"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 worth.)
"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 BlackEyed 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 6½ 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.