- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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CANTON, Ohio -- Shannon Sharpe's trash-talking as a player made him famous. But Sharpe's humble and eloquent speech on Saturday completed his road to Canton.
The former Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens tight end entered football immortality as part of a talented Class of 2011. Sharpe joined cornerback Deion Sanders, running back Marshall Faulk, defensive end Richard Dent, linebackers Les Richter and Chris Hanburger and Ed Sabol of NFL Films as the newest Hall of Fame inductees.
Sharpe was in his element -- he had a microphone and a national audience hanging on his every word. You could tell by his face leading up to the induction that a great speech was forthcoming.
"The people of the Hall of Fame tell me I only have eight minutes to do this," Sharpe began. "No chance."
Sharpe’s speech ran approximately 25 minutes and, as expected, lived up to his last name. It was captivating. It was emotional. It explained his pain, motivation and eventual triumph.
Sharpe thanked everyone from his grandmother to John Elway to his brother, former NFL receiver Sterling Sharpe. Shannon Sharpe described his older brother as the greatest football player in the family and made a pitch to get Sterling Sharpe into the Hall of Fame.
In Shannon Sharpe's words, a hard life created a motivated NFL player. Growing up without much in Glennville, Ga., helped turn a seventh-round pick into a Hall of Famer.
"You can't walk a mile in Shannon Sharpe's shoes, because that wouldn't do it justice," Sharpe said. "You need to walk 20 years in my life. You need to walk 20 years in this body to feel this raging inferno that I felt to get out of Glennville, and to leave that 1,000-square foot cinderblock home with cement floors."
Sharpe entered the NFL as a long shot from Savannah State and finished with 815 receptions for 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns. Those stats were NFL records for a tight end at the time of his retirement in 2003. He made eight Pro Bowls. Sharpe led his team in receiving seven times, which is very difficult for a tight end.
Sharpe was consistent. He had 11 years of 50 receptions or more. Sharpe was clutch. He helped lead the Broncos and Ravens to three Super Bowl titles. And make no mistake: Neither the Broncos nor Ravens would have championships without Sharpe.
Sharpe was Baltimore's only reliable receiver in a mediocre passing offense quarterbacked by Trent Dilfer, now an ESPN football analyst. Sharpe led the Ravens with 67 receptions for 810 yards.
He was the first player to bring swagger to the offense in Baltimore. He had many one-liners. My personal favorite was his labeling Plaxico Burress "Plexiglass" for getting into a trash-talking battle with the Ravens.
Usually, someone on the Ravens' defense would respond to trash-talking opponents. But Sharpe had no problem assisting linebacker Ray Lewis in that department. Even when the offense wasn't producing, Sharpe's presence and production commanded that kind of respect.
With Denver, Sharpe played third fiddle behind Elway and running back Terrell Davis in his prime. But Sharpe's clutch receiving and leadership helped keep everything together. In Denver's two Super Bowl years, Sharpe averaged 68 receptions and 937.5 yards per season.
Sharpe was the consummate "talk the talk and walk the walk" NFL player. Many have tried that route, but few succeeded.
"A reporter once told me he can hear the tape recorder smiling when I got on a roll," Sharpe said. "But please, don't let the persona overshadow the person. The persona liked to have fun. The person knew when it was time to get to work."
Many fans new to football will view Sharpe primarily as an entertaining and outspoken television analyst. But with Sharpe now bronzed in Canton, it will be easier for future generations to remember Sharpe's game and drive were even better than his trash-talking.