- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
There are many reasons why Shannon Sharpe wants to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in his first time on the ballot.
One of those reasons is Derrick Thomas.
Sharpe and Thomas had several memorable battles in the 1990s as AFC West enemies with the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. As a tight end, Sharpe worked against Thomas, an outside linebacker, several times. In a famous "Monday Night Football" clash, Sharpe goaded Thomas into losing his cool, resulting in the superstar pass rusher being suspended for a game after three personal fouls. Sharpe was fined for his actions in the game.
More than 10 years after the most famous battle the two had against each other, Sharpe couldn't think of a more fitting player to go into the Canton, Ohio museum with than his former adversary. Thomas died in 2000 at the age of 33 after complications from injuries sustained in an auto accident.
"All of the years I've ever played in the NFL, I don't think I faced a better, tougher, more dominating outside linebacker than Derrick Thomas," Sharpe said this week. "It would be an honor to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with him."
Saturday, Sharpe and Thomas' family will find out if the two AFC West legends will become NFL immortals. The two are among 17 finalists for induction. The voting results will be announced Saturday.
"Yes, I hope we both get in," Sharpe said. "It would be very important for my family to see me get in and I'm sure it would be very important to Derrick's family as well. This would be a nice final honor for such a great player who meant so much to the Chiefs."
The Hall of Fame voting can be very unpredictable. Even though Sharpe is remembered as one of the best receiving tight ends ever to play in the NFL and as a game-changing player, he might not be a certain first-time selection. Some voters might lump Sharpe in with other receivers and he could be subject to a logjam. Cris Carter and Andre Reed might get the majority of the votes going to receivers.
Even though many believe Sharpe, who won two Super Bowls with Denver and another while with Baltimore, should be a no-questions-asked first-ballot inductee, he is not sizing himself for the yellow Hall Of Fame jacket quite yet. Last year, he saw Carter not get in on his first chance. Sharpe winced every time his friend and Denver teammate Gary Zimmerman got overlooked. Zimmerman, who retired after the 1997 season, finally was elected last year despite being known as one of the premier left tackles of his era.
"I hope the voters look at my numbers and they can look at it as a tight end or as a receiver, whatever they like, and I want them to look at the teams I played on and the way I played," Sharpe said. "All I know is I put everything I could into my career and I can't put anymore into it. All I can do is what I've done. Hopefully, it is enough."
Thomas has been a finalist before and with Harry Carson and Fred Dean getting in recently, many think Thomas' time could be now.
Thomas certainly has Hall Of Fame worthy numbers.
He was a nine-time Pro Bowl player and a member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade team. He had an NFL record seven sacks in a game and a league-standard 45 career forced fumbles. He also registered 126.5 career sacks.
Thomas was arguably the most feared pass rusher of the 1990s.
"Derrick was a player that could dominate a game," said Denver Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway in a quote provided from the Chiefs' public relations staff.
"His explosive talents were so great that he could dictate to an offense pass and run blocking schemes as well as the plays that were called. He was such an impact player that you always had to know where he was on the field. His career statistics more than speak to his exceptional career as not only as a pass rusher but also as an overall defensive player."
Added Buffalo Hall Of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly (also provided by the Chiefs): ""Throughout my professional career I played against many Hall of Famers. Derrick Thomas definitely fits that mold. His quickness, his intensity and his love for the game was matched by only a few players. We actually game planned for No. 58. I needed to know where he was lined up at all times, as did my offensive line. Not many teams would actually game plan around one player, but the Buffalo Bills certainly did every time we faced him."
Sharpe was also a player opposing teams game planned for. Saturday, Sharpe hopes his and Thomas' impact on the game will be recognized.
"The best thing about the Hall Of Fame is you can't be voted out of it," Sharpe said. "You are not a reigning Hall Of Famer like you are a reigning Super Bowl champion. You are a Hall Of Famer for forever .... That would be pretty special."
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