CANTON, Ohio — Peyton Manning represented the 2015 Broncos as he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Sunday, but it may not be long before a couple of his former teammates join him in the game's most storied fraternity.
Former Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib both have aspirations — and strong cases to boot — to one day slip on a gold jacket of their own. And while both men wanted to keep the focus on Manning on Sunday — "I hope [to get in], but right now, I'm here to enjoy Peyton," Talib said — it's clear their busts could someday join his in Canton.
Ware, who will be eligible for the first time in 2022, was a nine-time Pro Bowler, a four-time first-team All-Pro and a member of the Hall of Fame's second-team All-2000s Team. Ware twice led the league in sacks while with the Cowboys, and he ranks ninth all time in sacks since 1982, when the NFL first began officially recording the stat.
"I have not thought about being elected],” Ware told [DenverBroncos.com on Sunday. "I'm looking at the festivities, I'm soaking everything in. I'm just living in the moment right now. I look at this right here as something that every guy that's played in the NFL, they want this. This is something that I do want, but you've got to wait. You've got to wait your turn. You don't know exactly what the parameters are or who's judging what. At the end of the day, I did put in my resume for it. Hopefully I do get the job."
Ware could face some stiff competition from newly eligible players like Andre Johnson, Steve Smith Sr., Robert Mathis and Devin Hester. Patrick Willis, Reggie Wayne, Tony Boselli, Jared Allen, Torry Holt, Sam Mills, Ronde Barber and LeRoy Butler are among a few of the players who remain eligible who could also have strong cases for the Hall. Whether Ware is elected as first-ballot Hall of Famer is truly the only drama of his candidacy. At some point, Ware should receive the knock on his door from David Baker and earn his gold jacket and bronze bust.
Talib's candidacy may be more interesting to monitor, but he certainly has the credentials to enter Canton when he becomes eligible in 2025. A five-time Pro Bowler and one-time first-team All-Pro, Talib had the knack for the big play that could earn him a spot in the Hall. In four years in Denver, Talib recorded an impressive six pick-sixes as he and the "No-Fly Zone" were dominant against the pass. Talib ranks fourth in NFL history with 10 pick-sixes. Only Rod Woodson, Darren Sharper and Charles Woodson have more, and both Woodsons are already in the Hall of Fame. Ken Houston, Deion Sanders, Aeneas Williams all have nine — and all three players are in the Hall. Several other Hall of Fame defensive backs — including Herb Adderley, Lem Barney, Ty Law, Ed Reed, Bobby Bell and Darrell Green— have fewer interception returns for scores than Talib.
Talib surely has the best chance among the "No-Fly Zone" members to reach Canton, and it would be fitting for the group to be honored by the Hall of Fame.
Of course, both Ware's and Talib's cases for the Hall are improved by their run to a Super Bowl 50 title. And on Sunday in Canton, they had the chance to celebrate that season as many of their former teammates returned to honor Manning. Von Miller, Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward were among the other defensive players from that Super Bowl 50 team in attendance, and Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, C.J. Anderson, Owen Daniels and several other offensive players also made an appearance.
"It was magical, man," Talib said of the season. "It was magical. The ups, the downs, the lefts, the rights — it was magical. The locker room is what I remember most about the whole year. Just how we were in the locker room."
Manning, of course, was a big reason why that Super Bowl season came together.
"That was the reason I came to Denver," Talib said. "I wanted to win, and I was leaving Tom Brady, I wanted to go somewhere I knew I had a chance to win. What better place to go than with Peyton?"
Talib called Manning and Tom Brady the two best quarterbacks he competed against, and Ware had his share of battles against Manning, as well.
"I hated playing against him," Ware said. "I said I'd rather play with him. So when I came to Denver, me knowing that I was probably going to be the captain on defense and he was going to be the captain on offense, I said we had no choice but to win a Super Bowl. When T.J. came, you got 'Stew' … and Chris Harris [Jr.], Von Miller — all of us just playing together — I knew it was going to be something special. Guess what? We won a championship. I get to see my guy put the [gold] jacket on tonight."
Ware said that he and Manning built a brotherhood while rehabbing injuries during the 2015 season and that he wasn't going to miss the opportunity to celebrate Manning on Sunday.
"It's awesome, just an amazing career he had," Ware said. "When you think about a guy that's really 'The Sheriff,' he took care of everybody, did what he needed to do, but also brought a championship to Denver. That's what the main thing is about: winning championships. Now being able to … congratulate him on making the freaking Hall of Fame, that's the best of the best. We knew he was that already, but now it's actually real.
"… It's great for him inviting us out here saying, 'Hey, you were a special part of my career and a special part of my life, and I want you to celebrate that with me.'"
Talib, who had never been to Canton, felt similarly when he received the invite from Manning.
"When I got the text from Peyton, it was like I was getting inducted," Talib said. "Super amount of respect for Peyton. I just wanted to be a part of it."
Perhaps it's fitting that years after Ware and Talib took the same flight to Denver to sign as free agents in 2014, they flew out together to Manning's Hall of Fame ceremony.
As early as next year, Ware's former Broncos teammates could return again to Ohio to celebrate his own enshrinement. A few years later, it could then be Talib's turn. On Sunday, though, both Ware and Talib were more than happy to celebrate their quarterback.