For the final Mile High Report Hall of Fame Class of 2016 category, we finish with our favorite legendary Broncos of the modern era.
Here's who is already in the MHR Hall of Fame: Floyd Little,Randy Gradishar, John Elway, Terrell Davis, Karl Mecklenburg, Steve Atwater, Shannon Sharpe and Rod Smith.
So, if you thought it was tough choosing the early-era Broncos, this list won't be any easier. And for the newer fans among us, it might be impossible. But as fans of the greatest team in the NFL, we must forge ahead and do our best. So go here and choose your favorites.
In the meantime, feast upon the greatness that has been part of this franchise for a long, long time. A huge - HUGE - shout-out to KaptainKirk, an MHR Hall-of-Famer, for writing the Denver Broncos Greats...By the Numbers series, which served as the foundation for most of the following player highlights (Thanks, Kaptain!)
Drafted by the Broncos in the seventh round (218th overall) of the 1994 NFL Draft, Nalen appeared in 194 games with 188 starts. He started 13 playoff games and was part of an offensive line that helped six different running backs have 1,000-yard seasons.
A five-time Pro-Bowler, Nalen was the starting center in both Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII. He spent the 2007 season on the injured reserve list after tearing his right biceps muscle in a game against the Chargers and then retired in January 2009. At the time of his retirement, Nalen was the last remaining player from the Broncos Super Bowl-winning teams.
To understand just exactly why Nalen belongs, take a look at this impressive list from oldcoachB in the nomination last year:
- Five-time Pro Bowl (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003)
- Three-time All-Pro (1999, 2000, 2003)
- Two-time Super Bowl champion (XXXII, XXXIII)
- NFL Alumni Offensive Lineman of the Year (2003)
- Denver Broncos' 50th Anniversary Team
- Denver Broncos Ring of Fame
9/22/96 - #66 Tom Nalen blocks Keith Traylor. pic.twitter.com/O7qK5CJYdx— Broncos History (@BroncosHistory) May 10, 2015
Simon Fletcher was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the 1985 NFL Draft. He spent his entire 11-year career in Denver, playing both outside linebacker and defensive end. Fletcher was the premier pass rusher for the Broncos, recording a franchise record 97.5 sacks. His 16 sacks in 1992 were a team record until Elvis Dumervil's 17 in 2009. Fletcher also had a sack in 10 straight games, an NFL record shared with DeMarcus Ware.
Simon started 143 of 172 games during that 11-year career, accumulating 828 tackles, 97.5 sacks, two interceptions, 20 forced fumbles, 10 fumbles recovered and one safety. Between Nov. 15, 1992, and Sept. 20, 1993, Fletcher had 15.5 sacks.
- Team leader in sacks 7 consecutive years (1988-1994)
- 11+ sacks 5 consecutive seasons (1989-1993)
- 20 career multi-sack games
- 172 consecutive games played
- 140 consecutive starts-2nd (Billy Thompson 156)
- Starter on three AFC Championship teams (1986, 1987, 1989)
Despite these numbers, Simon was never selected to a single Pro Bowl. Even his career year in 1992 when he had 16 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and 99 tackles, he was snubbed for Derrick Thomas (14.5) and Bryan Cox (14 Sacks).
#73 Simon Fletcher - OLB/DE 1985-1995, Broncos all-time leader in sacks (97.5), most consecutive gms w/ a sack (10) pic.twitter.com/OSgmzoawZP— Broncos History (@BroncosHistory) February 3, 2015
Dennis Smith was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round (15th overall) of the 1981 draft. MHR's John Bena said it best in this 2009 article:
"A ferocious hitter, Smith was voted to play in six Pro Bowls, named All- NFL four times, named All-AFC four times and played on three Broncos Super Bowl teams (XXI, XXII, XXIV).
He was also named the club's Most Inspirational Player in 1992. Smith ranks fourth all-time in games played by a Bronco (184), fifth in games started (170) and sixth in both career interceptions (30) and interception return yards (431).
He is one of just three players in the history of the Broncos franchise to play at least 14 seasons with the club, behind John Elway (16) and tied with Tom Jackson. Smith's career totals include 1,171 tackles (794) and 14 sacks. He posted a career-high five sacks in 1983, a career-high five interceptions in '91 and a career-high 120 tackles in '92.
Perhaps my greatest memories of Smith are in regards to the way he passed the torch to another hard-hitting safety - Steve Atwater. That type of leadership has been a huge void for the Broncos and remembering players like Smith reminds us all just how great the Broncos Greats truly are.
In 2001 Smith was inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame. In 2006 he was welcomed into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. He's ranked fourth all-time for total games played with the franchise with 184. The amount of passion Smith brought to the game can't be underestimated. In week one of the 1986 season at home against the Raiders, Smith played with a broken bone in his shoulder (kind of puts the 2010 NFC Championship in perspective... ahem).
Ed McCaffrey was drafted by the New York Giants in the third round (83rd overall) of the 1991 NFL Draft. "Easy Ed" played three years before joining the San Francisco 49ers and won the first of his three Super Bowl rings. The following year, McCaffrey shadowed Mike Shanahan all the way to Denver, where he stuck around for nine years.
Considered one of the best route-runners in the game, McCaffrey went over-the-middle, tip-toed on the sideline and out-jumped his way to help the Broncos win back-to-back championships in 1997-98. He had an exceptional performance in Super Bowl XXXIII, grabbing five catches for 72 yards. Also in 1999, McCaffrey and teammate Rod Smith became only the second wide receiver duo from the same team to reach 100 receptions in the same season (Herman Moore and Brett Perriman).
McCaffrey suffered a compound leg fracture in the opening game of the 2001 season, a Monday Night Football game against the Giants. On the play that he sustained the injury, No. 87 made a spectacular catch and did not fumble the ball. He rebounded in the 2002 season with 69 catches and 903 yards. McCaffrey barely played in 2003 because of concussion and quadriceps problems retired in February 2004.
McCaffrey finished his career with the Broncos, starting 105 of 121 games, 462 receptions for 6,200 yards and 46 touchdowns. He had 21 yards on three carries, fumbled three times and recovered two.
- 3× Super Bowl champion (XXIX, XXXII, XXXIII)
- 1× Pro Bowl selection (1998)
- 1× All-Pro selection (1998)
- 2 three-touchdown games
- 18 100-yard games
- 4x 60+ catch seasons
- 3 1,000-yard seasons
- 4th Most Career Receptions (462)
- 4th Most Career Receiving Yards (6,200)
- 4th Most Receiving Yards, Season (1,317)
- 3rd Most Career Touchdown Receptions (46)
- 2nd Most Consecutive Games with a Reception (68)
- Led the team in touchdown catches (1998-2000)
- Led the team in receptions for a then-Bronco record (101). Rod Smith caught 113 the next year (2001), while Ed was recovering from the broken leg.
Eddie Mac will probably be mostly remembered for his peel-back block on Packers linebacker Brian Williams in Super Bowl XXXII where he pointed at him and said some unrepeated words. When asked multiple times what he said to Williams on that play, Ed responds, "I can't say. I'm taking that one to the grave."
But we can still watch again for fun:
Howard Griffith appeared in 59 games with 56 starts. He rushed 35 times for 117 yards with one touchdown and caught passes 68 times for 445 yards with six touchdowns. He did not have a single fumble but recovered three.
Nicknamed "The Human Plow" as a tribute to his powerful blocking for Terrell Davis, Griffith was part of both of Denver's Super Bowl winning teams and was a major contributor in Super Bowl XXXIII, scoring two rushing touchdowns and catching a key pass in the fourth quarter to set up Denver's final touchdown.
He was also the beneficiary in Eddie Mac's badass block featured above. It's difficult to find highlights of Griffith without being part of someone else's featured video, but that kind of fits the player he was - plowing away to do his job and help the entire offense be successful.
Dang! It's really hard to find highlight video of the #Broncos' greatest fullback - @HowardGriffith. Anyone? pic.twitter.com/dGyOyJsbsm— L.Lattimore-Volkmann (@docllv) July 15, 2016
Gary Zimmerman was drafted by the New York Giants in the 1st round (3rd overall) of the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft. He was also drafted in the 2nd round (36th overall) by the Los Angeles Express in the 1984 USFL Draft. Gary subsequently signed with the Express and went onto start in 34 of 35 games at Left Tackle. The rights to Zimmerman were acquired by the Minnesota Vikings for two 2nd-round picks in the 1986 draft. So after the fledgling USFL folded in August of 1986, he joined the Minnesota Vikings where he played from 1986-1992.
Drafted by the Giants in the 1984 supplemental draft and traded to the Vikings in 1986, Gary Zimmerman was acquired by the Broncos via trade and played in Denver from 1993-1997. Arriving as the veteran player to an offense that was made up of mostly rookies, Zimmerman would in effect become the leader of the Broncos offensive line.
John Elway's first impression of Zimmerman:
"I remember the first day in camp after he came over from Minnesota, just the blow he delivered to those guys rushing the passer," Elway said. "It shocked me, the noise that it made when he struck the defensive lineman on a pass rush."
During his time in the NFL, Zimmerman was notorious for his refusal to cooperate with the media after a negative press leak. He decided to boycott the media as a result, refusing to do interviews or engage in any sort of interaction with them for the rest of his career. In fact, it was Zimmerman who started the famous no-interview policy for the Broncos' Offensive Line, a policy that lasted nine years after he retired.
In his 12-year career, he played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1986-1992 and for the Denver Broncos from 1993-1997. He started all 184 NFL games he played in. As a Bronco, Zimmerman started all 76 games, including Super Bowl XXXII. He also recovered one fumble. He earned three consecutive Pro Bowl selections (1994-96) as a key component of Bronco offenses that led the NFL in total yards twice (1996-97) and recorded three consecutive top-five league rushing rankings (1995-97) and led the NFL in rushing in 1996.
Zimmerman was equally adept at pass blocking, as evidenced by the fact that Minnesota and Denver quarterbacks led their conferences in passing in 1986, 1988, 1993 and 1996.
- One of a select few named to two NFL All-Decade Teams (1980s and 1990s)
- 7-time Pro Bowler (1987, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1995 and 1996)
- 5-time 1st-team All-Pro selection (1987, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1996)
- 3-time 2nd-team All-Pro selection (1986, 1993, 1995)
- Played in 169 consecutive games and a total of 184 in his career.
- Oregon Sports Hall of Fame (2002)
- 2-Time All-USFL selection (1984, 1985)
- USFL All-Time Team
- Denver Broncos Ring of Fame (2003)
- Pro Football Hall of Fame (2008)
Al Wilson was drafted by the Denver Broncos with the No. 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, the former Tennessee Vol 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.
In his nomination post, Pete Baron wrote this about "the REAL "Big Al":
"Dude was a beast for us in the middle of the field. Whether he was there to be the enforcer and bring pain to running backs and tight ends, or he was chasing a QB or splitting wide to drop back, he played every down like it was his last.
He always brought the tradition of the Thursday dinner with teammates to Denver, which he always footed the bill for.
Al's leadership was unparalleled and it's not a coincidence that after he got hurt, the Broncos never saw the playoffs again until a certain controversial QB rolled into town."
When HaleAndHearty nominated Mike Shanahan, Broncos head coach from 1995-2008, he noted that Shanny was "far and away the best head coach the franchise has ever had." And there are many Broncos fans who feel that way about the man who helped John Elway finally get not just one Super Bowl trophies but two, including an MVP in his second win.
Between 1996 and 1998, the Broncos set the NFL record for wins with a 46-10 record over three years. The 1998 Broncos won their first 13 games before finishing 14-2 and and setting an NFL record for first quarter points scored in a season. In 2005, Shanahan passed Dan Reeves as the winningest coach in franchise history.
Applying the West Coast offense he learned under guru Bill Walsh at the 49ers, Shanny was well known for scripting the first 15 offensive plays of the game.
His version of the WCO was run-heavy, and he often found unheralded running backs and turned them into league-leading rushers such as Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Clinton Portis, Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell - all of whom have had at least one 1,000-yard season in a Denver uniform.
1995 - Mike Shanahan in his first year as Broncos Head Coach: pic.twitter.com/LrdN1zKJuK— Broncos History (@BroncosHistory) March 14, 2015
Trevor Pryce was drafted by the Broncos in the 1st round of the 1997 NFL Draft. He played nine years at right defensive tackle and left defensive end in Denver from 1997-2005.
In his rookie season, he played in eight games and recorded 24 tackles and two sacks. In his second year with the Broncos, Pryce started 15 out of the 16 games and made 43 tackles and a then-career high 8.5 sacks. He was also a member of the Broncos Super Bowl XXXIII team. The next season Pryce recorded 46 tackles and a career high 13 sacks, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl. The next three seasons (2000, 2001, 2002) Pryce earned trips to the Pro Bowl.
In 2003 he started in all 16 games including his 100th career game and recorded 36 tackles and 8.5 sacks.
Pryce was one of the most ferocious members of the Broncos defense during the championship years. As a Bronco, he started 114 of 121 games, making 317 tackles, 64 sacks, two interceptions, nine pass deflections, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, including one for a 28-yard touchdown, and one safety.
- 4-time Pro Bowl selection (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002)
- 3-time All-Pro Selection (1999, 2000, 2001)
- 2-time Super Bowl champion (XXXII, XXXIII)
- Denver Broncos 50th Anniversary Team
- 6th - Most Multi-Sack Games (12)
- 4th - Most Sacks, Season (13)
- 6th - Most Sacks, Career (64)
- 8.5 sacks or more 5 seasons
- 16-game starter in 5 seasons
John Mobley was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round (15th overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft. He started immediately at right linebacker and in his second season made 1st Team All-Pro status. He was a member of the back-to-back Super Bowl wins and responsible for deflecting a Brett Favre pass on 4th and 6 from the 31-yard-line with just over 30 seconds left in the game. The deflection helped seal a 31-24 victory for the Broncos.
He missed most of the 1999 season because of a torn right anterior cruciate ligament in Week 2 at Kansas City. The Broncos placed him on Injured Reserve in 2003 as a result of the spinal injury he suffered in the second quarter of the team's 26-6 defeat against the Baltimore Ravens. Mobley suffered a bruised spinal column when he and Herndon tackled Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis. The injury was severe enough that the Broncos cut him before the 2004 season in order to allow him time for recovery. He later re-signed with the Broncos and retired because of the injury.
Mobley started 102 of 105 games in eight years with the Broncos, including all nine postseason games the team played in that time. He amassed 606 total tackles, 10.5 sacks, five interceptions, one touchdown, seven pass deflections, five forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.
#51 John Mobley - OLB '96-'03, 1st team All-Pro '97, played in 105 games starting 102, 10.5 sacks & 5 INTs. pic.twitter.com/6D0iahOnv3— Broncos History (@BroncosHistory) February 27, 2015
Jason Elam was a stalwart for the Broncos for 15 years. He tied the NFL-record for the longest field goal in history (63 yards) and we'll never forget his field goal in the 2007 season opener to beat the Buffalo Bills (Toro, Toro!)
During Elam's 15 years with Denver, he scored at least 100 points in all of them. He made it 16 in a row in 2008 with the Atlanta Falcons. He had 26 game-winning or game-saving field goals. He not only was one of the top three kickers for 15 years, he finished fifth all-time in field goals (436) and points (1,983).
Elam signed a one-day contract with the Broncos on March 30, 2010, in order to retire as a member of the Broncos. Someday, he'll enter the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame - at least if Pat Bowlen's wishes have anything to do with it.
"He's definitely going into the (Broncos') Ring of Fame," Bowlen has said. "I think he's definitely a (Pro Football) Hall of Famer, but kickers getting into the Hall of Fame is damn near impossible, but I'll try to use some influence if I can to see that he gets there."
Although some vehemently opposed including Tebow among these greats, he still got enough recs to be among the top choices. So now we'll consider his record and let the votes decide for us.
In his eloquent nomination of Tebow, JakeCunio wrote:
"Tim Tebow...yep, I said it - Tim Tebow. And before everyone starts to stone me, I want to say that I am not nominating him for "amazing on-the-field football talent" but just as good coaches and executives inspire and motivate others, I feel that Tebow did this for the Broncos in an absolutely unique and original way.
Certainly this is an unusual choice and will be rejected by many - I expect and fully understand this. However, I have to be honest with myself and when I look back at Broncos history I have to acknowledge that Tebow made a clear and unmistakable impact on the Broncos in the brief time he was here.
The NFL has many, many "good guys" in its ranks. It has many many devoted and religious men. None have had the impact of one Tim Tebow. He completely energized a fan base in a way unseen before in the NFL. He motivated players around him, leading to amazing and completely unexpected wins. He took a team everyone had discounted and won in the playoffs almost in spite of football reality. He made the entire country sit up and watch the Denver Broncos for the first time in years.
Somehow in someway he worked with this team to help turn this organization around and made it awesome to be a Bronco fan. I was absolutely elated when Peyton Manning came to Denver, and I never considered Tebow as our QB again, but that doesn't mean I am not thankful for the awe-inspiring leadership he showed when he was here.
I see his ugly throwing motion and his quacking duck passes, and I don't want him to play for us, but I also remember just how much he made football in Denver so very EXCITING."
Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas for an 80-Yard OT TD in 2011's AFC Wild Card | Steelers vs. Broncos
Vote now for MHR Hall of Fame-Broncos!
And if you were able to limit it to seven, let us know who you chose!