As of last night, Peyton Manning is a Hall of Famer. OK, that’s the biggest no-brainer in the history of the Professional Football Hall of Fame, as he revolutionized offense in the NFL, pushing it forward into a new paradigm of quarterbacks coaching on the field.
Joining him in the 2021 class is John Lynch, a fearsome safety who was one of the last bastions of brutality in the defensive backfield.
Both Lynch (2004-07) and Manning (2011-15) played for the Broncos for four years each, each of them contributing to good teams at the twilight of their careers. Lynch teamed up with fellow Hall of Famer Champ Bailey in Denver’s defensive backfield during a stellar 2005 season which ended in disappointment, an AFC Championship loss in the Mile High City.
Manning’s career ended a bit more serendipitously, riding off into the sunset as a Super Bowl 50 winner, carried there on the shoulders of Denver’s dynamic defense and Von Miller, that day’s MVP.
Manning and Lynch become the 10th men associated with the Broncos franchise to enter into the hallowed halls, and not that long ago, there were zero players represented in Canton, OH.
Rewind back to 2004 and I was a fresh-faced 19-year old, out in the world on my first adventure in the exciting city of Cleveland, OH. I can attest, Cleveland does indeed rock.
I traveled there alone and visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was awesome. There was a Jimi Hendrix display, with his many guitars hanging on the walls, but the most impressive thing in the archive was a crumpled piece of stationery and his handwritten lyrics to “Voodoo Child.”
“Well, I’m standing next to a mountain, I chop it down with the edge of my hand,” was written in none other than the Brown Palace in Denver.
But back to football, two days later I took the Greyhound Bus from Cleveland to Canton, walked across the entire town in 95-degree weather (missing a free shuttle bus) and arrived at the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
That year, it was like a Mile High tailgate in Ohio; there were orange and blue jerseys everywhere. I met Tim McKernan, the Barrel Man. Randy Gradishar was there, rubbing elbows with fans, and so was John Elway.
Elway was to be the first-ever Broncos player inducted into the Hall, 44 years after the team was created and 34 of those years in the NFL. Even the Atlanta Falcons, who had played in a mere one Super Bowl at that time — a loss to the Broncos — had more Hall of Famers than Denver.
It was a joke how underrepresented the Broncos were in Canton back in 2004.
Before the ceremony I stood in a long line to see the room with all the busts and, if you’re a football fan, it’s a must-do mecca. Bart Starr, Joe Montana, Dick Butkus, Walter Payton; seeing those bronze busts was electrifying. But, there were no Broncos, just a space for Elway’s mug to go for the rest of eternity starting later that day.
What was represented in the Hall were; Shannon Sharpe’s cleats from his ridiculous 3-touchdown game in 2003, Mike “The Marine” Anderson’s cleats from his 200-yard rookie game and a life-size picture of the Barrel Man in the “Hall of Fans.”
That day there were 23,000 fans at the Hall, 20,000 of them were there for Elway. The others were there for Bob Brown, Carl Eller and some running back named Barry Sanders.
Elway’s speech was the final of the four, and through his tears and snorts, he argued it was asinine he was the first-ever Broncos player in the Hall.
“I’m the first Broncos player to pass through these doors, but it’s my sincerest hope that others will soon follow,” Elway said. “The Broncos have played in six Super Bowls, more than any other AFC team. No team could do that without having great players worthy of the Hall of Fame.”
Back in the 80s and 90s, Denver was still thought of as a dusty, old cow town. It was a flyover city, not a destination. And the Broncos waited until the greatest player in franchise history, Elway, broke down the door.
Since the floodgates opened, eight more former Broncos players have been enshrined, thankfully. Gary Zimmerman, Floyd Little, Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, Champ Bailey, Steve Atwater and now Lynch and Manning. Oh, and the best owner in Broncos history, Pat Bowlen, too.
The Broncos have now played in eight Super Bowls, winning three. Only the New England Patriots (11) have more appearances than the orange and blue. Finally, the team has been better represented.
But, there are more players who deserve to be enshrined. The aforementioned Gradishar is one, and Karl Mecklenburg is another. Louis Wright, Tom Nalen, Tom Jackson and Rod Smith are others who are arguably deserving of the call as well.
Will any of them get in before the team’s only current Hall of Fame player, Von Miller?
Miller was the Defensive Rookie of the year in 2011 and runner up for Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. Then, he was the Super Bowl 50 MVP and put together a magical postseason that year of five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.
The thing is, Miller is still playing and will have to wait five years after his retirement to get in. Surely the Broncos will see another Hall of Fame inductee by then, right?