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Denver Broncos Greats... By The Numbers: #56

Fifteen Denver Broncos have worn the #56. Thirteen linebackers and two centers. Two of the fifteen players leap off the page as contenders for the honor of greatest Denver Bronco to wear #56. Here is the rundown:

Robert Ayers OLB/DE 2009
Al Wilson LB 1999-2006
Keith Burns LB 1994-98
Michael Brooks LB 1987-92
Mike Knox LB 1987
Aaron Smith LB 1984
Larry Evans LB 1976-82
Ray May LB 1973-75
Don Parish LB 1972
Dave Washington LB 1971
Jay Bachman C 1969-70
Walter Highsmith C 1968
Dave Behrman C 1967
John Bramlett LB 1965-66
Jim Price LB 1964

Robert Ayers was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 2009 draft with the #18 overall pick. Being the current owner of #56, Robert is in the unique position of possibly claiming the title of greatest to wear that number. Unfortunately, the last two years haven’t been anything to get excited about. In 2009, he started one game and recovered two fumbles - one for a touchdown. In 2010, he started 10 games on one of the worst defenses in Denver Broncos history (let’s not dwell on the ugly past). With the EFX regime now in place, there are rumors and expectations that Ayers is going to have a breakout year in 2011.

Al Wilson was drafted by the Denver Broncos with the #31 pick overall in the 1999 draft. He played his entire eight year career as MLB for the orange and blue. He was a two time All-Pro selection and was elected to the Pro Bowl five times. During his time in Denver he was a respected leader for the Denver D. He was known to take the entire defense to dinner every week and pick up the check (that could not have been cheap). Interesting fact: Al is short for Aldra.

Keith Burns was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 7th round (#210 overall) in the 1994 draft. He was part of the Super Bowl Championship teams of 1997 and 1998. Despite bouncing around to the Chicago Bears and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he always seemed to find his way back to Denver. In 2007, Burns retired as the Special Teams Captain and assumed an assistant coaching position with Denver. Burns was and remains a dedicated Denver Bronco.

Michael Brooks was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 3rd round (#86 overall) in the 1987 draft. For me, this is one of those "oh yeah, I remember him" guys. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in his final season with the Broncos. He was on the Broncos Super Bowl XXII & XXIV teams. An interesting aside, he followed Dan Reeves to the New York Giants in 1993 and there he won all Pro Honors. Brooks showed so much potential with the Broncos, but he just wasn’t able to maintain the type of production that they required during those great runs of the late 1980’s.

Mike Knox appeared in three games and notched zero stats. He was born in Boulder, Colorado.

Aaron Smith was drafted in the 6th round (#159 overall) in the 1984 draft. He played in ten games and had one punt return for two yards.

Larry Evans was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 14th round (#390) in the 1976 draft. He played for the Broncos during their run to Super Bowl XII. During his career he picked off three passes and recovered four fumbles.

Ray May came to the Denver Broncos in 1973. He played for three seasons and notched four interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Don Parish played in one game in 1972. He notched zero stats.

Dave Washington was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 9th round (#219 overall) in the 1970 draft. He started twenty-one of twenty seven games he appeared in. During his time in Denver he had one interception and three fumble recoveries.

Jay Bachman played in forty-five games and started in one of them. You’ll see him again when MHR covers #65. This is me passing the buck to whoever does #65. Interesting fact: 65 is the inverse of 56. See what he did there? Amazing.

Walter Highsmith played in twenty-five games and started one of them. The unfortunate thing about Centers is that there really isn’t much you can say about them. He snapped the ball a lot.

Dave Behrman played in eleven games and had a fumble recovery.

John Bramlett was the runner up for AFL Rookie of the Year (behind Joe Namath) in 1965. He got an interception in each of the years he was with the Broncos. He came to the Broncos because he was tossed off of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team for getting into trouble. According to Wikipedia, he’s sworn off the wild ways and runs now John Bramlett Ministries.

Jim Price played in six games and notched zero stats.

So... Who was the Greatest Denver Bronco to wear #56? It’s close between Keith Burns and Al Wilson. You can’t deny that Denver's defensive decline became total the moment we lost Al. His leadership was the "intangible" that we’ve been missing the last few years. He was a hard hitter who led by example. That’s why...

The Greatest Denver Bronco to ever wear #56 is...

Al Wilson

A Mile High Salute to you! Go Broncos!