To strippers, the gods gave silicone. To chiropractors, coach
seating. And to sportswriters, especially those covering Super
Bowl XXXIII, the gods gave Shannon Sharpe, the Denver Broncos'
marble-cut, wide-mouthed tight end who takes the Q out of Q and
A. Watch this:
Uh, Shannon, we need a quick picture of you for this article, so--
"Hold on! Got to get a haircut first. You guys come with me.
I'll take you to the greatest barbershop in the world! I get my
hair cut there every Friday, and I go next door, too, and I get
the same snack: Twinkies, Lay's and an iced tea. I know, I know,
you don't think you can get a body like this eating Twinkies,
but you can. Twinkies are the secret!
(We're in his 1999 Range Rover, driving at very high rates of
speed to the barbershop.)
February 1, 1999
"You know, I go places and sometimes the girls go, 'Shannon, can
I touch your chest?' 'Shannon, can I touch certain other areas?'
I always say, 'I can't believe you even asked me that! Can I
touch your chest? Can I touch certain other areas on you?' And
they say, 'I can't believe you even asked me that!'
"That's one reason I don't go out. I don't drink, either. Since
1984 I've had one drink. One. I do not want to drink because I do
not want to give up control. I have to have control. I don't
smoke. I don't hang out. Drinking and smoking and hanging out are
not going to help me get ready for the next game. Drinking and
smoking and hanging out are not going to keep my family fed.
"Hey, I have obligations, too! I got three kids. You didn't know
that, did you? Let's not go into what happened. Three kids, all
born around the same year , when I acted a fool. Three
kids by different women, just say that. I'm not proud of that. I
was stupid. But I love my kids. Two girls [Kayla and Kaley] and
a boy [Kiari]. I call them. I see them. I'd love to call them
and see them more, but I hate talking to their mothers! Hate! My
grandmother didn't raise me to hate anybody, but I really hate
hearing their voices. Why? Because if I was Joe America, making
$20,000 a year, I don't think I'd have any kids, put it that
way. I think they saw a guy who was close to his family, and
they saw a guy who treats the women in his family nice, and they
might've thought, This is the ideal situation. But you live and
"It's too bad. I think I could be a good dad. I'm not bad, but I
could be better. I had two rottweilers [Kane and Killian], and I
treated those dogs like humans. They slept in my bed--and not
just at the bottom. They had to sleep on the pillows. I'd go to
Morton's [steakhouse] and get them steaks! They had birthday
cake on their birthdays! They had chicken gravy on everything
they ate! But they died. I will never have a pet again, because
I never want to feel as bad as I felt when they died.
"I grew up wanting the wife, the dog, the 1.5 kids, the house
and the white picket fence. Now I won't have that. But it's my
fault. I was reckless in my behavior with those women. Maybe I
would have never gotten that anyway. In my neighborhood the
picket fence would have got stolen.
(Now we're at the barbershop. Sharpe's barber, Billy Jackson,
does not get a word in edgewise, sidewise or otherwise.)
"I've never changed my haircut. Not in 25 years. When everybody
was shaving their heads, I didn't, did I, Billy? [Jackson starts
to answer, but the moment is gone.] Look at my head anyway: You
can't shave four corners. That's just the way I do things. I
don't like change. I wash my cars every week, whether they've
been on the road or not. Wax them twice a month, too. Four cars.
That's not many. Some guys have eight. Only bought one stupid
thing my whole life: the Ferrari, for $195,000. Stupidest thing
ever, and that's only because Sterling [his brother, the ESPN
analyst] talked me into it. I was making $325,000, and he talks
me into buying a $195,000 Ferrari just because we could get a
discount if we bought two. Stupid. I almost went broke trying to
be like my brother. He was making over $1 million. I had to be
good, or I'd have been bankrupt!
"Aside from that car, I live on $100,000 a year and live like a
king. A king! When you come up like I did, you appreciate money.
Growing up [on a small farm in Glennville, Ga., pop. 3,676], we
had the best of nothing. I bathed out of a pail, how's that?
After my grandpa died [of a stroke when Sharpe was eight], my
granny worked at a nursing home and brought home $197 every two
weeks. That had to feed and clothe me, my brother, my sister
[Libby], my granny and three aunts. Oh, my aunts did some
ironing jobs, but we didn't have much. I don't know what the
poverty line was back then, but we were a mile under it. So you
can't know how great it is to be here unless you've been there.
I want to show you something.
(Suddenly we're out of the barbershop, a little shaving cream
still in Sharpe's ears, and standing in Sharpe's bank, where an
employee immediately brings him his safe-deposit box. Sharpe
opens it to reveal banded stacks of $100 bills--well over $50,000
"I like to have cold cash ready, just in case. I like to count
it, see it. I don't know why. I won't take an ATM card. I don't
trust 'em. I like my box. I like to go to Vegas, play blackjack.
I come get cash out of my box. I know it's not earning interest,
but what do I need with more money? I have a $10,000 bill and a
$5,000 bill, too. Do you know who's on the $10,000 bill? Salmon
P. Chase. You didn't know that, did you? Come over to my house
and play Jeopardy! I'll beat the brakes off you!
"How's this? [It's the Broncos' Super Bowl ring from last
season, given to him by Denver coach Mike Shanahan to replace
the one Shannon gave to Sterling, who was forced into early
retirement by a spinal injury. The ring's estimated value:
$40,000.] Nothing in my life gave me more satisfaction than
giving my brother my ring. But one day Mike's secretary told me
Mike wanted to see me. I thought, Uh-oh. What'd I say now? But I
hadn't said anything. I thought, Damn, I've been traded! But
when I got in there, he gave this to me. Can you believe that?
Me and Mike, we've come full circle. The one thing that bothered
me worse than anything else in my career--ever! ever! ever!--was
Mike thinking I was dogging it [with an ankle injury in his
early years as a Bronco]. But now I think he respects me, and I
respect him. I've never worn it [the ring], though. I'll tell
you something else: If Sterling doesn't start saying nicer
things about us, I'm going to get my other ring back.
(In a blink, we're walking into a Black-Eyed Pea, where the
hostess scurries behind as Sharpe escorts us to his usual table.
He sits with his back to the wall.)
"I never sit with my back to the door. If I'm going to get
killed, I at least want to see who kills me. I was born in
Chicago in a very not-so-nice neighborhood. We moved when I was
two, Sterling was five and Libby was 10. My mama [Mary Alice
Dixon, now a supervisor at Nabisco in Chicago] had to do a hard
thing: She loved us so much, she asked my granny to take us to
Georgia and raise us. She'd come down for big occasions, my
eighth-grade graduation, things like that. My dad? My dad [an
O'Hare Airport skycap], he drank. They were divorced when I was
a baby. I only saw him twice--the second time when I was 13 and
he was lying in a casket [dead of cancer at 36].
"Whatcha going to have to eat? I have the same thing every day,
except Friday: grilled chicken, black-eyed peas and niblet corn.
On Friday, chicken-fried chicken sandwich. My body fat's 6 1/2
percent. Burnsy [best friend and Broncos special teams ace Keith
Burns], I told him if he'd get his body fat under 10 percent, I'd
give him my Mercedes. It's a '95, and it's only got 19,000 miles.
He's down to 10.5 percent. I think I'll withdraw the offer. I'll
tell him I had a concussion when I said it.
"I don't keep many friends. I don't need a lot of friends. I'm
happy with my own company. I don't like to be bothered, you
know? I don't trust many people. I don't know my neighbors here,
and I don't know my neighbors [at his house] in Atlanta. I don't
want to know. Even if people come to my house--my friends--and
they're coming unannounced, I won't answer the door. Sorry. I
don't like surprises. I change my phone number once a month. I
trust my teammates and my granny and my mom and my sister and my
brother, and that's it.
"I don't date much. I guess, for whatever reason, I can't love a
woman like I love my mom, my granny and my sister. Yeah, I get
lonely. But I don't get near lonely enough to get married. Nope.
Somebody trying to change my routine.
"I got 15 tickets [for the Super Bowl], but I'm only giving away
three. Guess what I'm doing with the rest? No, don't. I don't
care anyway. All these people call me, 'Hey, how 'bout a
ticket?' Well, wait a minute. How many games did you go to
during the regular season when the tickets were $30? Oh, none?
Now you want to go when the price is $400? We have to pay for
these, you know. I...don't...think...so.
(Not quite done chewing, we're back in the Rover and hurtling
back to the Broncos' practice facility, followed by a ghost-white
"I like to talk. I admit it. If I can't talk, I'm crippled,
blind, deaf and dumb. I can talk to anybody, from a prisoner to
the President. Not everybody has that luxury. And I'm not afraid
of nothing. I'll go over the middle against anybody. Only thing
I'm scared of is losing my granny or my brother or my sister or
my mom. That's it.
"You asked about my lisp before. It never embarrassed me. That's
just who I am. I'd love to speak like Bryant Gumbel. You can't
have everything. Nobody made fun of me about it. Well, my
brother and my cousins did, and my sister called me Tie Tongue.
I took some speech classes in school. It's not like we could
afford specialists. But it's better. My lisp didn't make me
loud. I was always loud. I was little and skinny as a kid. They
called me Pee Wee. I had to be loud. People say, 'Since you got
rich and famous, you've become insufferable.' I say, 'That's not
true. I've always been insufferable.'
"In the locker room I'm the guy who talks. Maybe people are
surprised to hear that when you consider that we have John Elway
and Terrell Davis, but that isn't their personality. It's my
personality. Terrell won't even talk on the field. I have to do
his trash-talking for him. I'll tell him, 'Just say such and
such,' and he'll say, 'I can't say that. You can say that because
when you catch the ball, you only have to get by two guys. When I
get the ball, I got to get by 11.'
"It's funny what they say to him, though. In the first quarter
they tackle him for a two-yard gain, and it's, 'No, no, T.D.!
You ain't getting nothing today, baby!' In the second quarter he
gets a 10-yard gain, and it's, 'All right, T.D., we'll give you
that, but nothing else, baby!' In the third quarter he'll break
off one for 25, and it's, 'Oooh, you running today, huh, T.D.?
You running!' And in the fourth quarter he's got 180 yards, and
it's, 'Yo, T.D., can you come to my charity golf tournament in
"I love blocking for T.D. Blocking, running routes, speed--I
think I'm the best tight end in the game. Can't nobody cover me.
The other day a reporter asked me what I thought about my
chances for the Hall of Fame. That knocked me out. I don't know.
I know one thing, whatever you want to base it on, your numbers
[Sharpe has the second-most catches by a tight end in NFL
history], your wins , your seasons played [nine], your Pro
Bowls [seven], your Super Bowl appearances [two], your Super
Bowl wins [one], I'll put mine against anybody's. Let me ask you
something. [Hall of Fame tight end] Kellen Winslow, did he win a
Super Bowl? Ozzie [Newsome] didn't, did he? [Hall of Famer]
Jackie Smith? So I don't know.
"I know John's going. And I'll tell you this, I'm nothing
without John Elway. I'll tell you something else. Without Dan
[Reeves, the Atlanta Falcons' coach, who, as the Broncos' coach
in 1990, drafted Sharpe in the seventh round out of Savannah
State], I'm not even in the league. I'm in law enforcement. I'm
in the ATF or the FBI. I'd have been good, too.
"You know I've got a degree in criminal justice and [a minor in]
history, right? I tell people, 'I didn't graduate magna cum
laude, I graduated thank you, Lawdy!' But I graduated. People
are surprised at that because of the Prop 48 thing. [Sharpe's
SAT score was too low to qualify for Division I football.] But I
didn't prepare myself. People look at me and they don't think of
me as a scholar. Nobody who knows me thinks I'm a dumb jock. I'm
well versed in a plethora of subjects, how's that? Play me in
Jeopardy! I'll beat your brakes off. I'll beat somebody playing
Jeopardy! and they'll scream, 'You've already watched this one.'
That's how good I am.
(Back at the Broncos' facility we shoot the photo, and then jump
back in the Rover and barrel straight to an emergency viewing of
his apartment closet.)
"See? Everything's the same, right? The suits are all lined up,
facing left. Then the long-sleeve shirts, facing left, then the
short-sleeve shirts, facing left. The shoes are on top: dress
shoes, then sneakers, then sandals. My refrigerator, too.
Everything is lined up perfectly, labels facing out. Pantry,
too. I don't know, maybe I have an obsessive-compulsive thing.
You go in my bathroom, everything's exactly the way I want it.
(Naturally, we go you know where.)
"See? My bathroom kit, just to the right of the sink, so I can
reach into it without even looking and bam, I've got it! Then,
lined up here, my lotion, then my mouthwash, then my mouth
rinse, then my Q-tips, standing up, so I can just reach and get
them, see? Got my vitamins all lined up, too. Those ain't
illegal, now. [They're Myoplex and Phosphagen, provided by EAS,
a nutritional-supplement company.] Trust me. I get tested five
or six times a year. Most everybody else gets tested maybe once.
They say it's random. Yeah, right. They see the body, they
think, Steroids. Either that, or they see someone that talks as
much as me and they think, That boy's got to be on drugs!
"I had a girlfriend who used to move those bottles, just an
inch, just to drive me crazy. Now, what am I going to do with a
wife, changing things all around? O.K., maybe I'm a little
selfish. But every time I get into a relationship, the girl
wants to change me. No way. I don't even go out anymore. I've
been out twice this year. Twice. And once was the office
Christmas party. You want to play Jeopardy!? I'll beat the
brakes off you!"
(We play Jeopardy! Sharpe gets the brakes beat off him. This is
possibly because the categories all seem to be either Marriage
or Tobacco or Meditation or Highway Laws. For the first time all
day, Sharpe is eerily quiet, until it hits him and he jumps off
"Hey! You've already watched this one!"
"People don't think of me as a scholar," says Sharpe. "But I'm
well-versed in a plethora of subjects, how's that?"