A Hall of Fame induction bathed in orange and blue

CANTON, Ohio -- The 57th induction ceremony for the Pro Football Hall of Fame belonged to the Denver Broncos.

Owner Pat Bowlen and cornerback Champ Bailey were not the first to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on the basis of their accomplishments as Broncos; John Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe and Terrell Davis preceded them. When Elway was inducted in 2004, he spoke last and brought down the house with a Mile High Salute as he concluded his remarks.

But never had Broncos Country owned a day at the Hall like this.

"I have to start by thanking God for Broncos Country," Bailey said as he opened his speech, looking out to a double-decked grandstand that was an ocean of colors dominated by orange and blue.

Broncos fans arrived from far and wide, from California to Florida and a slew of points in between. Every reference to the Broncos from the introduction of past inductees to a brief aside was met with a roar worthy of a game-winning touchdown in Denver.

Bailey -- who had to pause his speech on multiple occasions to let the fans roar -- knows this better than almost anyone. 

"Every single home game I could feel your energy -- even in San Diego, a road game, you would make it feel like a home game," he said during his 30-minute, four-second speech. "It was so infectious.

"I cannot overstate how grateful I am to be a part of the Broncos family. I will always consider Denver my home."

Bowlen is a major reason why he can say that. The short video that presented Bowlen, which included his children and Director of Sports Medicine Steve Antonopulos, offered a succinct summary of how and why Bowlen's team was such a special place for so long.

"Football first, business second," Antonopulos said of Bowlen assuming ownership in 1984, "and he provided the stability that our organization needed at that time."

The presentation was not merely a commemoration of Bowlen's career. It was a celebration of all the franchise has accomplished over the last 35 years: three Super Bowl wins, four more appearances and 18 playoff appearances in total.

It also noted how the defeats led to the ultimate success.

"The third Super Bowl was incredibly devastating for my dad," Beth Bowlen Wallace said. "But it's probably the most profound lesson I have learned from my dad through my lifetime, is that the losses and the challenges and the failures in life made him into the owner that he is."

The losses helped make the Broncos into the organization they became under Bowlen's watch. Failure on the brightest stage eventually became back-to-back world championships, in no small part because of Bowlen's leadership traits. Those proved to be infectious.

"Once I began to learn about Mr. Bowlen and the Denver Broncos, I was sold," Bailey said. "There were a few things I learned to appreciate from a good leader. They lead by example, they're accountable, they're competitive and they know how to win. That's what I learned, and loved about Mr. B."

It didn't stop with Bowlen and Bailey.

Former Cowboys personnel executive Gil Brandt, who used computers the size of coffee shops to revolutionize the scouting process, name-dropped the Broncos' winningest coach, Mike Shanahan.

Cornerback Ty Law, whose Broncos stint lasted just seven games in the second half of the 2009 season, took time to thank the Broncos, then-coach Josh McDaniels and Bowlen for giving him one last shot to play.

Even center Kevin Mawae name-dropped Elway -- eliciting another round of cheers from Broncos fans -- since it was the Elway-led 1998 Broncos that blocked Mawae's Jets from making what would have been their only Super Bowl appearance since man walked on the moon.

Orange and blue was inescapable Saturday, from the inductees to the speeches to the colors of the dusk sky as six of Bowlen's children unveiled his Hall of Fame bust.

For a franchise that has accomplished so much but for so long lacked its deserved commemoration in Canton, it was about time.

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