ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Last week, all four of the Broncos' Hall of Famers and a handful of other Ring of Famers gathered in Denver to help honor Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen.
Bowlen received the Mizel Institute's 2013 Community Enrichment Award last Wednesday, and the former players all talked about the benefits of playing for an owner like Bowlen.
But the players also looked forward to the upcoming season, which to many of them drew a striking number of comparisons to the 1997 season leading up to the team's first Super Bowl championship.
RING OF FAMER TOM NALEN
On the 2013 Broncos:
"I really feel like they're the best team in the NFL. ... I felt like the team has little to no holes, and I felt like with the offseason, the little to no holes they had, they addressed. They've gotten stronger with [WR] Wes Welker and [CB] Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. I don't know how teams are going to pass the ball on them. I don't know if they're going to have time to pass the ball on the defense. I don't know how teams are going to stop their offense. I guess the only question is the team itself. Probably their most difficult opponent right now is the expectations of the fact that they're going to have an easy time of it. I think last season, at the end of the year, they didn't have any challenging games. Then you throw in the bye week and you get a hungry Baltimore team that's coming into Denver and was embarrassed at home and I think that just that combination of things hurt the team. I draw tons of parallels from that '96, '97 team to this team coming up, and hopefully the parallels are correct in the fact that they win the Super Bowl. But there are a lot of lessons to be learned from that season last year and the guys they've added to that team just make them so strong."
On getting over the loss to Jacksonville in the 1996 playoffs:
"It was tough. There were a lot of changes, much like John [Elway] has made this year. [T] Tony Jones came and [FB] Howard Griffith came and [WR] Willie Green came on offense, and [CB] Darrien Gordon came on defense. So there was enough infusion of new players, but you also had enough players that remembered the feeling of that loss. I mean, that loss hung with us—at least me personally—throughout that season. Shannon Sharpe famously said after the Jacksonville loss that it would take the organization five years, 10 years to get over it. Luckily, that didn't happen. I've talked to those players, the guys right now, and they're all saying I'm over it, but you can be over it, but you can also use it as motivation for the season. I think that's where they're headed."
On coming back for offseason workouts before the 1997 season:
"I don't even know if we had OTAs at that point. I think there were minicamps and that stuff, but definitely when you came back for those minicamps, it was serious. We were pretty embarrassed as a team from 1996. So when you came back, you weren't really feeling great about yourself. You were 13-3, had the No. 1 seed and what did it get you? You kind of had to go back to the drawing board and maybe reassess how you worked out in the offseason prior to it, how you approached every game. There were a lot of things that went into it. But when we first came back, I thought guys were excited to come back. I think you can see that here. Guys are excited to come back. Rahim Moore -- who is more excited than Rahim Moore right now? To come back and put everything behind him and get back out on the football field."
HALL OF FAMER GARY ZIMMERMAN
On the possibility of Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway hoisting a Lombardi Trophy and saying, 'This one's for Pat:'
"I think that'd be awesome, and I think there's a very good chance of that. But I think there's a chance for more than one. I think you've got a team right now that if things go right, injuries are always a problem, but I think they're cued up to be a force for the reckoning. I see a lot of similarities to the '96 season. We came back in '97 and won it and the following year they won it. So I see a lot of similarities there, and hopefully they can get two Lombardis. Two or three—make a dynasty."
On the advice he'd give the Broncos coming back from a heartbreaking playoff loss:
"I don't think I can tell them, because I think every player there feels it. I think they feel the great disappointment. I think they understand that they were so close and they let it get away. I know when the same thing happened to us, the following year it was like we were going to do every little meticulous detail. I think everybody on this team will do the same thing, because they had a taste of it last year. They were expected to be there and all that stuff and it was snatched out of their jaws. So I think they're going to come back a lot more hungry this year. I think John (Elway), having been through the same situation, will help along with that."
"I think they'll be really poised for some adversity this year. If adversity hits them, it won't be anything compared to what happened last year. So I think this will be a positive in the long-run for them."
HALL OF FAMER SHANNON SHARPE
On how badly Bowlen wants another Super Bowl trophy:
"I wish T.D. (Terrell Davis), me and my knee could hold up. Maybe we could help the cause (laughing). He wants it really bad. I think he deserves it. Going into the fourth quarter with three minutes left in the ball game [against Baltimore], it'd be hard-pressed for someone to tell me they weren't well on their way to getting that. But sometimes things happen. I think Peyton (Manning) will be better this year—if he can be better than he was last year. I think as a team they'll be better because the expectations of what they expect of each other."
EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF FOOTBALL OPERATIONS AND HALL OF FAMER JOHN ELWAY
On saying 'This one's for Pat' after the Broncos win the Super Bowl:
"That's my goal. That's our goal as an organization. That's what Pat wants. So we're going to do everything we can to get that done. That would be a special moment, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. The OTAs have been great so far this week, but we know we have a lot of work ahead of us."