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this past weekend, the pro football hall of fame welcomed 7 new members into its family. one of the highlights from the induction ceremony was shannon sharpe’s speech. in what many consider to be the best one delivered at canton, sharpe focused not on his accomplishments but on all of the people and experiences that crafted the person that he is today. it was truly stirring stuff that gave me more respect for him both as a player and as a man. you can watch the speech below and check the full transcript after the jump.
Thank you, everyone. The people from the Hall of Fame tell me I only have eight to ten minutes to do this. No chance. First, I’d like to personally thank the 44 men and women that went to a room on February 5th and deemed my play on the field worthy of this prestigious honor. Thank you.
I’d also like to thank the City of Canton, the Pro Football Hall of Fame itself, and all the volunteers for their hard work to make this such a great event. Your efforts are greatly appreciated. I keep telling myself I’m not going to get emotional today, but I know that’s not going to happen.
At this moment, I’m extremely proud and excited where my 14 year NFL journey has taken me and my family. And today is the culmination of that journey. 2121 George Halas Drive, Canton, Ohio.
Today I’m humbled to be joining such an elite fraternity of great players who defined our game. I want to start by congratulating my fellow inductees who I share the stage with today. I’d also like to recognize the elite seven, that is the number of tight ends that have already been enshrined.
Today I become the eighth member. Thank you, guys. I’m honored to become a member of your select group.
We lost one of our members early last month, John Mackey. My prayers and my deepest sympathies go out to Ms. Sylvia Mackey, and the Mackey family. All these years later, nothing makes me prouder than when people call me a self made man. I have a certain persona as a player, and I know this will come as a shock, but I like to talk. It’s a trait I picked up from my mom and from my brother.
A reporter once told me he could hear the tape recorder smiling when I got on a roll, but, please, don’t let the persona overshadow the person. The persona likes to have fun. The person knew when it was time to get to work.
People often ask me how does a small town kid from Glennville, Georgia, who went to Savannah State College now Savannah State University, who won three Super Bowls and at one time owned all significant receiving records for a tight end? I want all you young people to listen to my answer. It’s called the three D’s: Determination, Dedication, and Discipline. Three traits that translate in any generation and any job setting. There is a reason they called it chasing your dreams and not walking after them. Don’t hope someone gives you an opportunity, create one for yourself.
When I left my grandmother’s home in 1986 headed to Savannah State with two brown grocery bags filled with my belongings, nothing was going to keep me from realizing my dreams. When people told me I wasn’t going to make it, I listened to the one person who told me I was, me. You may not know this, but I was never supposed to be a Hall of Fame tight end or any kind of tight end, or even a Hall of Fame player. I’m here today for a lot of reasons. Some have everything to do with me. Some have absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with the kindness and patience of all the people that guided me through my life.
I want to take a moment to personally thank some of these people who made this possible. Ms. Elaine Keels, my high school remedial reading and Spanish teacher.
And I know what you’re saying, “remedial reading and Spanish?” I was saying the exact same thing. She said it would help my reading, I said it would help me repeat my sophomore year. I think she just wanted me to take the class so she could have extra hand’s on time to help a young Shannon Sharpe. Thank you, Ms. Keels.
William Hall, my high school football coach, track coach, and driver’s ed teacher. Coach Hall has been teaching and coaching for 50 plus years, and he’s still coaching today. I know some of you might be in awe of the number of years, but it’s the number of miles. He drives 65 miles one way to get to school. Thanks, Coach Hall, for all your wisdom. Thanks Coach Hall for all your wisdom, your guidance, your understanding that you’ve given me and my family over those 50 plus years. Hopefully all those miles you’ve driven seem worth it today.
All of these people have something in common. They believed in me and so did my first NFL head coach, Dan Reeves. He remembered to draft me, but somehow forgot to cut me. Thanks, coach, I’m glad you have a lousy memory. I just want to share this little story with you, how close this moment came to not happening.
Our last preseason game my rookie year, we were playing the Arizona Cardinals. One of the coaches came to me and told me, Shannon, your name’s on the board to be cut tomorrow. He said, I don’t know how much you’re going to play, I don’t know if you’re going to play. But he said if you play, play really hard so you have something on tape, so if we release you, someone else can say okay, this guy can play a little bit.
It started to rain, and I remember driving to the stadium as it started to rain, and I’m saying to myself, if we’re not going to throw the ball, how am I going to show what I can do? I played on special teams and I got 20 offensive plays, had 12 knock down blocks. I’m not proud to say I was cutting everything that moves. When they went back into the room on Saturday, my name was off the board. I made it.
I’d like to thank Wade Phillips, the defensive coordinator with the Broncos at the time who looked at a certain scout receiver and tight end and said, Dan, let’s put him in the game and see if they can cover him, because we sure can’t. Football, of course is the ultimate team game. You don’t land here without the support of hundreds of dedicated men whose sacrifices help you become a better player. I wish I could mention all of these guys by name. But unfortunately, time doesn’t permit that.
I want to thank my head coaches, my offensive coordinators, my position coaches who diagrammed plays and had the confidence in me to call those plays to help make today possible.
I’d like to have a very special thanks to Mr. Pat Bowlen, owner of the Denver Broncos. Mr. Art Modell, former owner of the Baltimore Ravens whose wife, Pat, is a little under the weather, and I want to take this opportunity to wish her a speedy recovery.
I’d also like to thank the fans of these two great franchises, without you, there are no Super Bowl rings, no receiving records, no bronze bust.
To all my former teammates at Glennville High, Savannah State, Denver, Baltimore, hopeful you, hopefully you thought I was a good teammate and you enjoyed me as much as I enjoyed you.
Then, of course, there is my quarterback and great friend, John Elway. His place in these halls tells you what kind of player he was. I want to take a moment to tell you what kind of man he is. John had never heard of Shannon Sharpe or Savannah State, but not only did he embrace me, he chose me as his go to guy. In my first game starting at tight end they put me in motion the entire game.
As I would motion past John, he would turn around and tell me what I had to do, block the end, block the linebacker, run the out, run a corner. We won the game. I’m standing on the sideline, and I can see John walking towards me. Instead of being angry and upset with me, he walks up to me and he says, I think next week we need to learn the plays. Thanks, John, for teaching me how to be a pro.
Someone once said other things may change, but we start and end with family. As we start here with the end of my journey, I know I wouldn’t be here without my family.
To my three kids, Kayla, Kiari and Kaley, thanks for understanding when I promised to take you to the movies or the amusement park or to the mall, but because I’d run myself into the ground or lifted myself into oblivion earlier that day, I didn’t do what I had promised to do the night before. Thank you for making all of those sacrifices the other kids never had to make so your dad could live out his dream.
Katy, thanks for your love and support. And being here today to share with me this very special occasion. Thank you. Mom, I know how my grandmother gets, my brother and I talk about her a lot, but this day doesn’t happen without you. What can I say? Your baby’s in the Hall of Fame. Thanks for all the sacrifices you’ve made.
I was the first kid in Glennville to have a pair of Air Jordan’s, a Mickey Mouse watch and a Walkman. Whatever my brother and sister and I asked for and you could get, you got. I forgive you for all those white suits that you got us for Easter that made us look like John Travolta.
My big brother, Sterling, I’m the only player of 267 men that’s walked through this building to my left that can honestly say this: I’m the only pro football player that’s in the Hall of Fame, and the second best player in my own family.
If fate had dealt you a different hand, there is no question, no question in my mind we would have been the first brothers to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The 44 men and women that I thanked and congratulated earlier for giving me and bestowing this prestigious honor upon me, all I do is ask all I can do is ask, and the most humblest way I know how, is that the next time you go into that room or you start making a list, look at Sterling Sharpe’s accomplishments.
For a seven year period of the guy’s that are in the Hall of Fame at the receiver position, and the guys that have the potential to be in this building. That’s all I ask. I don’t say, hey, just do that. The next time you go in that room, you think about Sterling Sharpe’s numbers for seven years. That’s all I ask.
Sterling, you are my hero, my father figure, my role model. You taught me everything I know about sports and a lot about life. I never once lived in your shadow. I embraced it.
My sister, Libby, the caretaker of the family, my best friend, my sounding board, my biggest fan. Of the three of us you’ve had the toughest job so my brother and I could live out our dreams, you took care of the most important person in our family, our grandmother. The last two and a half years haven’t been easy on any of us, least of all you.
Every other day you would drive to go to different hospitals so our grandmother could get the best care. The eight to ten hours a day sitting in the nursing home so our granny wouldn’t be alone. That just didn’t start two and a half years ago. You’ve been with my grandmother for 41 years. Thanks for being there for my grandmother and me. I love you, big sis.
Last but not least, I think this is where I start to get emotional, my granny. See the guy that did this bust here, he went to school for that. He’s trained to bring clay to life with his hands. It’s my turn to bring Mary Porter to life with my voice. It’s time for me to give Mary Porter a face for all those that don’t know who she is. It’s my turn now.
What do you say about a person that gives you everything but life? How do you start to say thank you, granny, for a woman that raises nine of her kids and your mom’s three, and she sacrificed more for her grand kids than she did her own. My grandmother was a very simple woman. She didn’t want a whole lot. My grandmother wanted to go to church and Sunday school every Sunday. She wanted to be in Bible study every Wednesday. The other days she wanted to be on a fishing creek.
It was my brothers and my job to make sure she can do that for the remaining days of her life. The only regret that I have in my 43 years that I never told my grandmother just how much she means to me.
See, my grandmother and grandfather, they raised me, and I hung on everything they said, but they didn’t know it. I can tell you every time that my grandmother has ever been upset at me, I can tell you why. My brother never knew that everything he said that I hung on it.
I wanted to be so much like my brother that when I went to college, my brother’s first college girlfriend when I went to college, my first college girlfriend looked exactly like his (laughing).
I remember getting ready to go to Savannah State with those two brown grocery bags in 1986, and a teammate of mine that was going to the very same school blew the horn at 2:00 in the afternoon on an August day. My sister was laying on the couch, my grandmother was laying in the room, and she could see me as I was getting ready to leave, but my grandmother never got out of bed.
My grandmother never told me when I was getting ready to leave for Savannah State, “Shannon, don’t do drugs. Shannon, don’t drink. Shannon, go to class. Shannon do your homework. Shannon, be respectful. Shannon, iron your clothes.” She figured she had laid that foundation for 18 years, a ten minute speech wasn’t going to work now.
One of my best friends that is already in the Hall of Fame is Michael Irvin. If I talk to him, and I can talk to him about anything, they say, “you don’t know a man’s pain unless you walk a mile in his shoes.” But you can’t walk a mile in Shannon Sharpe’s shoes because that wouldn’t do it justice. You need to walk 20 years of my life. You need to walk 20 years in this body and feel this raging inferno that I felt to get out of Glennville, to leave that thousand square foot cinder block home with the cement floors, to leave what my grandmother said, baby, is it going to be the gas this month that I’m going to pay or is it going to be the lights? Do you want to eat or do you want light to see so can you do your homework? Son, do you want the phone just in case there’s an emergency we can call somebody? What is it going to be this month? That drove me. That drove me.
Nobody ever knew how much this five alarm fire raged inside of me. My sister didn’t know, my brother didn’t know, but it raged. I had to leave Glennville. I had to make a better way for my brothers, for my sister, for my mom. I didn’t want my kids to live one night, not one hour, not one hour in the life that I had let alone a day.
And I neglected my kids. I missed recitals, I missed football practice, I missed graduations because I was so obsessed with being the best player I could possibly be that I neglected a lot of people. I ruined a lot of relationships. But I’m not here to apologize for that because it got me here and it got them to a life they never would have enjoyed had it not been for that.
I want to leave you with this: My position coach who is sitting right there in the stands, Les Steckel once asked me, son, why do you work so hard? Every time at lunch you’re not eating, you’re in the gym, you’re working out.
You study harder, you practice harder, you have more fun. I said, Les, I never want to eat cold oatmeal again. I said, you don’t know what it’s like, Les, to grow up like I grew up. To eat the animals that I ate. I remember eating raccoon. I remember eating possum. I remember eating squirrel and turtle. I remember those days. I said, I ate that now as a kid, but I’m not going to have to eat that when I become an adult.
The one story I want to leave you with to tell you why I became this person: When I was 12 years old I told my mom, “Mom, I’m going to have some money one day, and I’m going to buy you a Mercedes, and I did.”
When I came and I asked my grandmother, what do you want? She always called me her baby. She never called me by my name. I said, “You want me to buy you a car and teach you how to drive? She said, no, son, I don’t want that. I said, “Granny, do you want jewelry?” She said, no, son, I don’t want that. She said, son, I want a decent house.
And I’m thinking well, my grandmother wants 7,000, 8,000 square feet. But then I knew my grandmother, knowing her like I know her, after pausing for five or six minutes. I said, “Granny, what is a decent home?” And I remember it like yesterday, and it was 30 plus years ago.
She said, son, I want a decent home and her words verbatim is “Son, I want to go to bed one night,” and she said, “I want God to let it rain as hard as he possibly can, and I want him to let it rain all night long.” She said, “I want to wake up and not be wet.” That’s a decent home for my grandmother. That’s all she wanted. For 66 years, my grandmother never went to bed and had it rain and not be wet the next morning. I remember those days of putting those plastic coats on the bed and I’m going to date myself and call them croaker sacks but now we call them burlap bags. I remember that.
I remember putting the pots and pans on the floor to catch the rain water. The very pots and pans that we’re going to cook in the next day. I remember that. It broke my heart that my grandmother, all she wanted was she’s got two grand boys that are making millions of dollars, and she wanted a house that wouldn’t leak. That’s all she wanted. That’s all my grandmother wanted.
For two boys that are making millions and all you want is a decent house. You want to go to bed and not get wet when you wake up. That’s what drove Shannon. That’s what got me here.
When I did the special, we were going down, my brother and I were going down to shoot a special that Thursday. My sister called me about 9:00 that Wednesday night. She said, “Shannon, she’s gone.” I said, “for real, Libby?” She hung the phone up. My girlfriend and I were laying in the bed. She said, are you okay? ‘I said I’m fine.” I just want to lay here, and I just want to think.
As I’m driving down I’ve got my head phones on because I don’t want to talk. And I’m trying to gather in my mind what I’m going to say when I see my grandma laying in that casket, and before I did the interview I remember going by King’s Funeral Home that had my grandmother’s body, and I rubbed her head. My sister had her hair braided, and I rubbed her head, and I already knew what she would want.
I said, now Granny, I promised these people I would do this, but if you say no, I think they’ll understand. See, my grandmother, if you give a man your word, you do what you say you’re going to do.
See, when my grandfather died, I missed one day, the day of the funeral. My grandmother didn’t believe in that. If you promise somebody you’re going to do something, you do it. As my grandmother was laying in that casket on Saturday morning, I walked over to her, and I asked her two things. I asked her two things: I said, “Granny, am I the man you thought I would be when you got on the train and you came to Chicago and got me at three months? Am I the man you thought I would be?” And I stood there for about 20 seconds and I could see her smiling.
Then I asked her, “Are you proud?” I said, Granny, are you proud of your baby? Because everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve tried to please you.
I know my grandmother’s proud. I know my family’s proud. This day means so much to me because I get to share it with that guy right there. You’ll never know. When he put that jacket on me last night, there’s two people in this world who knew what we were thinking. There were two people in this world who knew what we felt at that very moment, and we felt it at the very same time. Guys, I’m so honored to be a part of this. I’m so honored. You don’t know what this means to me.
You play in the National Football League and you say you’re a member of the fraternity. But this is the fraternity of all fraternities. Deacon Jones once said everybody in this room right here could catch the other person that’s in this room right here. Nobody’s better, whether you’re 1 or you’re 267.
Guys, thank you for allowing me to share 14 minutes and 23 seconds of your time. Thank you.