Mark Clayton’s Magic Night

When you mention receiving records in the NFL, the name that sits a top several categories is Jerry Rice. However there have been great performances and incredible stats gathered by other receivers. What gets lost are the records that were broken by others just before Rice came into the league.  One such record was set by Mark Clayton of the Miami Dolphins.

Clayton on his final touchdown romp.

Clayton on his final touchdown romp.

You need to understand the Dolphins had played in Super Bowl XVII at the end of the 1982 season. The late David Woodley struggled in the second half of that loss completing just one pass. The following draft Don Shula moved to upgrade not only his quarterback, Dan Marino in the 1st round, but began to look to upgrade one of the league’s slowest receiving corps in the draft. Clayton was selected in the 8th round from Louisville in the same ’83 draft.

Thus began the genesis to one of the NFL’s greatest offenses. Clayton began slowly as a reserve catching just 6 passes in his rookie year. He teamed with fellow reserve WR Mark Duper to form the core of what would be Shula’s new passing game. All three played with a chip on their shoulder all year long as they assaulted defenses on a week to week basis. While Marino shattered the all time record for touchdowns thrown in a season, he was within 58 yards of Dan Fouts yardage record going into the finale vs. Dallas.

Overshadowed by the records Marino was eclipsing, Clayton entered the finale just 2 touchdowns shy of an even longer standing record. Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch’s record of 17 TD receptions which had stood since 1951. He would have to do it against a Dallas Cowboy team that needed a win to make the playoffs.

Clayton had scorched the NFL’s 7th rated pass defense for 4 recpts 150 yards and 3 touchdowns. His two 4th quarter touchdowns allowed him to set the new record at 18 TD receptions. . His record stood until Rice broke it in 1987. Then Randy Moss pushed the record to 23 in 2007. In fact only Sterling Sharpe in 1994, Rice, and Moss are the only receivers to amass 18 touchdowns in a single season. Just 4 receiving seasons in 65 years.

Clayton, Duper, Marino

Clayton, Duper, Marino

Clayton’s 1984 season of 78 rec. 1389 yds 18 TDs was among the greatest in history. He had a good career with 5 Pro Bowl seasons, 5 – 1,000 yard seasons while finishing with 582 catches 8,974 yards and 84 touchdowns. He did leave his imprint on the game and his signature moment was his record breaking Monday Night in 1984.

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Cris Carter Belongs In The Hall of Fame

Cris Carter graces the cover of The Sporting News

Has there been a better set of hands in the history of Pro Football?? How many ridiculous one handed catches did Cris Carter make during his great career with the Philadelphia Eagles and mainly with the Minnesota Vikings?? At first glance, the numbers stand out with 1,101 receptions for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns. Good for 2nd most in NFL history for receptions and receiving touchdowns at the time of his retirement. One of the greatest attributes is that he honed his skill amidst a myriad of pedestrian NFL quarterbacks.

Amazingly he came within inches of washing out after a few seasons in Philadelphia. After leaving THE Ohio State University, he was drafted by Buddy Ryan and the Eagles in 1987. In his three years there he played well but was undisciplined off the field. He was a young player who enjoyed the perks of stardom and indulged off the field in alcohol and partying and was wasting his talent away. He helped the Eagles and a growing Randall Cunningham to a 12-4 record and a 1988 NFC East Championship where he caught 39 receptions for 761 yards and 6 TDs for the season.

However it was the 1989 season where he didn’t show signs of maturity off the field. Despite the fact that he caught 45 passes, his play had regressed to where his effectiveness was relegated to catching passes in the redzone. He caught 11TDs but only gained 605 yards. Head Coach Buddy Ryan had lost faith in his receiver growing as a player and released him and drafted less talented receivers Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams in the 1990 draft. When asked why he released Carter he scoffed “All he does is catch touchdowns.” a line mimicked by Chris Berman and Tom Jackson on ESPN highlight shows for years to come.

The Vikings claimed Carter from the waiver wire for $100!! They nabbed a Hall of Fame wide receiver for half the price of a smartphone. Think about that for a second. With the humbling experience he rededicated himself and gave up his tempestuous ways and became a polished receiver with the Vikings. So polished that he thrived with moderate quarterbacking in Minnesota in the ensuing years. Do you realize that in just 12 years for the Norsemen he caught 1,004 receptions for 12,383 yards and 110 touchdowns?? Do you also realize he did most of this while catching passes from the likes of a moderately successful Sean Salisbury, a decade away from developing Rich Gannon, an eroding (with his fourth team) Jim McMahon, a developing Brad Johnson, and an on the downside late 30’s Warren Moon?? Now why didn’t we place an out of retirement Comeback Player of the Year Randall Cunningham with this group?? Because his three best years came before the famous 1998 Vikings everyone remembers with Cunningham & Randy Moss.

Carter making one of his patented sideline catches against the Rams in the ’99 playoffs.

With the aforementioned quarterbacks in tow, Carter, along with Jerry Rice became the first receivers not named Sterling Sharpe to have 100 receptions in back to back seasons for 1994 & 1995. Carter caught 122 in ’94 then 122 in ’95 as compared to Rice’s 112 and 122 respectively. It was 1994-1996 where Carter did his best work. In 1994 his stat-line was 122 rec. for 1,256 yards and 7 TDs. He followed that up with 122 receptions for 1,371 yards and a career high 17 touchdowns in 1995. Lets compare these numbers with Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and should be Hall of Famer Sterling Sharpe over their best 3 year periods. Where Sharpe’s numbers are 1992-1994, Rice and Carter’s are both from 1994-1996.

  • Cris Carter (1994-1996) 340 receptions, 3,790 yards & 34TDs
  • Jerry Rice (1994-1996) 342 receptions, 4,601 yards & 36TDs
  • Sterling Sharpe (1992-1994) 314 receptions, 3,854yards & 42 TDs

See?? You forgot how great he was. The difference between the three is Carter was not catching passes from a Hall of Fame quarterback in his prime. Carter was in the midst of writing his Hall of Fame credentials with 8 straight 1,000 yard seasons and 5 straight with 10 or more touchdowns. Where Sterling Sharpe was a big receiver who muscled smaller defensive backs, Carter got by on guile. He wasn’t a deep threat, he caught everything thrown his way with many one handed circus catches and was a sideline technician. He always got his feet in and could perform in a phone booth.

What’s forgotten is how he stepped in and mentored a young Randy Moss for Coach Denny Green before the 1998 season. That season the Minnesota Vikings became the highest scoring team in league history with 556 points besting the ’83 Redskins with 541. In that year where he acquiesced a ton of catches for the betterment of a 15-1 team that should have won the Super Bowl. Carter still went on to catch 78 receptions for 1,011 yards and 12 TDs. At the same time Randy Moss was in the midst of catching 69 rec. for 1,313 yds and 17TDs. The Vikings made the NFC Championship game twice in 1998 and 2000 yet fell short of winning it all.

Cris Carter finished his career in 2001, as one of the most respected players in the NFL and in 2000 won the NFL’s Man of the Year Award. He has gone on to speak at the Rookie Symposium every year to keep rookies from falling into the pits that can derail a young man’s career. His leadership was one he grew into and now works for ESPN covering the game he played so well for so long. When you think of a Hall of Famer, you think about an ambassador of the game along with one who was among the best to ever play. Isn’t this what Cris Carter is/ was?? One who made the game great while he played and was a mentor to players who play the game today.  If that isn’t the mettle of what a Hall of Famer is, I don’t know what one looks like.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you “From THE Ohio St University” Cris Carter!

Sterling Sharpe Belongs In The Hall of Fame (via Taylor Blitz Times)

Sterling Sharpe Belongs In The Hall of Fame As those in and Packerland celebrate the team’s 13th championship in NFL history, the mind travels back to when Green Bay was the desolate outpost that few players wanted to go to.  The team had a celebrated past yet the years after Vince Lombardi’s team won Super Bowl II were lean with very few postseason appearances.  Everyone points to the hiring of GM Ron Wolf  or Mike Holmgren, or Reggie White’s free agent signing in 1993, or even Brett Favr … Read More

via Taylor Blitz Times

Sterling Sharpe Belongs In The Hall of Fame (via Taylor Blitz Times)

Sterling Sharpe Belongs In The Hall of Fame As those in and Packerland celebrate the team's 13th championship in NFL history, the mind travels back to when Green Bay was the desolate outpost that few players wanted to go to.  The team had a celebrated past yet the years after Vince Lombardi's team won Super Bowl II were lean with very few postseason appearances.  Everyone points to the hiring of GM Ron Wolf  or Mike Holmgren, or Reggie White's free agent signing in 1993, or even Brett Favr … Read More

via Taylor Blitz Times

Sterling Sharpe Belongs In The Hall of Fame

As those in and Packerland celebrate the team’s 13th championship in NFL history, the mind travels back to when Green Bay was the desolate outpost that few players wanted to go to.  The team had a celebrated past yet the years after Vince Lombardi’s team won Super Bowl II were lean with very few postseason appearances.

Everyone points to the hiring of GM Ron Wolf  or Mike Holmgren, or Reggie White’s free agent signing in 1993, or even Brett Favre being picked up in 1992 as the first step in the team returning to prominence.  Each were significant but weren’t the first step.  That distinction belongs to former All Pro receiver Sterling Sharpe who became the preeminent receiver of his time and was outplaying the legendary Jerry Rice at the time of his forced retirement because of a neck injury.

The Packers selected Sharpe in the ’88 NFL Draft and he played for 7 seasons. During that time he would go on to produce….nope not going to tell the story in that fashion. This was Terrell Owens before Terrell Owens meaning he would run over cornerbacks who tried to jam him or tackle him on slants.  I can still see the touchdown in ’92 when he drug CB Darryl Henley and half the LA Rams secondary into the endzone from the 5 yard line, knocking out Safety Pat Terrell in the process.

In an era where receivers were sleek, run and shoot quick guys like Earnest Givins, Drew Hill, & Andre Rison as the preferred types.  Michael Irvin and Sterling Sharpe were breaking in a new mold later carried on by Detroit’s Herman Moore and Minnesota’s Cris Carter.  The muscular intermediate receiver who were physical with cornerbacks then would slip by them for 40 yard gains later in the game once they beat up on them a bit.

Sterling started rather slow with a 55 catch rookie season where he only scored 1 touchdown and vowed to improve his approach to the game.  He felt the media was harsh in how they treated him and nearly went the rest of his career without granting an interview…well almost.  In 1989 he burst onto the national scene with 90 receptions for 1,423 yards and 12 TDs, earning the first of his 5 Pro Bowl and All Pro appearances.

He teamed with Don Majkowski to power The Pack to a stellar record of 10-6 which included a late season win over the World Champion 49ers in Candlestick.  He became the focal point of Head Coach Lindy Infante’s offense and gave the Packers a legitimate star to help attract Plan B free agents. Sharpe went on to Pro Bowl and All Pro status in the 1990, 1992-1994 seasons.

The greatness of this talent was showcased in 1992, he had to learn a new offense from a new coach in Mike Holmgren and during the third game learn to play with first time starter Brett Favre. How did he perform?

Well he went on to break Art Monk’s all time NFL record of 106 catches in a season, going for 108.  He totaled a career high 1,461 yards and scored another 13 TDs.  Sharpe led the NFL in receptions, yards, and touchdowns in 1992 which is amazing considering the coach & quarterback scenario.  Think about it for a sec… Jerry Rice’s most prolific years were 1987 and 1995 where he totaled 22 TDs receiving (87) and 122 catches / 1,808 yards gained in 1995.  These were achieved with league MVPs & Super Bowl MVPs Joe Montana and Steve Young in their 8th and 5th seasons as starters respectively. So naturally he would get better in the ensuing years with a new system in place right?

In 1993, his second year in Holmgren’s system, he broke his previous All Time NFL record of 108 catches going for 112 rec., 1,274 yard and 11TDs.  He also introduced the sporting world to “turf toe” as an injury to the sporting world lexicon which was a dislocated large toe basically.  The painful injury not only kept him from practicing ALL YEAR, he had to wear a shoe 1 1/2 sizes larger on the foot with the injury. What would he have done had he been able to hone his pass routes in practice?

sterling-sharpe-record-glovesThe Packers went 9-7 and made the playoffs as a wild card.  They played their division rival Detroit Lions in the Silverdome and Sharpe electrified with a 5 rec., 101 yd 3TD performance.  His 3TD receptions tied the NFL All-Time Post season record which still stands.  The last of which (pictured above) was a 40 yard TD from Favre with less than a minute to play.  Not bad for his first playoff game huh? It was a day so interesting and exciting that he broke his 5 year boycott of granting interviews and spoke at the post game press conference.

The next week the Packers lost to the world champion Dallas Cowboys 27-17 yet Sharpe caught 6 passes for 128 yards and 1 TD.  He showed he was a prime time performer even in the postseason.  He had led the league in receptions in back to back years and was still improving with a young up and coming quarterback.  What more could the future hold?

Yet 1994 proved to be the last season in the NFL for Sterling Sharpe. A promising career cut short with a serious neck injury that robbed us of viewing the best receiver in the league at the time. Really? Yes really! Sharpe went out with a bang. In ’94 he amassed 94 rec. for 1,119 yards and an astounding 18 touchdowns.

The 18 receiving TDs were the second most in NFL history (at that time) tying the old all time record with Mark Clayton (who did it in ’84) and who ironically was Sharpe’s teammate in ’93.  Along the way there was a much ballyhooed showdown on Thanksgiving in Dallas to show the nation Sharpe and the Packers had arrived.  They lost 42-31, but again Sharpe dazzled the nation with a 9 rec. 122 yards and 4 TDs on the league’s #1 defense,  totally outperforming counterpart Michael Irvin.  Both players, along with Andre Rison, battled Jerry Rice in the stat sheets for league supremacy at receiver in the early 90’s.  However Sharpe missed the playoff rematch and retired after the season.

Sterling Sharpe left the game after 7 super productive seasons with 595 rec. for 8,134 yards and 65 TDs which doesn’t truly paint the full picture. In his last 3 years he caught 314 passes for 3,854 yards and 42 TDs averaging 104 receptions per season. At that rate over 3 more seasons he would have crossed 900 catches for almost 12,000 yards and 107 TDs which he easily would have done.  How do we know this? Brett Favre’s next three years in ’95,’96, and ’97, not only was he league MVP all 3 years, he threw for 38, 39 and 35TDs in those seasons.

Those three seasons the Packers lost the NFC Championshp Game in ’95 yet made the Super Bowl the next two years. It’s a shame that the team he led back to NFL prominence would go on to be league champion without him.  Ironically his brother Shannon gave him his first Super Bowl ring when the Broncos defeated the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, citing Sterling as his greatest male influence.

How do you gauge impact? Well you need to ask yourself a few questions.  In 1992 Mike Holmgren was the hottest coaching commodity when the Vikings, Steelers, and Packers were vying for his services.  Seeing that Holmgren wanted to install his “west coast offense”, don’t you think Green Bay won out by having Sterling Sharpe as his Jerry Rice already in tow to play his “Z” receiver?  What happens if the star receiver wasn’t on hand to aid a nervous young Brett Favre, allowing him to gain confidence?

If he would have struggled, Don Majkowski gets his job back 7 weeks later and we may never have known of Brett… think about it. Favre only became the NFL’s all time quarterback in ….well everything. In fact it was Sharpe who got Favre rolling in his first start against Pittsburgh absolutely scorching Rod Woodson on a stutter-go 76 yard touchdown to settle Favre down.  Without Sterling Sharpe, NFL history and certainly Green Bay Packers history would have been altered drastically.

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This was a talent that blocked in the running game and didn’t dance in the endzone when he did score.  He didn’t jump up signaling first down when he made a catch.  He was the absolute antithesis of the “me” receiver that has overtaken the league over the last 20 years.  After Charlie Hennigan in 1961 ( 101 rec. /AFL’s Houston Oilers), Art Monk in ’84 (106 rec. / Washington Redskins), and ’90 Jerry Rice (100 rec. / San Fran 49ers) it was Sharpe who made the 100 catch season a staple in league totals, going for 108 receptions then 112 the following year.

The fact that he didn’t self promote on every television camera he saw yet isn’t in the Hall of Fame, may give way to why we see receivers that do.  Gale Sayers isn’t the only great player to have his career cut short by injury so Sharpe needs to be more than considered.  His play and on field conduct was a celebration of how and why football is played and loved by millions.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Sterling Sharpe.

corey harris