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A Broncos Country enshrinement at the Hall of Fame

The Class of 2019 was a special one for Denver Broncos fans - one of the greatest owners in sports and one of the greatest cornerbacks ever to play the game were enshrined on the same day.

Walking into Tom Benson Field at the Hall of Fame on Saturday night, the field had been covered, chairs laid out, and the stage constructed and dressed for football’s grandest event.

On stage were the eight busts of the class of 2019 carefully shrouded with covers bearing the name of the man whose bust they hid from view.

It was enshrinement night at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Mile High Report was there.

As a regular listener of Gil Brandt’s radio show, it was something to see the man in person and something more altogether to see his video presentation to the Hall.

It was his use of computers and standardized metrics, psychological and otherwise, that laid the foundation for the NFL Combine as we know it today. It was his keen eye for talent that elevated the Dallas Cowboys from the winless expansion team into championship contender for decades. Unfortunately, some of that success came in Super Bowl XII, and there was plenty of video from that game showing the Denver Broncos getting brutalized by players Brandt selected.

On a night when football celebrates its heroes, you have to suspend the division rivalry and look at the honoree himself. While that may be tough or impossible for some players, it was easy with Johnny Robinson from the Chiefs. I could go into his many accomplishments like snagging interceptions with broken ribs or winning Super Bowl IV, but what makes Johnny something special is the home for boys that he founded in Monroe, Louisiana, in 1980. His video speech was a crisp and concise acknowledgement of his Hall of Fame honor. Considering the length of some of the speeches that would follow Robinson, this acceptance was refreshing.

Kevin Mawae’s speech was centered around faith and love for his parents. Broncos fans should have taken a keen interest in Mawae’s acknowledgement of Broncos offensive line coach Mike Munchak in helping him become the Hall of Fame player he is. Mawae also talked about never going to a Super Bowl, but coming close with the Jets only to be turned away by another Hall-of-Famer.

Then it was the first of two moments Broncos Country had waited for a long time.

There is no cheering in the press box, but what about tears of joy?

Pat Bowlen’s induction was deftly executed. The video that preceded his bust’s unveiling painted a warm, competitive, and heartfelt picture of the man Broncos Country came to love during his Broncos stewardship.

However, it was the quick cuts of Greek and the Bowlen children declaring ‘it was for Pat’ that gave me the most difficulty in holding back my joy. The Hall may have gotten this one late, but they sure as heck didn’t get it wrong.

For better and mostly worse, the last two decades in the NFL have been dominated by the New England Patriots. So it was no surprise that when it was time for Ty Law’s enshrinement, it became yet another opportunity to sing the praises of the team that plays in Foxborough.

Law’s speech was emotional and sweet, especially so when he explained that the two empty seats near his wife were for his grandparents who had passed away. What I did not know, or what I had forgotten, was that in Ty Law’s final game, he notched an interception playing for the Denver Broncos.

However that elation quickly gave way to the reminder that he was there because of Josh McDaniels.

Don’t get me wrong. Patriots fans have as much right as anyone to celebrate their greats on Hall of Fame enshrinement night, but they don’t have the right to embellish the truth.

Then there was Ed Reed’s speech.

His love for Baltimore, friends, and family was evident in his long, impassioned, and sometimes rambling speech the went on well over a half hour. It was when he started thanking the most random of people in his life, especially his barber, that I began to believe his claim that he wrote his speech on-stage while waiting his turn for enshrinement.

However, as a Hall-of-Famer, it’s his time to do whatever he wants, and he did just that.

If you don’t like it, make your Hall of Fame speech shorter when you get inducted, I suppose.

When Champ came out on stage, I instantly thought of Rod Smith’s retirement where he used shades to obscure the emotions welling behind them. Then he took them off and thanked God for Broncos Country.

What a wonderful turn of events where, as Broncos fans, we spent so many years giving thanks for having Champ Bailey.

His love for his family and friends were clear. Broncos Country got to know Boss Bailey during the six games he spent playing with his brother back in 2008. What may have been forgotten was that they are just 16 months apart in age. What may have not been known was the driving competitive force between the two of them, Champ wanting to best his ‘baby brother’ at all things. Boss may not have been an all-time Denver Bronco, but he clearly played a major role in the creation of one.

My heart went out to Champ many times during his speech as his voice quivered, bent by the emotion of the moment. Talking about his father and his brothers was difficult, but he, like in football, persevered. His love for his friends was also apparent. I want to know Peanut, Cheese, and Tater-Head. You don’t get nicknames like that unless you’re special.

Champ’s appreciation of Pat Bowlen, Broncos players past and present, staff and the fans demonstrate his love for the Broncos organization and how things are run. As someone who regularly traveled to San Diego for Broncos games, I took special joy in Champ’s acknowledgement in his speech.

However, what struck me most about Champ’s speech and deserves most attention was his plea for black men to be heard. Although the lights of enshrinement have been doused, it’s incumbent on us listen to Champ’s message. MHR’s Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann already dove into Champs words on this subject, so I won’t go too much into it. What Champ said is incredibly important and needs to be repeated until it’s heard.

“When we tell you about out fears, please listen. When we tell you we are afraid for our kids, please listen... Please do not get caught up in how the message is delivered.”

Ever since Tony Gonzalez left the Kansas City Chiefs, he’s grown on me. I was disappointed that the crowd had thinned so much by the time he took the lectern. Gonzalez is a man who reveres the game and his shout-out to Shannon Sharpe, the tight end he usurped in most stat categories, should make Broncos fans proud.

I found his school bully story inspiring, but not nearly as much as his 101-year-old grandmother who made the trip to see him enshrined. Broncos Country may not be able to look past Gonzalez’s Chiefs history, but there is one thing we must never forget.

...and just like that it was over. What seemed like forever in the making when the enshrinees were announced, was suddenly over.

These football greats are no longer on their way to football greatness, they are now officially great.

However, let’s not delude ourselves, we knew they were great all along.