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High emotion in great Ring of Fame class


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --**Whenever there is a family reunion, emotions run high.

And so it was for the Denver Broncos' Ring of Fame weekend, which featured the attendance of 14 Ring of Famers for all or parts of the weekend events.

The highlight was the inductions of Gene Mingo, Rick Upchurch and Dan Reeves, all meritorious and well deserving of the honor.

Mingo was the first African-American placekicker in National Football League history and had more firsts than I shall list here; besides, you have read them all by now.

One of my favorites is that Mingo is one of just three players in pro football history to have 50-yard (or longer) scores five different ways: rushing (his 82-yard touchdown run from scrimmage is still the team's record), receiving (a 69-yard TD catch), punt return (the winning punt return in the first game in Broncos history), passing (yes, passing—he completed touchdown passes of 50 and 52 yards in a single game), and by field goal (a 53-yard kick).

Consider the magnitude of that. Consider one person doing all five of those.  I think it is very safe to say that record will last as long as football is played.

When you watch the great return men of today, consider that there had to be a first guy with that much speed, quickness, and elusiveness.

Rick Upchurch was that guy.

The first returner ever to have four punt-return touchdowns in one season, the first to have eight in a career, the first to have 3,000 yards in punt returns, and one of very few to ever return two punts for scores in one game (no one has ever had three).

It is an incredible feat to be named to an All-Decade team, and Uppy was named to two, the 1970's (first team) and the 1980's (second team) teams.

And then there is Dan Reeves. Dan is one of the two coaches with whom I have had the longest association in my career, and my feelings for Dan run deep.

Every Bronco fan knows he won a lot of games here (117, counting postseason), and he was the only coach in the AFC to have three Super Bowl teams in the decade of the 1980's, as well as being the only AFC head coach to have back-to-back Super Bowl teams in the 1980's (1986 and 1987, Super Bowls XXI and XXII).

Anytime you can dominate a decade, you have made quite a mark.

In his career as a whole, Dan went to more Super Bowls as a player and coach than anyone else, ever—nine—and Dan Reeves is the only person in pro football history to score 42 touchdowns as a player and win 190 games as a head coach.

Those are the stats, but they do not show the faces of Gene Mingo and his lovely wife Sally, of Rick and Donna Upchurch, and of Dan and Pam Reeves, along with the children and other family members of the three who attended.

When Dan left the Broncos, walked out the door for the last time, we stood in my office door and shared some tears.  I can always tell when Dan is getting emotional—his tight, manly jaw starts to quiver a bit.

I saw that again yesterday when I greeted him and his family after they arrived at the stadium.  As we walked through the tunnel to an interview that Dan was kind enough to do with me for my TV show, and then past the fans holding the American flag in the tunnel—so many shouts of, "Oh, my gosh, it's Dan Reeves!" followed by flag holders extending their hands for a touch, a brush, any kind of contact.

The tough jaw quivered, but he kept moving.

We agreed that in all of life, you can never ask for more than to be loved.  There was a lot of love in the stadium crowd Sunday, from the fans checking out the new pillars in Ring of Fame Plaza -- which, by the way, is the largest, tallest stadium monument in America, patterned after the New York Yankees' Monument Park -- to the buzz throughout, to the great videos presented by Mike Bonner and his tremendous scoreboard team, to the interaction among the players themselves.

I was not only honored to emcee, but to be again close enough to a number of "my guys" to reach out for a moment, and have them reach back, and to just watch them hug handshake each other.

And yes, I had some great personal emotional moments with each of our new inductees.

This is a  great fraternity. The Broncos have had tremendous success, from the foundation set by men like Mingo through the first Super Bowl, with Rick Upchurch an integral member of that team, to Dan's three Super Bowls in the 1980's, all of which are both building blocks and part of the symbol of eternity that ties all of Broncos history to today.

But the glue that ties it all together is love, and it was exchanged once again among fans and Ring of Famers old and new again Sunday.

This is part of what ties us together, a family bond that just cannot be broken and gains strength as more history is made.

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