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A Team for the Ages

Posted Sep 15, 2009

After months of fan voting, the Broncos 50th Anniversary Team has been named. Click here to check out the 11 players on offense, 11 on defense and three on special teams, along with the second team.


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Since the beginning of June, fans have been voting on Broncos legends to make up a team full of all-time greats on offense, defense and special teams.

After thousands voted, the 50th Anniversary Team has been selected -- 11 players on offense, 11 on defense and three on special teams. It features a talented and eclectic group ranging from two Super Bowl MVPs to some stars of the 70s to a cornerback who is still making plays for the Broncos today.

The group will be honored during pregame festivities prior to the Oct. 11 Legacy Game, when the New England Patriots come to town.

Without further adieu, here's a look at the squad.

Offense

OFFENSE

This powerful unit is led by two NFL MVPs, John Elway and Terrell Davis, at the quarterback and running back positions. It's no coincidence that the Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII MVPs, respectively, were the top two vote-getters on the 50th Anniversary Team.

Elway, who was named to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1990s, is the only player in NFL history to pass for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 200 yards in the sam season for seven consecutive years. The Pro Football Hall of Famer's 47 fourth-quarter, game-winning or game-saving drives are the best in NFL history. His nine Pro Bowls are just one of many franchise records he holds, including total yards offense, passing attempts, passing completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns.

Davis, a Ring-of-Famer along with Elway, holds the franchise record for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, and ranks third in NFL history with an average of 97.5 yards rushing every time he hit the field. He is one of only five players to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, and rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of his eight playoff game appearances.

At the second running back spot is Floyd Little, one of three Broncos to have their jersey retired. During his career, only O.J. Simpson totaled more rushing yards than "The Franchise," as Little was known. He is second in the team record books in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and all-purpose yards (rushing/receiving/returns). Little is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010.

Next up are the wide receivers, Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey, the starting wideouts for both Super Bowl victories. Smith leads all undrafted players in NFL history in every major career receiving category. He posted 70 or more receptions for nine consecutive seasons, and holds the franchise record for virtually every receiving category -- receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, 1,000-yard seasons and 100-yard games.

Rod Smith
Rod Smith leads all undrafted players in NFL history in every major career receiving category. PHOTO: BRONCOS ARCHIVES 
 

McCaffrey's 46 touchdown catches are third in franchise history. The 1998 Pro Bowler had seven catches for 117 yards combined in Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII, and had five touchdown catches of 40 yards or more in his career to go along with his three 1,000-yard seasons.

At tight end is none other than Shannon Sharpe, who will join the franchise's Ring of Fame at the 2009 home opener against Cleveland. The first-team tight end on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1990s, Sharpe retired as the leader among NFL tight ends in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns and now trails only Tony Gonzalez. He was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2009.

The offensive line has Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman and Matt Lepsis at the tackle positions, Mark Schlereth and Keith Bishop at guard and Tom Nalen at center.

Zimmerman, a Ring of Famer, was named the NFL All-Decade tackle for 1980s and 1990s. The three-time Pro Bowler helped Denver lead the league in total yards twice. Lepsis played in all three 1998-99 playoff games including Super Bowl XXXIII. He allowed less than five sacks in seven seasons and committed less than five penalties in five seasons.

Schlereth, a Pro Bowler in 1998, started in both Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII. He never allowed more than three sacks all six years in Denver, and didn't allow a sack in two seasons. Bishop was a career Bronco and was part of three AFC Championships. He started Super Bowl XXI and Super Bowl XXII and played in Super Bowl XXIV.

Nalen played his entire career with the Broncos, never being called for more than six penalties in a season. The five-time Pro Bowler allowed one sack or less in seven seasons.

Second Team:
QB: Craig Morton - Led team to first postseason and Super Bowl berth.
RB: Otis Armstrong - Led NFL in rushing yards ,yards per attempt and yards per game in his second pro season.
RB: Sammy Winder - Helped lead Broncos to three Super Bowls in 1980s.
WR: Haven Moses - Caught five passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns against Oakland to send Denver to its first Super Bowl.
WR: Lionel Taylor - Led the AFL in receptions five of the first six years of its existence.
T: Ken Lanier - Started 178 consecutive games, including playoffs, starting Super Bowl XXI, XXII and XXIV.
T: Dave Studdard - Started Super Bowl XXI and XXII.
G: Ben Hamilton - Part of record-setting offensive line in 2008, allowing only 12 sacks.
G: Paul Howard - Part of first winning season, first playoff berth and first Super Bowl appearance in Broncos history.
C: Billy Bryan - Snapped to two 50th Anniversary Team quarterbacks -- Morton and Elway.

Defense

DEFENSE

The Orange Crush defense is back -- and then some. The defense is highlighted by two players in the secondary who were among the top five vote-getters on the entire team -- Champ Bailey at cornerback and Steve Atwater at safety.

Bailey, still one of the leaders of the current Broncos squad, has started every game he has played in Denver, and has headed to the Pro Bowl four of his five years as a Bronco. Since he came to Denver, he is second in the league in interceptions, and he's tied for second in the league in the same category since his rookie season. The 11-year cornerback's eight career Pro Bowl selections tie for the second-most by a cornerback in NFL history. He is the only cornerback to head to all eight consecutively.

Atwater was known as one of the league's fiercest hitters during his playing days -- just ask former Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye. The Ring of Famer started every game he played in Denver, earning eight Pro Bowl berths. Started Super Bowl XXIV, XXXII and XXXIII, where he totaled 21 tackles, three passes defensed, one sack and one forced fumble. He was named the Football Digest NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Atwater
Steve Atwater started Super Bowl XXIV, XXXII and XXXIII. PHOTO: BRONCOS ARCHIVES 
 

Joining those two in the secondary are two more Ring of Famers -- Dennis Smith at safety and Louis Wright at cornerback. Smith was a key part of seven playoff teams, five division champions and three Super Bowl teams. The career Bronco went to six Pro Bowls, had five seasons with at least 100 tackles and was named the club's defensive MVP in 1989 and '91. Wright was also a career Bronco, earning five trips to the Pro Bowle. He was part of Broncos squads that earned six playoff berths, four division titles and two Super Bowl appearances. He was voted team defensive MVP in 1982 and '84.

The linebacker corps could be the most dangerous part of the 50th Anniversary defense. All three are Ring of Famers, and all three are career Broncos. Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson and Karl Mecklenburg have 16 Pro Bowls between them.

Gradishar averaged more than 200 tackles per season, finishing his career with the most tackles in franchise history -- 2,049. His 286 tackles in 1978 are still the franchise record. He never missed a game in his entire career, accounted for 33 turnovers and is tied for the franchise record for interceptions by a linebacker with 20.

Jackson has the other share of the lead with his 20 interceptions. He notched eight tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in Super Bowl XII, so it should come as no surprise that he was voted the Broncos defensive MVP three seasons. His 191 games played were the most in franchise history when he retired, and his seven interceptions in 1976 are still the most by linebacker in team history.

Mecklenburg helped the Broncos to seven postseason appearances, five division titles and three Super Bowl berths. He posted 100 tackles in six seasons, and had 11 multiple sack games along with eight seasons of seven sacks or more. His 79 career sacks are second in franchise history.

Closing out the defense is the line. Simon Fletcher and Rich "Tombstone" Jackson are at defensive end and Trevor Pryce and Rubin Carter are the big guys in the middle at defensive tackle.

Fletcher is the franchise sack leader with 97.5. The career Bronco started Super Bowl XXII and XXIV, and holds top three season sack totals in Broncos history, including a franchise high 16 in 1992. His 20 career multi-sack games leads the franchise, and he put together streaks of 10 and eight consecutive games with a sack.

Jackson was the first Bronco to be named All-NFL first-team. He notched 10 or more sacks in three seasons and was a two-time All-AFL player and a two-time Pro Bowler. The Ring of Famer was graded the most efficient tackler by Denver coaches in 1971 -- he made the stop on 97 percent of his opportunities.

Pryce had 64 sacks in his Broncos career. He had 8.5 sacks or more in five seasons, including the third-highest total in franchise history with 13 in 1999. He had 12 multi-sack games in his Broncos career and went to four consecutive Pro Bowls. He was a 16-game starter in five seasons, and started Super Bowl XXXIII.

Carter had a knack for showing up in big games -- he racked up eight tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery in Super Bowl XII, and made six tackles and a sack in the 1977 AFC Championship game. He was a 16-game starter in four seasons, and played at the nose tackle position in the team's 3-4 defense.

Second Team:
DE: Rulon Jones - Super Bowl XXI and XXII starter had three double-digit sack seasons.
DE: Alfred Williams - Pro Bowler and All-NFL selection in 1996, had 13 sacks that season for more than 100 yards lost.
DT: Greg Kragen - 1989 Pro Bowler started Super Bowl XXI, XXII and XXIV.
DT: Paul Smith - Didn't miss a game from 1969-73 and had 10 or more sacks in three seasons.
LB: Al Wilson - Five-time Pro Bowler was voted a team captain from 2001-06.
LB: Bill Romanowski - Two-time Pro Bowler Started every game as a Bronco, including Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII.
LB: D.J. Williams - First rookie in Broncos history to lead team in tackles.
CB: Ray Crockett - Led team in tackles and notched a sack, an interception and two passes defensed in 1997 AFC Championship Game.
CB: Willie Brown - Pro Football Hall of Famer was named the AFL All-Time first-team cornerback. Had nine interceptions in 1964.
S: Steve Foley - Spent entire career with Broncos, and had five or more interceptions five seasons.
S: Goose Gonsoulin - All-time AFL interceptions leader when he retired.

Special Teams

SPECIAL TEAMS

The fourth-highest vote-getter on the entire 50th Anniversary Team steps in at the kicker position -- Jason Elam. The three-time Pro Bowler made more than 85 percent of his field goals in six seasons in Denver. He made every extra point in 22 seasons, and his 371 consecutive extra points made are a franchise and NFL record. His 80.6 percent field goal success rate as a Bronco is a franchise record, and his 99.5 percent extra point success rate is a franchise and NFL record. His 63-yard field goal vs. Jacksonville in 1998 is still tied for the NFL record.

Tom Rouen is the first-team punter -- he played in both Super Bowl XXXII and Super Bowl XXXIII. He booted at least one 60-yard punt in seven seasons, and pinned more than 20 punts inside the 20-yard line in four seasons. He owns the two highest gross averages per punt in a season in franchise history, and his 76-yard punt at Oakland in 1998 is the third-longest in franchise history.

The return man for the team is career Bronco Rick Upchurch. He owns the franchise records for punt returns, punt return yards and punts returned for touchdowns. The four-time Pro Bowler was selected to All-1980s decade team. He had four games with more than 100 punt return yard, and averaged double-digit yards per punt return in seven seasons. His four punt return touchdowns in 1976 are still a franchise record, and just for good measure, he caught John Elway's first NFL pass.

Second Team:
K: Jim Turner - Denver's all-time leading scorer until Elam passed his mark 20 years later. Key part of first postseason appearance in Broncos history.
P: Mike Horan - At least one 60-yard punt in six of seven seasons in Denver.
RET: Billy Thompson - Three-time Pro Bowler. As a rookie, first player in pro football to lead league in punt and kick return average.

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