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Broncos' Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists savor start of selection weekend

ATLANTA — The Broncos' Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists kicked off selection weekend with one common sentiment: It's an honor to be considered for the game's highest recognition.

"I'm feeling great, like every time," Broncos of Ring Famer John Lynch said at Thursday night's Celebration of Excellence. "I'm becoming a seasoned vet, six years a finalist. But you know every year people say, 'Isn't this grueling?' Yeah, but it's also an unbelievable honor just to be here, and you're in the same group with guys like Champ Bailey — who I played with in Denver — and Steve Atwater and Kevin Mawae and Tony Boselli.

"You pinch yourself, because who would have ever thought that? It would be nice to someday get in. Hopefully it happens this year, but each and every year I do pinch myself to say, 'You know what, you did all right.'"

Lynch is just one of four Broncos who could be elected to the Hall of Fame when the selection committee elects this year's class on Saturday, and he could find himself being chosen alongside the likes of Bailey, Atwater and Owner Pat Bowlen.

Bowlen, who is one of the Contributor Committee's nominees for this year's class, was represented at Thursday's kick-off event by his daughters Brittany Bowlen and Beth Bowlen Wallace.

Both women acknowledged Bowlen's potential election began to feel more concrete as they joined this year's finalists, Hall of Fame president David Baker and current Hall of Famers at the Georgia Freight Depot for the event that marked the start of what could be a transformational weekend.

"It made everything feel a little bit more real," Brittany Bowlen said. "It was really exciting and to see all the other incredible finalists, it was just incredible to hear about their careers, meet their families and know that my father could still be in the same class as them. It was really exciting and truly an honor."

Bowlen Wallace, who called the evening "surreal," said she thinks her father would've spent the weekend honoring those around him even as he stands on the doorstep of the Hall of Fame.

"I think he would be very shy," Bowlen Wallace said. "He did not like a lot of the attention pointed toward him. I have no doubt that he would be giving a lot of credit to the people around him that helped him achieve this honor and get to where he is today as an owner. There were a lot of people that have played a significant role in making him successful as an owner, and I think he would most want to reflect on that.

"It was never about him, but I know our family thinks this moment is truly all about him, and that makes us extremely proud."

But as Brittany mentioned Thursday, Bowlen's election would mean the most to him if he could go into the Hall of Fame alongside a player like Bailey.

"It'd mean everything [to be elected]," Bailey said. "It's a good reflection of what I've done. Obviously I don't vote. I don't have any control over anything going over, but if I'm in, it validates what I did in my career and I'd be extremely proud."

That news, though, will not come until Saturday afternoon when each finalist awaits a knock on the door from Baker.

Before that moment, there will be more opportunities to honor the careers of Bailey, Bowlen, Lynch and Atwater. The Celebration of Excellence, which brought together many of the Broncos' finalists, was just the start.

"I just really want to enjoy the process," Bailey said. "I get to see a lot of guys I played with [and] against and just enjoy the moment. I'm just soaking it up and [letting] the process play out."

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