach, also. You've seen his story; it's coming out. This kid went from nothing to the Hall of Fame, and it does happen. He was a late draft choice. He's a self-made player, self-made man, and we're just all so proud of him. Used to give him such a hard time when he was young. I talked to him the other day, just excited for him. Wish I could be there. I'm really sad that I can't be there.
Scurfield:What kind of things did you give him a hard time about?
Kubiak:I had a few nicknames for him that I used to call him I can't tell you. But I wrote him a little note, sent him a bottle of Dom Perignon last week. I started out my note with, 'Dear, what I used to call him,' so he thought that was pretty cool. We had a play we used to run we called Fire Pass 94 8-Cutout Read. That was his favorite play, and in the letter I said, 'It's a long way from Fire Pass 94 8-Cutout Read to the Hall of Fame, but you made it. It'll be emotional to watch it, because I think a lot of him. That's why you coach. That's why you do this.
Scurfield:His numbers speak for themselves, but how impressive were some of the things he was able to accomplish?
Kubiak:He had some unbelievable years with us. He was leading the league and just so productive, but to be honest with you, the greatest compliment I can give him was when he basically was willing to say, 'OK, I'll block, too,' that's when we won two Super Bowls. I can remember the day Mike Shanahan called him in and said, 'Shannon, I know you can catch, I know you can do all that stuff, but we need you to block some guys. We've got to run the ball with this (Terrell) Davis kid we got. We need you to take over that role as a football player, too. If you'll do that, we can get even better.' And he did, we did get better and we ended up with a couple Super Bowls.
Texans tight ends coach Brian Pariani
Scurfield:What are your thoughts on Shannon being enshrined into the Hall?
Pariani:Any time a player gets enshrined into the Hall of Fame that has been part of what you've done in an organization, I think that's exciting. Obviously, usually if you're getting into the Hall of Fame that means your team won a championship or you really were a great player in this game. To have somebody as a position coach who played for you and left and then came back again when I was in Denver, I think it makes it extra special from that standpoint to see Shannon become a Hall of Famer.
Scurfield:As a person, how happy are you for him to get this honor?
Pariani:I'm excited for him, because like any great player he had to overcome hardships or people who told him he wasn't good enough to ever play the position or even play in the NFL. I think he was told that when he first came in: 'There really is no position, you're a big wideout.' He kind of set the stage for what the tight end position is now, and he earned his niche on this level and held every record that a tight end could have when he retired. It's exciting to see where he's come from and where he's at now.
Scurfield:How unique of a player was he at the time for the tight end position?
Pariani:He was unique in his own way. He was definitely a pass-receiving threat at that position. You couldn't cover him with linebackers, and safeties couldn't cover him, either. But what really put him over the top was that when we got to Denver, he had already been to two Pro Bowls, might have been three, and he was a great pass-catching guy and he had a 1,000-yard season and everything, but he was really never asked to run block or protect. Once this system was put in there in Denver, he had to be a complete player. He had to play down in and down out. It doesn't mean that he had to take a pounding every play, but he did have to block and do that stuff. We were fortunate we had Terrell Davis and other runners after him, and he blocked for 1,000-yard rushers, 2000-yard rushers. With his skill and the skill of players around him, he not only went to Pro Bowls but we won two World Championships with him.
Scurfield:Was it hard for him to get accustomed to blocking?
Pariani:It's funny you ask that. Just like when we put the offense in here, the offense is installed from the first day of mini-camp or training camp. As we do that, you put in the run game and you put in the passing game. We went out to the practice field and I remember, that first play we lined up and it was going to be a run. I remember the other tight ends who were basically the blockers, and Shannon was the receiver before we got there. As we ran the play, he was in there with the first offense and they were all kind of laughing. You could hear 'em chuckling on the side, and there's Shannon lined up in there. We run the run play, he did a pretty good job, worked with the tackle on that one play, and they were all in awe. They couldn't believe that he actually did that. I was like, 'What's the deal?' They were like, 'We've never seen him put his hand down and do something like that.' And so that was kind of the start of him doing things that he wanted to make his game better, too. One of the other things that made him a great player was that he did talk a lot when he played, but he could back it up. By him being such a talker, as time went on, it really took pressure off his teammates when he would come out and make a statement or do something like that prior to a game. One is that he could back up what he said, and two is that he took a lot of pressure off his teammates by doing that. In some ways, it was looked at as a negative that he was a loud-mouth or very talkative, but in other ways, it could be flipped. It did help some of his teammates that didn't say a lot or do a lot during a game, and in some very tough situations sometimes.
Scurfield:He had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for you in 1996-97. When you think back about him as a player, what memory sticks out to you?
Pariani:There's a lot of them. We were in some unbelievable matchups and games. One of the ones that sticks out to me was the year that when we won our first Super Bowl there. We played Kansas City in a playoff game in Arrowhead Stadium. I remember it was going to be one of those dogfight games, which it was. We started the game and we threw a pass to him, and he caught it, and I remember he busted his face open or something happened on the play. He came to the sideline, and nobody knew how he would react because he got hit pretty good. He didn't get knocked out, but he got busted up, and so they stitched him up on the sideline and all that. This was a game where we needed him to go, and it kind of showed that he was about the team because he came back and we ran the ball a bunch that game. He ended up coming back and winning a big game for us. The other one that obviously stands out in everybody's mind was the game at Pittsburgh the next week in the AFC Championship Game, when it was right before the two-minute warning and it was third down. Kub (Kubiak) was on the sideline with Mike (Shanahan) and they called the play, and I remember the play wasn't in the game plan. It was Key All Thunder. You could see as they called the play in the huddle, Shannon knew what to do but was caught off-guard because it wasn't in the game plan. I remember John (Elway) just telling him, 'Hey, just go get open.' And he got open and he caught that pass, and we ended up converting on third down and then we ended up running out the clock and going to the Super Bowl.