DENVER --Simon Fletcher, Jason Elam and John Lynch have known since May that they would be inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.
But to actually experience it and see their likenesses cast in bronze on steel pillars, to be honored and immortalized in Broncos history ... that is something different. That blows you away.
"You never come into this thing thinking this is even possible," Elam said. "To be mentioned with the guys in the Ring of Fame is a huge honor. I just love being a former Denver Bronco."
"I've seen these here before, but I always thought they were for the guys that got their numbers retired. I didn't understand that this was part of the whole Ring of Fame!" Lynch added. "I learned that in the last couple of weeks from [team vice president] Patrick Smyth, and it's really, really special.
"To know that I'm there, it's really cool."
Each of them got a glimpse back at their younger selves -- a glimpse that will now live through the decades to come as part of Ring of Fame Plaza.
"That is not my face. That is my face 30 years ago," Fletcher said, laughing. "You talk about a reality check, but also gratitude for the time that has passed between then and now.
"The things that have happened in my life, my children growing up and now being a grandfather, and most importantly the same Broncos fans that welcomed and supported me in April of 1985 have done it in everything that I've attempted to do since I've been here, even until this day."
The bronze sculptures capture the essence of each player. Fletcher's focused glare; Elam's friendly smile; Lynch's granite-chiseled chin.
But they know they each represent so much more than themselves; it was teammates, some of whom are in the Ring of Fame, who helped them achieve this magical moment.
"I'm also feeling a great sense of gratitude to the guys that I was fortunate and blessed to play with, because if your DBs aren't covering, if your front three aren't getting pushed, then you never get a quarterback sack," Fletcher said.
"They were talking about Simon Fletcher, John and Jason. But the three of us know there are literally hundreds of guys that had to contribute to our being here this evening."
Elam played the first eight of his 15 Broncos seasons at Mile High Stadium. He hit game-winning field goals at the Broncos' triple-decked old home, and even drilled a then-NFL-record-tying 63-yard kick against Jacksonville in 1998.
But when Elam looked back at those years, the moment he remembered belonged to John Elway and Rod Smith, on their 43-yard touchdown connection as the clock struck triple zeroes against Washington in 1995.
Simon Fletcher, Jason Elam and John Lynch had their pillars unveiled outside Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday night as they joined the Broncos' Ring of Fame. (Photos by Eric Bakke)
"The place went crazy, and that was kind of the start of Rod Smith's whole career," Elam said. "That was just an awesome time."
And Lynch will forever be connected with Champ Bailey, who in the coming years is a virtual certainty to have his name and likeness join the 31 current Ring of Famers -- and those yet to come -- honored in the Plaza.
They arrived together -- and dominated together -- and along with a host of other key teammates -- including Nick Ferguson and Jake Plummer, who Lynch mentioned -- they guided the Broncos to a 13-3 finish that was their best season in the 21st century's first decade.
And, of course, there are the fans. Lynch paid tribute to his grandmother, who lived in Boulder and bled orange and blue, and helped show him the passion Broncos fans possess.
Elam described the fans as "the best in the whole world.
"The best fans, the best organization, the best teammates. I'm a blessed man, to be sure," he said.
All of them remain inspired by the love of Broncos fans, but perhaps none felt them in the way that Fletcher did.
"When I came in, I was a single dad with a 19-month-old daughter. And within a month of being here, she was given -- by strangers, in a new place, a thousand miles from where she was born, and she spent her early years -- so many gifts that when we got a house a year and a half later, we had to have Ashley's toy-and-stuffed-animal room, there were so many," Fletcher recalled.
"And those same fans today support me in whatever I decide to undertake, because they feel like the Broncos are their team, and as a former member, I'm part of their family, and they treat you accordingly."
And those fans can give their thanks to -- and savor their memories of -- Fletcher, Elam, Lynch and the other 28 Ring of Famers, who have new-found company on the Plaza, the ever-expanding home of the greatest Broncos.