DENVER — As some of the greatest players to ever don Broncos uniforms lined up to be honored as part of the team’s Fantennial Weekend festivities, one among them was uniquely suited to see the significance and scope of the gathering.
Since he was a child, former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has consumed the game like perhaps no one else, from joining his father, former Saints legend Archie Manning, on his Pro Bowl trips, to his insatiable appetite for watching film throughout his playing career.
And after retiring from the NFL in March of 2016, former quarterback Peyton Manning has stayed busy in 2019 with an ESPN series exploring the history of the NFL to celebrate its 100th season.
So as he received a commemorative game ball along with about 40 other members of the Broncos Top 100 Team that was announced this past summer, Manning could understand the greatness that surrounded him and the meaning of the moment.
“I’ve always been a fan of the history of the game, with my dad playing,” Manning said during the event. “So to see [Rich] Jackson and [Rick] Upchurch, [Randy] Gradishar and [Karl] Mecklenburg and all these guys that I used to hear my dad talking about, it means a lot and this is a special evening. Just great tradition and history here with the Denver Broncos going back to the first year in 1960 and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Former Broncos linebacker Al Wilson echoed his words shortly afterward, as he gazed across the dozens of Broncos greats who came before and after him and shared the meaning of this night for him.
“To be a part of such a great event with so many great guys and great football players, that means the world to me,” Wilson said.
On a night when the team also honored the Broncos’ late owner Pat Bowlen for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the night carried a little extra meaning with so many of the players that he loved in attendance.
“It’s always an honor to come back and see those Broncos greats,” Ring of Famer and Pro Football Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman said. “I’ve always said, ‘Mr. Bowlen has built a dynasty here,’ and it’s an honor for me to come back and just be honored with these guys, the greats who are here. It means a lot to me and I think I’ve come every year since I’ve been in [the Ring of Fame].”
The Broncos also honored its other Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019 inductee, Champ Bailey, who was inducted into the Ring of Fame on Friday night. When he was asked what he remembers most about his playing days, Bailey didn't name any of his many interceptions or big wins, but rather something more ephemeral.
“A lot of great plays out there, but I think those moments being out there with my teammates and hearing those fans cheer very loud and yell, ‘Incomplete,’ after every third-down incompletion,” Bailey said. “Those are the moments that I remember.”
As the fans cheered for him once again on Friday night with so many other Broncos greats around him, this moment is sure to stick with him and so many of them for years to come.