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Bronco Defenders Still Wait for Hall Calls

The American Football league and National Football League merged into the modern NFL in 1970.

Since the date they entered the NFL the Broncos rank as the only team in history to have never had a non-sellout at home (the Houston Texans are in this class too, but they are an expansion team with just a decade of play under their belts).

In that time the Broncos have been to the Super Bowl six times (only three teams have been to more), are tied for sixth in winning seasons with 24, fifth in overall wins (385), second only to the Steelers in home wins (221) and are sixth in advancing to the conference championship game eight times.

Quite a record.

And it has not been done just on offense.

The Broncos had the Orange Crush defense and the have featured a number of superb defensive players over the years, but in an odd but true twist, Denver has not placed one of its own defensive players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Willie Brown is an ex-Bronco in the Hall, but of course it is acknowledged that the bulk of his work was as an Oakland Raider (although he was an All-AFL cornerback here before being traded).

It is not as if our supporters have not worked on it. Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News has been very supportive of Bronco candidates, and our own local Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post, is diligent and passionate in his hard work and support for Bronco candidates. No one could work harder than Jeff does to promote guys whom he feels are deserving.

So this is not so much a beef as me just suggesting four defenders who merit continued future consideration. There are many others, and some who played here as well as in other cities (John Lynch and Brian Dawkins, who both stand as legitimate candidates as well).

But consider some facts.

Randy Gradishar was a finalist for the Hall in 2003 and 2008 and has been one of the 25 semifinalists for the Classes of 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Gradishar is credited with 2,049 tackles over his 10-year career, in which he made the Pro Bowl seven times and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1978.  He helped the Broncos to four playoff berths and was the leader of the Orange Crush defense that propelled the franchise to its first AFC championship and Super Bowl appearance in 1977.

The book "Total Football—The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League", includes an article on the 250 greatest players of all time, with Gradishar prominent on that list.

Karl Mecklenburg was the 310th player chosen in the 1983 draft but quickly established himself as a defensive force for the Broncos, once lining up at seven different positions in one game at Pittsburgh, recording four sacks and leading Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman to call Meck's composite performance that day one of the greatest he had ever witnessed.

Mecklenburg helped Denver to seven postseason appearances, five division titles and three Super Bowl berths (the 1986, 1987 and 1989 seasons) and finished his career with 1,145 tackles and a then-franchise record 79 quarterback sacks. He is the only player in Broncos history to have two four-sack games in his career.

Mecklenburg had 100 tackles in a season six times, was voted to play in the Pro Bowl six times as well, and was tabbed the 1986 Defensive Player of the Year by the Football News.

Louis Wright was a quite leader in the Orange Crush defensive backfield. One of the first true "big" cornerbacks in pro football, he was regarded by coaches and scouts as one of the absolute premier corners of his era (1975-86), a completely dominant player on his side of the field. Routinely entire games would take place without the other team even attempting a throw to the receiver covered by Wright.

Wright was a five-time Pro Bowl choice and helped lead the Broncos to six playoff appearances and to two Super Bowls—significantly, the two Super Bowls were nine years apart (Super Bowl XII in 1977 and XXI in 1986), with Wright still playing at a high level a decade after the first. He played every game in the season eight times and was a recognized force in Denver's secondary for all of his 163 career starts.

Also in the defensive backfield, Steve Atwater had a brilliant 10-year career at safety that included seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1989-96 and eight total selections to that illustrious team. 

One of the toughest safeties in the NFL during his entire career, Atwater was a pivotal force in the defensive backfield for the Broncos team that became one of just four franchises to win back-to-back world championships.

In Super Bowl XXXII Atwater had one of the greatest games by a safety in championship game history,  He was named Associated Press All-Pro three times during his great career.

Another great Bronco, defensive end Rich Jackson, was on course to Hall of Fame consideration before having his career cut short by injury, which has damaged his chances with the voters in evaluating a full and competitive field.

Indeed, the Broncos who has advanced the farthest in the voting process without selection over the last three years, and who perhaps stands the closest right now is Terrell Davis, another great [player on offense for Denver. A future blog will look at why TD too deserves entry.

Having said all that, the voters have a tough job. Every one of the 32 teams has several players who are felt deserving of Hall induction, and every year the list is pared to a maximum of 15 recent and two vetrerans committee selections.

It is a tough job, and I recognize that. But to fans, the press and the voters themselves, I just say, don't forget about the Denver defenses and the players who have had such strong roles in continued Broncos success.

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