CANTON, Ohio — Jock humor almost always is juvenile, more fun than funny. But in a room full of former NFL greats, there is no other kind.
At one table in the makeshift cafeteria of the downtown American Electric Power building Saturday morning, Pro Football Hall of Famers Larry Little, Deacon Jones and Bobby Bell were in conspiratorial laughter as they passed around the local newspaper.
"First . . . time . . . EVER!" Little bellowed.
There on the front page of the Canton Repository was a large photograph of Shannon Sharpe and his brother Sterling bawling like babies. It was the Hall of Fame breakfast on the morning of the Hall of Fame parade, on the morning Shannon Sharpe, the former
Broncos tight end during the team's glorious back-to- back Super Bowl run, would get his own bronze bust as a member of the Hall of Fame. His speech would be rehearsed and organized, spontaneous and riveting.
The Sharpe brothers were sitting at the table across the room from their merciless perpetrators, waiting along with Shannon's three children and longtime girlfriend Katy, for the parade coordinator to tell them their convertibles were ready outside. As bum luck would have it, a float accident delayed the parade, leaving all that extra time for the Sharpes to absorb shot after shot in what would be the Hall of Fame version of locker room humor.
Know what these Hall of Fame players do every year? They bet on who from the new class of enshrinees will cry first. Tears are a big deal for the most macho of men who played the most macho of team sports.
Tom Hanks once said there's no crying in baseball. But for some reason, someone always cries during the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony. Shannon Sharpe didn't even make it to his speech Saturday night at Fawcett Stadium. He broke down the night before, the moment he saw his older brother crying as Shannon formally put on the gold sports coat.
"At least you waited all the way until you got the jacket on," Jones yelled. The immortal Willie Lanier, Kellen Winslow and Charlie Sanders joined in the loud laughter. "Now don't you start, Deac!" Shannon Sharpe yelled back. Little, the former Miami Dolphins guard, is distantly related to the Sharpes. His grandmother is the first cousin to Sharpe's grandfather. Little claims it was the "First . . . time . . . EVER!" that an inductee failed to make it to the speech before weeping. "Easiest money I ever made," said Bell, who bet on Sharpe.
In a few hours, Shannon Sharpe, who was as garrulous as he was physically talented during a 14-year career as an NFL player and celebrity, would make the
Former Denver Broncos TE Shannon Sharpe stands with his bust with brother Sterling Sharpe August 6, 2011 during the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement in Canton, Ohio. John Leyba, The Denver Post (THE DENVER POST | John Leyba)
most important speech of his life. If there was tension, it was released in laughter. His new Hall of Fame brethren cut him up, and cut the tension out.
He has a way with words
To the surprise of no one, Shannon Sharpe's Hall of Fame speech went way, way longer than planned. The Hall of Fame organizers asked Sharpe to keep his speech to 12 minutes. He stopped at 25 minutes, 42 seconds. Not that anyone yawned.
"I had a persona as a player, and I know this will come as a shock, but I liked to talk," Sharpe told the audience here at Fawcett Stadium and those viewing on ESPN and the NFL Network. "But don't let the persona overshadow the person. The persona liked to have fun. The person knew when it was time to get
Shannon Sharpe with emotions gives his brother Sterling Sharpe a big hug after receiving his Gold August 5, 2011 during the Gold Jacket Presentation to the 2011 class of Enshrinees dinner. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)
One of Sharpe's best stories came from his first NFL start with the Broncos. John Elway, now a Hall of Fame member, was his quarterback.
On every play, Sharpe went in motion. Each time he jogged behind Elway, who was taking the snap from center. As Sharpe passed by, Elway would tell him what to do.
"Block the end," Sharpe said, talking out of the side of his mouth to imitate Elway. "Block the end. Run an out pattern. Run the corner."
The Broncos won that game, and Sharpe was standing on the sidelines. Uh oh. He can see Elway walking toward him.
"Instead of being angry and upset with me, he walks up to me and says, 'I think next week we need to learn the plays,' " Sharpe said. Elway, who joined Broncos owner Pat Bowlen on the flight here to attend Sharpe's ceremony, was among those who smiled.
Sharpe saved the final 10 minutes of his speech to talk about his beloved grandma Mary Porter, who died last month at 89 years old. Grandma Mary had raised nine of her own children, yet despite having little means, took a train to Chicago to pick up a 3-month-old Shannon and his older brother and sister to raise them.
He talked about how as a child he would eat raccoon, possum, squirrel and turtle. He talked about how he strived to make sure his kids never had to eat those same meals.
As his grandma Mary lay in her casket last month, Sharpe walked up to her for a final goodbye.
"I asked her, 'Are you proud?' " Sharpe said. "I said, 'Granny, are you proud of your baby? Because everything I've done in my life, I've tried to please you.' "
Children savor dad's day Sharpe's day started in the AEP breakfast room, which was holding the end of the parade. The Sharpes were the last of the current Hall class scheduled to ride in the parade. The Deacon Jones-Willie Lanier-Bobby Bell group would bring up the rear. "I want to be right behind you to see if you're going to cry again," Little said. "Why are you laughing?" Shannon Sharpe shouted back at Little.
"He's so happy he finally gets to be in a car he wasn't pushing," Sterling Sharpe said.
All the while, Shannon Sharpe's children, all college-aged, smiled and shook their heads at the silly banter from these grown men. They were all wearing No. 84 Shannon Sharpe jerseys. There was a grass stain on daughter Kayla's left shoulder.
"These are all game jerseys that my dad wore," Kayla said. "I thought we might get special jerseys. My dad said, 'Those are special.' " Kiari, Shannon's only son, is studying both biology and business management at Georgia Southern. He's the quiet one. Kayla is studying pre-law at Georgia Southern. She's the funny one. Kaley is attending Florida State with a goal of becoming a medical examiner. She's the independent one.
"This is where all my money is going," Sharpe said, shaking his head in disbelief at Kaley's choice. "I'll always have a job!" Kaley countered.
"They dead!" Sharpe said. "What difference does it make why they died?"
The day will come, hopefully not any time soon, when Shannon will join his grandmother Mary. Shannon Sharpe the football player, though, will live on forever in the form of a bronze bust. His football career was examined, and it was determined worthy of immortality.