Showman Sharpe swoops into stadium to receive Broncos honor

DENVER -- Parachuting into the stadium proved to be the easy part for Shannon Sharpe.

Delivering a speech in front of fans, former teammates and his family -- now that was nerve-racking.

The retired tight end was inducted into the Denver Broncos' Ring of Fame at halftime of Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, choking up as he tried to talk.

"I really didn't plan on getting emotional," Sharpe said. "I can't say what this means to me."

And he was worried about the skydiving part.

Sharpe took three practice jumps in tandem with a professional parachuter leading up to the final spring Sunday. He said it went off without a hitch.

Well, except for the nerves.

About 12,000 feet up, Sharpe's hands began to sweat. The door of the plane flew open, and his heart began racing. The instructor screamed "Go" and, gulp, off they tumbled out of the plane.

"You open your eyes, and you're like, 'I'm OK,'" Sharpe said. "It's a great feeling."

Sharpe landed near the 10-yard line by the south end zone at Invesco Field before unhooking his harness and waving to the cheering crowd shortly before kickoff.

Too bad he didn't land in the end zone -- he got there enough in his playing days.

Sharpe played 12 seasons in Denver, helping the Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the late 1990s. He retired as the NFL's career leader among tight ends in receptions (815), yards (10,060) and touchdowns (62), marks that current Atlanta Falcons star Tony Gonzalez later eclipsed.

On hand for the festivities to honor Sharpe were Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.

"Even in my wildest dreams when I was lying in bed in Glennville, Ga., lying in bed at night in my college dorm room at Savannah State, never in my wildest imagination did my career turn out like this," Sharpe said.

The scoreboard also showed highlights of Sharpe's career, the fans erupting at reviews of his spectacular catches over the years.

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Did it make Sharpe miss the game?

"It doesn't make me want to play," he said, laughing. "It makes me realize that I can't play anymore, because I can't do any of those things. But it made me realize how much I enjoyed the game. It made me realize how much these fans appreciated me and the way I played the game."

Next stop, Canton? Bowlen certainly believes Sharpe, who's on the preliminary list for the 2010 class, is a worthy candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"If he doesn't get into the Hall of Fame, (it's a) tremendous injustice," Bowlen said.

As for skydiving, Sharpe said he has taken his last leap.

"I'm glad I got an opportunity to do this," he said. "I don't really foresee myself doing this anymore. But I can cross this one off my bucket list."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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