Sports columnists and bloggers better be grateful for Sterling Sharpe. It's because of him that they have something to talk about when there isn't any real news.
It's Sharpe's tough style of running after the catch that led to the neck injury that ended his career. Writers should be grateful because, had he played a full and healthy career, the "greatest quarterback of all-time" debate would be emphatically over.
Brett Favre would be the winner, both in terms of statistics and in terms of championships. Sterling Sharpe would also be considered as one of the best receivers of all-time for the role he would've played. There's not even an argument for anyone else.
In three seasons together, 1992, 1993, and 1994, Favre and Sharpe combined for 42 touchdowns. That's an average of 14 connections per season.
For perspective, Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, the record holders for most touchdown passes for a quarterback-wide receiver tandem, have an average of 12 per season. And that excludes this season and last, seasons in which they have only connected for four total touchdowns.
The amazing thing about the situation is that Favre hadn't even hit his prime as a quarterback yet. And Sharpe had just entered his prime football days when the unfortunate neck injury forced him into retirement.
In the three years following Sharpe's injury, Favre threw for 38, 39, and 35 touchdowns in three MVP seasons.
If he had had Sharpe, one can easily add five or six more touchdown passes to each of those totals, with Sharpe easily catching more than 11 touchdowns in each of those seasons. A safe assumption of averaging 12 touchdowns in those years, the two would add another 36 touchdowns to their total.
In addition, these three years were the best for the Packers in the 1990s. Is it out of the realm of possibility that the Packers would have advanced to and won Super Bowl XXX with Sharpe? And what about Super Bowl XXXII, a game in which the Packers were double-digit favorites anyways? A Packer three-peat could've been possible had Sharpe stayed healthy.
Now, this puts us with Favre and Sharpe with at least 78 touchdown connections, and possibly three Super Bowl rings. Favre would be going into his seventh season, Sharpe his 10th.
It's difficult to say how long Sharpe might have played beyond 10 seasons, but for the sake of argument, let's say he played through his 15th season (2003), a stretch in which Favre threw 164 touchdowns without Sharpe. Even if Sharpe only averaged nine touchdowns per game from Favre in those six seasons, that would still be 54 more touchdowns.
Seventy-eight plus 54 would equal 132 touchdown catches, easily making them the most prolific quarterback-wide receiver tandem in NFL history. And these stats don't take into account yardage, which would be at least 1,000 per season, and total receptions, which I'll put arbitrarily at 90 catches per year.
Over 12 seasons, that would be over 12,000 yards and 1,080 receptions. Combine those numbers with the touchdown passes, and that's easily the most prolific combination in football history.
Add, potentially, three total Super Bowl titles, and this is what a Favre-Sharpe era would look like:
- At least 132 touchdowns
- At least 12,000 yards
- At least 1,080 catches
- 11.1 yards per catch
- Three Super Bowl rings
These gaudy numbers, which are well within the realm of possibility, would leave nothing to be desired for pundits searching for one to anoint "The Best Ever." Championships? Check. Statistics? Double check.
The best Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady, or Johnny Unitas could ever hope for is second place.
Unfortunately, Sharpe did hurt his neck in 1994, leaving the door open for many to be considered the best, and leaving Packer fans and football fans in general to wonder "What if?"