Sterling Sharpe’s top football honor came at USC. Why he stays away from the program

Sterling Sharpe talks USC career, love of golf, Will Muschamp

Former South Carolina receiver Sterling Sharpe discusses his USC career and the Gamecocks program.
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Former South Carolina receiver Sterling Sharpe discusses his USC career and the Gamecocks program.

Sterling Sharpe had an incredible college career at South Carolina and NFL career with the Green Bay Packers before his playing days were cut short because of a neck injury.

Sharpe broke numerous receiving records for the Gamecocks and made the Pro Bowl five times with the Packers during his seven years in the NFL. He was a first-team all-pro selection three times and is in the Packers Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

One honor sticks out above the rest for Sharpe, who spoke with The State at the BMW Charity Pro-Am held in Greenville earlier this summer.

Following the 1987 regular season, South Carolina held its team banquet. Sharpe was hoping to be named the team’s MVP. Instead, that honor went to quarterback Todd Ellis. Sharpe, however, received an even greater honor later in the banquet when head coach Joe Morrison announced that his No. 2 would be retired.

Sharpe played in the 1987 bowl game in his No. 2 jersey. The number has not been worn at South Carolina since.

“I played the 1987 Gator Bowl in my jersey after it had been retired, which was actually a tremendous honor,” Sharpe said. “The funny thing is, I didn’t recognize what an honor it was until I had stopped playing football altogether. And then you get a chance to go back and you go, ‘Wow, so nobody else can wear No. 2? I mean no one?’ And that is the highest honor I’ve ever been given in football.”

Sharpe has been approached by a South Carolina player a few times about having his number worn again, but it has not happened.

Former Gamecocks running backs Duce Staley and Derek Watson and former USC receiver Alshon Jeffery each communicated with Sharpe about the idea.

“Duce Staley was the first person to ask me. The guy’s name is Duce,” Sharpe said. “And I told him there was a process. It’s not just me going, ‘Yeah, you can wear it.’ There’s a process, and I didn’t understand the full process. And so once I inquired about the full process I said no.”

There has been talk recently that more USC jerseys, including A’ja Wilson’s, could be retired soon. USC nowadays retires jerseys but doesn’t take the number out of circulation.

Sharpe, who is third in South Carolina history in receptions (169) and receiving yards (2,497), has fond memories about his time as a Gamecock.

He doesn’t remember specifics of many games but instead remembers the people he met throughout his time in Columbia.

“I got a chance to play with some great teammates,” Sharpe said. “I had outstanding coaches. And I went to a football school. That’s what I loved is just being able to go out and have people appreciate not only you being there but how you played.”

“I lived in a dorm at the time when there was soccer, swimming, golf, tennis, basketball. And I got to know not only all of the coaches of different sports, but I got to know a lot of the players. We ate at the same places. We played ping pong against each other and shot pool against each other, and that part I remember because you got a chance to see guys in different sports who thought and felt like you thought. They wanted to get to the highest level in their sport just like you do.”

Sharpe now enjoys another sport — golf.

He plays “almost every day,” oftentimes with former South Carolina teammate Harold Green.

But he still finds time to follow the Gamecocks and has a good relationship with head coach Will Muschamp, even though he doesn’t come around the program very often.

“I’m going to say this for all former athletes and I’m sorry for speaking for all of them, but we have to be careful because we have opinions,” Sharpe said. “Coach Muschamp and his staff have a plan. And for those of us who played football, we may not like or appreciate or understand the plan, but we have to support it. Whatever he’s asked me to do, I’ve tried to do. But for the most part, I try to stay out of the way because he has coaches to coach the receivers. He has different people in different areas to make sure those student-athletes in football have the best opportunity to be the best player and the best person that they can possibly be.

“Whenever I send him texts after games, whether it’s wins or losses, and before games, we keep in contact. But I try to stay as far out of the way as possible.”

Former wide receiver and NFL correspondent Sterling Sharpe had his career start with the USC Gamecocks in Columbia SC in the late 1980s.