The Pro Football Hall of Fame released the nominees for their 2012 class today and their are 5 former Denver Broncos on the list. Of the 103 preliminary candidates, four players and one coach represent the Orange and Blue. Safety Steve Atwater, Running Back Terrell Davis, Wide Receiver Rod Smith, Linebacker Karl Mecklenburg and head coach Dan Reeves are up for election into the Class of 2012. Take the jump and we'll take a look at them.
Editors Note: This was a joint effort between myself and Jezru, who has been a part of the MHR Hall of Fame committee that had a hand in getting Floyd Little inducted 2 years ago.
The rules for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame call for a player to be retired for five years in a row to be considered. Among the first year eligible players is Rod Smith. You know, only the greatest undrafted college FA at the Wide Receiver position in football history?
Yeah, that's what I said. Rod Smith
Rod is the all-time leader in receptions, reception yardage, and reception touchdowns as an undrafted WR, and helped lead the Broncos to two Super Bowl championships. There is no doubt in any Broncos fans mind that this man (among many Denver players snubbed) belongs in Canton.
I was curious to see if our own Mr. Smith, if elected, be the first Undrafted player with a Bronze bust. I was disappointed and remembered that John Randle was inducted in the 2010 class. Thirteen other players went from undrafted status into the hallowed halls. Warren Moon, Larry Little, Jim Langer, Emmitt Thomas, Willie Wood, Willie Brown, Joe Perry, Bill Willis, Lou "The Toe" Groza, Dick "Night Train" Lane, Frank Gatski, Marion Motley and Emlen Tunnell.
I'm sure they would welcome a fifteenth overachiever. Good Luck Rod!
Steve Atwater aka the "Smiling Assassin" patrolled the middle of the Defensive backfield along with another great safety in Dennis Smith. Between the two, they were one of the most feared Safety tandems in the NFL during the 1990's. In fact, he is on the NFL's 1990's All-Decade Team. An 8-Time Pro Bowler, 3-Time All-Pro and 3-Time Super Bowl Champion, Steve was known for his ferocious hits, like the infamous "mic'd up" hit on Chiefs Running Back Christian Okoye on Monday Night Football in 1990. Did I say hit? That was a pummeling blow, considering Okoye outweighed Atwater by 42 lbs.
Regarded as one of the toughest safeties in the NFL during his playing days, Atwater was selected by the Broncos in the 1st round (20th overall) of the 1989 NFL Draft from the University of Arkansas. He started all 155 regular-season games he played with the Broncos, a total that ranks 10th in franchise history.
Atwater may have trouble getting a bust set in bronze. There are only nine other Safeties enshrined in Canton. All of them have at least 48 career interceptions and Steve has only 24. And even though tackles were not an official stat before 2001, Atwater unofficially totaled 1180 tackles in his 11 years, averaging 107 tackles per season. By way of comparison, Ronnie Lott unofficially averaged only 82 per season.
Terrell Davis was drafted by the Broncos in the 6th round with the 196th pick overall in the 1995 NFL Draft. He is the Denver Broncos all-time leading rusher, with 7,607 rushing yards. "T.D." was inducted as the 21st member of the Ring of Fame in 2007 after spending his entire 8-year career with the team from 1995-2002. Davis rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first 4 seasons, including the 1998 campaign in which he totaled the 4th-most rushing yards (2,008) in a season in NFL history to earn league MVP honors. He also set a club record with 21 rushing scores that season. The 3-time Pro Bowl and 1st-Team All-Pro selection (1996-98) finished his career with 60 rushing touchdowns on 1,655 carries (4.6 avg.) in 78 regular-season games. Terrell was a key member of the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl championship teams (1997-98). His 97.5-yard rushing average in regular-season games is the 3rd best in NFL history (min. 75 games), trailing only Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, both of whom are enshrined in Canton.
In the postseason, Davis was equally as impressive, totaling at least 100 rushing yards in seven of his eight career playoff appearances, including
his 157-yard, 3-rushing touchdown performance against Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII to earn game MVP honors.
He averaged an NFL-record (min. 5 games) 142.5 rushing yards per game in the postseason for his career, totaling a club record 1,140 rushing yards on 204 carries (5.6 avg.) with 12 touchdowns. Davis ranks number one in Broncos history in career 100-yard rushing games (41), 1st in rushing touchdowns (60), 2nd in overall touchdowns (65) and 2nd in yards from scrimmage (8,887).
Let's hope this is T.D.'s year.
In 1983, the Denver Broncos drafted a player who would provided struck fear into the opposition. No, not John Elway (well, yes John Elway, but he's already in the Hall of Fame). In the 12th Round with the 310th pick, the Broncos selected the LB Karl Mecklenburg. Known as "The Albino Rhino" or simply "The Meck", Karl would amass 79.5 sacks (2nd in team history) and 5 interceptions over his 180 game career that would continue until 1994. Most impressive, Karl would be instrumental on a defense that would go to
three Super Bowls win three AFC Championships. A 6-time Pro Bowler, 3-time AP First Team All-Pro, 4-time NEA First Team All-Pro and 1-time AP Second Team All-Pro, Meck was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2001 with along with Dennis Smith.
While Meck is a fan favorite, he's probably got a long road to travel in order to get to Canton. Another storied Broncos Linebacker has been patiently waiting his turn - Randy Gradishar. While we must support Karl, it's important to remain vigilant with Randy.
Dan Reeves came to Denver in 1981 and with him he brought knowledge instilled in him by legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry. After acquiring QB John Elway in trade with the Baltimore Colts in the 1983 draft, the Broncos
went to three Super Bowls won three AFC Championships, an achievement that no other NFL coach would achieve in the 1980's. There will be some that say that those Super Bowls were purely the doing of Elway. Sure, Elway was instrumental in getting there, but after Wade Phillips took over for Reeves for the 1993 season, we saw just how important Reeves was to making those runs. There will also be those who still have an axe to grind over the Elway vs. Reeves battle that ultimately forced Reeves out of town. At Elway's Hall-of-Fame induction, #7 nobly invited his former coach and publicly acknowledged the contributions to his career. It's time to get over it and embrace the second best coach in Denver Broncos history for the good times of which there were many.
After leaving Denver in 1993, Coach Reeves would take the reins of the New York Giants. At the conclusion of that year, he would earn Coach of the Year honors. In 1997 he became the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. We all know what happened at the conclusion of the 1998 season in Super Bowl XXXIII, but few people remember that he had quadruple bypass surgery and came back to coaching after missing just three games. It's also notable that the losing coach of Super Bowl XXXIII who would go on to win Coach of the Year accolades, not the winning one - Mike Shanahan.
In all, Reeves would end his coaching career with an impressive record of 190-165-2. Of the coaches who have been to the Super Bowl four times (Bud Grant with the Vikings, Chuck Noll with the Steelers, Joe Gibbs with the Redskins, Marv Levy of the Bills, and Bill Belichick of the Patriots), all but Bill Belichick are already in the Hall of Fame (and that's only because he's not yet eligible). Of those Hall of Fame coaches, only Chuck Noll won more games.
It's also worth noting that of the five Denver Broncos up for enshrinement this year, Reeves is the only one who is eligible for Ring of Fame induction that has so far been overlooked. If Red Miller can be forever revered for for his accomplishments in 1977, it's time that Reeves get his orange and blue due.
The rest of the 98 preliminary nominees can be found here. Among the other first year nominees are coaches Bill Cowher, Bill Parcells, and Marty Schottenheimer.
The candidates will be pared down to 25 semifinalists by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee in mid-November. Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe made the semifinals last year.
At that point, the committee will choose 15 modern-era finalists in early January. Those final 15 will combine with the two senior nominees -- former Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Back Jack Butler and former Detroit Lions guard Dick Stanfel, who were selected this past month by the Hall of Fame's Senior Selection Committee -- to make up the finalists for the Class of 2012.
The final tally will be held on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, the day before Super Bowl XLVI, at the Hall of Fame Selection Committee's yearly meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The election results will be announced that evening on NFL Network, live from the Super Bowl Media Center.
While there's no set requirement for the amount of people elected to the Hall of Fame in a given year, usually four to seven members make it each year based on the way the selection process by-laws are constructed.
Two former Bronco players have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the last two years. Floyd Little was part of the Class of 2010 while Sharpe was in the Class of 2011.
It's time to give them some company.