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Sacco Sez: Moments and memories of the Hall of Fame


Hall of Fame weekend is upon us, and with it the symbolism of this weekend and game as the start of the NFL season.

Training camps are under way for all 32 teams, but they and their respective fandoms go on pause for a weekend while the season begins in Canton, Ohio.

The Broncos have had a long history with the Hall, and this weekend is the first in which we have three inductees. Of course, that is mainly due to the combining of two classes due to public health in America.

But it is so special to have Steve Atwater recognized for his long career, and joined by John Lynch and the ubiquitous Peyton Manning for the ceremonies in Canton.

National television, the gold jacket ceremony, the legendary busts and really big rings are all part of what the Hall of Fame is about today.

But there was a past before the present.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame opened its doors more than a half century ago.

From its humble beginnings in 1963 to today, the Hall has grown in both size and stature. It is now recognized worldwide as America's premier sports Hall of Fame, and it is doubtful that even the most optimistic of those who led the drive to bring the Hall of Fame to Canton, Ohio could have imagined the successes it would realize.

Broncos Country will have a very visible presence in this year's ceremonies, but they will represent just a part of the over 10 million fans who have visited the Hall.

I remember well that once upon a time the induction ceremonies were done not in the adjacent football stadium but on the steps of the Hall itself. Local kids would ride their bikes to get a glimpse of the ceremony.

This weekend, the Hall ceremonies will reach tens of millions of fans through national television, an in-depth website and social media.

Media local to many of the member franchises will attend, and where once a person would see and recognize everyone in attendance, that is hardly the case now.

Back in the day the charter class of 17 enshrinees was elected in 1963, and with the Class of 2021 there are now 346 members.

Every single person is deserving, and every NFL team and their fan bases would argue that someone is left out.

In time, many of those will join, but sadly, that number will never catch up with the emotions of our great fans.

Can anyone say who the first Bronco to be honored by the Hall was?

That was general manager Fred Gehrke, who received the first Pioneer Award from the Hall in 1972. Fred received that honor for his time as the Los Angeles Rams halfback who devised and executed the idea of logos on helmets. He painted the first horns on the Rams helmets in 1948, and football has not been the same, sartorially speaking, since then.

Broncos fans have watched with pride each time someone with Denver connections was inducted, and in this day of free agency many players belong to many football families.

Steve Atwater played one season with the New York Jets, John Lynch also played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and now is general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, and Peyton Manning had an illustrious career with the Indianapolis Colts before adding more glory to his name with the Broncos.

But once in the Hall, it matters not for whom one played or in what order the individual was selected.

As great defensive end David "Deacon" Jones once said at the Hall, "The Pro Football Hall of Fame is the place where I cannot catch John Elway, and he cannot run away from me. We celebrate the greatness of every single member."

It is an honor to participate in the Hall of Fame, whether as a new inductee, a longtime inductee returning for the weekend, a fan representing his or her team, or a team playing in the annual game that kicks off the NFL season.

The Broncos first played in the Hall of Fame game back on July 24, 1976, posting a 10-7 win over the Detroit Lions before 17,639 at old Fawcett Stadium.

Like everything else connected with the NFL and the Hall of Fame, the times and the game have changed.

I remember us playing in a game at the Hall when there were no locker rooms. The teams dressed in a large gym, with a curtain separating the two teams. If I needed to exchange pregame information with the other public relations director, all I had to do was walk through the curtain.

Things are a bit more sophisticated now, but it is still football.

There are still eleven players to a team, blocking and tackling remain forever in the game, and the greatest of the greats wind up in Canton.

As our great Hall of Fame owner Pat Bowlen said of the Hall, "It is where the greats go to live."

And this weekend, three Broncos join the rich tradition and history celebrated forever by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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