The Pro Football Hall of Fame finally got one inductee right by including Terrell Davis in the Class of 2017.
But its continued slap-in-the-face to Broncos fans by not selecting Pat Bowlen as the clear choice for the Contributor’s candidate in 2018 and once again skipping over Randy Gradishar for the Seniors selection, prove once again that having our own “Broncos Hall of Fame” at Mile High Report is the only Hall you need.
Our only regret is that we can’t induct all the greats at once. Luckily, now that we are in the fourth year, we are finally getting to some of the lesser known greats perhaps but most definitely not the lesser talented.
This HOF class might be my favorite so far because not only does it include a favorite linebacker of mine - Al Wilson (high-five @BigPete!) - it has coaches, kickers, old-school defensive ends and wide receivers, even an offensive lineman.
So while the current Broncos are on a bye week, enjoy this trip down memory lane of some of our more obscure but very talented former Broncos who helped shape this franchise.
Rich “Tombstone” Jackson (1967-72)
Drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1966, Rich “Tombstone” Jackson joined the Broncos the following year and “set the tone” for the defensive-oriented Broncos teams that would follow in the Orange Crush years.
Tombstone joined Floyd “The Franchise” Little in 1970 as the first two Broncos to be named to the Pro Bowl, an honor he would earn two more times.
An outstanding Denver Post feature on Tombstone by Benjamin Hochman tells you everything you need to know about the terrorizing defensive end if you didn’t have the luxury of watching him play:
Tombstone is 73 years old. His other name is Rich Jackson, and you might not know of him. But you should. He is, after all, the toughest Bronco there ever was.
“When I think of him, I think of pain,” Chiefs Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson said. “I can remember he nailed me and knocked the breath out of me.”
Tombstone tore into town in 1967, and for the next five seasons, the Denver defensive end buried a bunch of quarterbacks while broadcasters eulogized.
“People want to know why they call me Tombstone,” Jackson says. “That’s the termination of life, a symbol of death, the end of the road — how you like that?”
Jackson played 67 games for the Broncos and had 43 sacks by team records - which in today’s 16-game season would average to 10.3 sacks a season. The team’s single-season sack leaders since 1997 have averaged 10.1 sacks to put that in perspective.
“He’s what made me a Bronco fan, really,” season ticket holder Greg Merilatt told The Post. “The Broncos were kind of the laughingstock of the AFL. …And that was the only thing to watch the Broncos for, guys like Jackson. He played like an absolute animal.”
Lyle Alzado (1971-1978)
Lyle Alzado was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 1971 NFL Draft and played eight seasons with the Broncos from 1971-78. Starting 98 of 99 games at defensive end and tackle, he recovered 14 fumbles and recorded one safety. Those are the official NFL numbers. Now for the rest of the story.
When the starting defensive end got injured in 1971, Alzado stepped in and never gave up the position. He made various All-rookie teams for his 60 tackles and 8 sacks. In 1972, Alzado began to get national attention for his intense and intimidating style of play as he produced 10.5 sacks to go with 91 tackles. He also led the NFL in fumble recoveries (5). In 1973, Alzado posted another great season and the Broncos had a winning record for the first time in franchise history with a 7–5–2 mark.
The Broncos posted another winning season the following year as Alzado gained significantly more notice as one media source named him All-AFC for his 13 sacks and 80 tackles (8 for a loss). His name was being mentioned among the NFL's top Defensive Ends -- Elvin Bethea, Jack Youngblood, L. C. Greenwood, Claude Humphrey, and Carl Eller.
The 1975 season brought about a change and Alzado moved to the defensive tackle spot where he responded with 91 tackles and 7 sacks, but the team regressed with a 6–8 record.
On the first play of the 1976 season, Lyle blew out a knee and missed the entire campaign, which forced Defensive Coordinator Joe Collier to switch to a 3-4 defense - and the "Orange Crush" was born. The Broncos went 9–5 but as players reportedly lost confidence in coach John Ralston, Red Miller was named head coach in 1977.
The 1977 campaign, up to that point, was the most successful in franchise history as the Broncos boasted one of the NFL's best defenses, went 12–2 and then beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders en route to Super Bowl XII where they were stomped by the Dallas Cowboys 27–10. But that season was still a big success for Alzado, who was voted consensus All-Pro and consensus All-AFC as well as winning the UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year. He also led the Broncos in sacks with 8, while making 80 tackles.
The Broncos went to the AFC playoffs again in 1978, losing in the first round to the eventual champion Steelers. Alzado had 77 tackles and 9 sacks and recorded his first NFL safety. He was second team All-Pro and a consensus All-AFC pick.
After making the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year, Alzado - who had led the team in sacks in five of the last seven years - and the Broncos had a falling out over a contract dispute and a month later, No. 77 walked out of Training Camp. The Broncos Front Office responded by trading him to Cleveland for draft picks.
He played three seasons in Cleveland and went to the Pro Bowl in 1980. In 1982, Lyle became an Oakland Raider and finally achieved a Super Bowl Ring in 1983. Alzado retired at the end of the 1985 season.
His nicknames included "Rainbow" and "Three Mile Lyle." The former referred to Alzado's mood swings and the latter to his volcanic temper. Alzado was famous for his intense and intimidating style of play, which was most likely due to his admitted steroid and HgH use that he recounted a decade later in an essay for Sports Illustrated.
"I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I'm sick, and I'm scared. 90% of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We're not born to be 300 lbs. or jump 30 feet. But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better. I became very violent on the field and off it. I did things only crazy people do. Once a guy sideswiped my car and I beat the hell out of him. Now look at me. My hair's gone, I wobble when I walk and have to hold on to someone for support, and I have trouble remembering things. My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way."
Alzado died a very ugly and public death after a battle with brain cancer in 1992 at the age of 43.
Unofficially, Lyle amassed 479 tackles and 64.5 sacks, but the NFL did not recognize tackles and sacks as recordable statistics at that time. He even inspired the league to rule against throwing a helmet after having done so himself to an opponent's helmet.
“Heavenly” Haven Moses (1972-1981)
A solid receiver who still holds the franchise record for yards per catch, Haven Moses was originally drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the 1968 draft.
After five years with the Bills, he was traded to the Denver Broncos and the very next season went to the Pro Bowl.
In 10 years with the Broncos, Moses started 127 of 140 games. He had 302 receptions and 5,450 yards, an 18.0 yard average and 44 touchdowns. He also had 13 carries for 47 yards and a touchdown.
From a great piece on Haven Moses by Tim Lynch:
Moses languished in Buffalo trying to catch passes from subpar quarterbacking and things went sour quickly after Bills Head Coach Jack Kemp retired and Lou Saban returned to Buffalo in 1972. The two butted heads and after Moses resisted Saban's insistence on him wearing a two-bar helmet over his usual single bar, the falling out occurred. Moses was traded to the Broncos midway through the 1972 season.
Though he enjoyed catching balls from Charley Johnson, he soon found himself back in the similar situation of having to catch passes from mediocre quarterbacks. That all changed when Craig Morton came to town. Moses would become an integral part of an offense built to manage the game by controlling the ball and holding back on turning it over. The Orange Crush defense would take care of the rest.
Moses would finish his fine career in 1981 and be remembered as a great Broncos pass catcher. Not only that, he was a great role model and an inspiration for young people.
One thing that stands out above others is how often Moses found the end zone. He finished his career with 44 touchdown receptions, which was good for one touchdown per 6.86 catches. That is an incredible ratio, considering that if he had somehow managed 100 catches in a season, he would have had around 14 touchdowns on the season.
Among some of Moses’ team records are:
Tied for 4th in career touchdown catches (44)
Tied for most touchdowns in a game (3)
Second highest average per completion (18.0)
Inducted to the Broncos Ring of Fame in 1988.
Joe Collier (1969-1988)
As the “architect” of the Orange Crush defense, Joe Collier’s legacy has been seeing a revival of late as the Broncos’ defense is once again its greatest strength. As our own Shasta noted, Collier “basically created the modern-day 3-4 defense” the Broncos brought back two years ago under Wade Phillips and “did things they said DCs couldn’t do.”
Collier became a Denver Broncos coach in 1969 and spent 20 years with the team, who reached three Super Bowls with him as defensive coordinator. Collier was the architect of the Broncos' 3–4 defense in the late 1970s, a scheme that was known as the Orange Crush Defense.
Although he preferred to set up the Broncos' defense with four linemen, Collier occasionally organized a 3–4 defense experimentally. After an injury to Lyle Alzado early in the 1976 season, Collier used the system more regularly and improved upon it: author Terry Frei called him "the scientist in the laboratory, coming up with ways to make the defense even better."
1998 - Billy Thompson with a man who certainly belongs on the Broncos Ring of Fame: former D-Coordinator Joe Collier pic.twitter.com/flIX8na0tj— Broncos History (@BroncosHistory) May 10, 2015
Red Miller (1977-1981)
Red Miller will always be known to Broncos fans as the coach who brought the team to national relevance.
Miller died in September from complications following a stroke he suffered while watching his former team beat the Chargers on Monday Night Football, Sept. 11. If there were any more perfect way for a former coach to “go out of this world” I don’t know what it would be.
An excerpt from the New York Times poetically describes what he meant to this franchise:
When Miller took over as head coach for John Ralston in 1977, the Broncos had been perennial National Football League also-rans. The team had only three seasons with winning records and had never made it to the playoffs since its first season, in 1960.Players on the Broncos had soured on Ralston, who they thought was aloof and ineffectual; a dozen players issued a statement after the 1976 season expressing their lack of confidence in him.
Miller’s approach to coaching was decidedly more hands-on. He was bloodied during practice while demonstrating a blocking technique to Claudie Minor, a 280-pound offensive tackle, without wearing a helmet. He joined the rookies Steve Schindler and Rob Lytle in a training-camp rookie “talent show,” in which he banged out ragtime on a piano.Miller did not inherit a mess from Ralston.
The Broncos were coming off their best season to date, with a 9-5 record, and many of the pieces for their first playoff run were already in place, including the core of the 3-4 defense that became known as the Orange Crush.Anchored by All-Pro players like the linebackers Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson, the defensive backs Bill Thompson and Louis Wright, and the lineman Lyle Alzado, the Orange Crush became one of the most feared defenses in the N.F.L. under Miller’s leadership.
One of my favorite Broncos photos from the DP archive is of Red Miller's halftime instructions. I basically live every day by these rules. pic.twitter.com/z8DVB2O0rH— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) May 4, 2017
Al ‘Smoke Dog’ Wilson (1999-2006)
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 a middle linebacker for the Orange and Blue. He was a two-time All-Pro selection and was elected to the Pro Bowl five times.
He was one of the fastest middle linebackers in the league and was very good in pass coverage. He passed the 100-tackle mark three seasons from 2002-2006, including 131 in 2002, 104 in 2004 and 101 in 2006. In 2004, Wilson was AFC Defensive Player of the Week and also led the NFL that year in pick-sixes.
During his time in Denver he was a respected leader for the Denver D and was known to take the entire defense to dinner every week and pick up the check (that could not have been cheap).
Wilson's career did not have a fairy tale ending like he would have hoped, but Broncos fans are hopeful the great linebacker will be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame someday.
The Tennessee native suffered a scary neck injury during a fake field goal attempt on a Sunday night game against the Seattle Seahawks in 2006. Although Wilson was cleared to play the following week, one of the last memories Broncos fans have of Wilson is the horrifying image of him being strapped to a stretcher and taken to the hospital via ambulance.
The following season, the Broncos brought in high-priced free agents Travis Henry and Patrick Ramsey, leaving the franchise strapped for cash. Unfortunately for Wilson, this meant he had played his last snap as a Bronco. Denver attempted to trade Wilson to the New York Giants, but the trade fell through after a failed physical, and the Broncos cut their former leader on defense.
Less than a year later, Wilson retired from the league.
Interesting fact #1: Al is short for Aldra.
Interesting fact #2: He played with Peyton Manning for three years at the University of Tennessee but was able to win the National Championship with UT the year after Manning graduated.
Trevor Pryce (1997-2005)
Trevor Pryce was drafted by the Broncos in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft.
He played nine years at Right Defensive Tackle and Left Defensive End from 1997-2005.
He made his NFL debut on Nov. 2, 1997, versus the Seattle Seahawks, playing eight games and recording 24 tackles and two sacks that season. In his second year with the Broncos, Pryce had 43 tackles and a then-career high 8.5 sacks. The following season Pryce had another career-high in sacks at 13 and also earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Pryce would end up being voted to the Pro Bowl four years in a row, from 1999-2002.
The 2004 season was a frustrating one for Pryce as he only played in two games after surgery on a herniated disc in his lower back. His final year with the Broncos was in 2005 before he signed with the Baltimore Ravens and played there four years before eventually retiring in 2010.
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, 2 interceptions, 9 pass deflections, 6 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries - one for a 28-yard touchdown and one for a safety. He was a member of the Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII championship teams.
Named to the “Denver Broncos 50th Anniversary Team,” Pryce owned many team accolades, including being sixth for multi-sack games (12), fourth for most sacks in a season (13), and sixth for career sacks (64).
Gary Zimmerman (1993-1997)
Gary Zimmerman was drafted by the New York Giants in the first round of the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft but also in the second round by the Los Angeles Express in the 1984 USFL Draft. Zimmerman signed with the Express, where he started 34 of 35 games at Left Tackle. The rights to Zimmerman were acquired by the Minnesota Vikings for two second-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.
The Broncos picked up Zimmerman via trade with Minnesota prior to the last preseason game of the 1993 season, and he played in Denver from 1993-1997. Arriving as the veteran player to an offense that was made up of mostly rookies, Zimmerman would become the leader of the Broncos offensive line. His final season in the NFL was the Broncos’ first Super Bowl-winning season.
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, Zimmerman started all 184 NFL games he played. As a Bronco, Zimmerman started all 76 games including Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII. 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-5 league rushing rankings (1995-97) and leading the NFL in rushing in 1996.
Equally adept at pass blocking, Zimmerman was a big factor in both Minnesota and Denver quarterbacks leading their conferences in passing in 1986, 1988, 1993 and 1996.
The durable lineman played with severe pain in both shoulders in 1996, and his consecutive game streak of 169 came to a halt when late-season surgery on one of his injured shoulders forced him to the sidelines.
Among his accolades, Zimmerman was one of a select few named to two NFL All-Decade Teams (1980s and 1990s). The seven-time Pro Bowler was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. He remains one of only five Broncos to be in the prestigious (but biased!) Hall.
But Zimmerman was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame in 2003 and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
Jason Elam (1993-2007)
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 his field goal in the 2007 season opener to beat the Buffalo Bills was one many will never forget (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 and was inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 2016.
Elam was one of just 30 players in NFL history to score 1,000 career points, converting four field goals in a 38-28 loss at Oakland on Monday Night Football.
“He's definitely going into the (Broncos') Ring of Fame," Bowlen said when Elam retired. "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."
And here’s the best use ever of “Holy Mackerel” by an announcer:
Mile High Salute, Class of 2017!