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Sacco Sez: The Centennial Class

Amid the euphoria surrounding last week's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction is much talk about next year's Hall of Fame class.

It is officially known as the Centennial Class, but there is much confusion about what it is and how it is going to work.

Allow me to explain what it is, why it is, how it is going to work, and what I most desire personally for next year's class.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is going to increase the number of seniors, contributors, and coaches candidates as a special Centennial Class to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the formation of the National Football League, which is Sept. 17, 2020.

This group will include five modern-era players (as per normal), 10 seniors (a player who has been retired for more than 25 seasons), three contributors (an individual other than a player or a coach), and two coaches.

The Hall of Fame will suspend the current selection committee format for the Class of 2020 only.

Contrary to what many believe, this group will not be announced next month.

What will happen in September is that the large "modern-era" list will be announced, later reduced (in November), and ultimately voted on the day before Super Bowl LIV. This part of the process will run as it normally does.

The determination of the seniors, contributors, and coaches finalists will run parallel to the modern-era player selection process.

The Hall will assemble a special 25-persdon Centennial "Blue Ribbon" panel who will review the backlog of that older group. The panel has not yet been chosen, but will include current selectors, Pro Football Hall of Famers, media members, football historians and industry experts.

Because the panel members include many who have not been involved in the process in the past, that means all bets are off regarding older players who we thought to be "in the lead."

For the Denver Broncos specifically, the top three eligible seniors are Randy Gradishar, Karl Mecklenburg and Louis Wright.

It has been widely felt that Randy has truly been on the cusp of election for several years, but when you add people to the process of consideration, you also add opinions as to who should be considered.

A tentative timeline fort the election process by the Blue Ribbon panel includes the compilation of a comprehensive list of nominated seniors by no later than September.

A reduction vote by the panel to 20 seniors, 10 contributors and eight coaches will be announced in the fall.

The special panel then will meet in person to vote.

The final slate of 15 will be voted on as one singular unit by the Hall selection committee when that group meets on Selection Saturday, the day before the Super Bowl.

The slate will still need to receive a minimum positive vote of 80 percent to earn election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In other words, if one makes the final 15, he is in. It has to be voted on, but the odds of this entire Centennial Class of 15 being rejected by voters is extraordinarily low.

There will be two formal enshrinement dates in 2020, the annual one in August and likely a second to coincide with a week of celebration to celebrate the NFL's 100 years around Sept. 17.

It will be determined after all the elections as to which individuals are inducted on which date.

My fondest hope, and one which I know I share with all of Broncos Country, is that we get someone in this Centennial Class.

Of course, I love all our players, so anyone who makes it will make me very happy, and there is no question that Randy, Meck and Louie are our top three candidates.

The field will be flooded with names, and that only makes it more difficult for every one.

There is no sure thing here.

Several selectors have suggested to me that Randy has been the topic of discussion in previous meetings. But those meetings are history now.

I can only hope.

Each of the three is in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame and is an all-time great.

I do know that there are 44 players all-time who have played nine or more years and made the Pro Bowl more than 70 percent of the time during their career.

Forty-three of those players have been inducted in the Hall of Fame, and the 44th is Steve Atwater, who is of course still a "modern-era" candidate.

The next guy on the list, with seven Pro Bowls in 10 seasons, is Randy Gradishar, who among our candidates has waited the longest and is undoubtedly most symbolic of the fabled "Orange Crush" defense of Denver lore.

He is the only member of the veterans group who was named to seven Pro Bowls and named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The only one, no matter how many names get tossed out there.

Joe Sanchez, who was the Broncos beat man and covered the NFL for over 20 years for The Denver Post, has often said, "Randy Gradishar was the best short yardage run stopper in the history of the NFL."

Mecklenburg, Wright and Gradishar are absolutes as to their credentials, but a lot of guys have great credentials.

The Broncos, who have made eight Super Bowl appearances and are one of just nine franchises to have three or more Super Bowl wins, never had a defensive player inducted until Champ Bailey this year.

Besides Champ, nada.

Willie Brown, of course, played for the Broncos but had his Super Bowl success with Oakland.

That is a lot of oversight, considering the popularization of 3-4 by the Orange Crush defenses of the 1970s and Denver being the only AFC team to make three Super Bowls in the 1980s.

Seven members of that Orange Crush defense made the Pro Bowl at one time or another, led of course by Gradishar's seven trips.

It is far and away time to correct that oversight by selecting a past Bronco defender to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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