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Sacco Sez: The former Broncos players and coaches with the best cases for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Senior Committee


I had hoped that my column this week would be about Randy Gradishar's selection as a Senior Committee's finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2021, but such is not the case.

In spite of the emotionally crushing disappointment of Randy again being bypassed, there is another election in a year, and a year from then. It can be very difficult to put one's personal feelings in the past and move forward, but move forward we must.

Time marches on.

And there are some new wrinkles to the process, as for the next four years, this being the first, the Senior Committee of the Hall of Fame will provide not only one veteran player, but a coach and a contributor as well.

The Broncos do not have an active candidate in the contributor department, and Gradishar remains far and away our best immediate candidate, but here are four other senior players and two coaches who are our best candidates for selection to the Hall.

Gradishar's stats have been well documented, and he is by far the most-decorated player not in the Hall of Fame. He was the unquestioned leader of the Orange Crush defense, and that magnificent unit is the only such in NFL history not to have a member in the Hall. One can only hope and presume this will happen in the future.

Of the 10 NFL linebackers who recorded at least 20 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries and seven or more Pro Bowls, six were inducted in their first year that they were eligible, and the other three waited no more than four years. Of course, Gradishar is in his fourth decade of waiting. He is the only one not yet in.

But, in my opinion, there are three other players who are now only up for consideration by the Senior Committee who also truly had Hall of Fame careers as Broncos: Karl Mecklenburg, Dennis Smith and Louis Wright.

Most younger fans have probably never seen them play.

Too bad.

Mecklenburg was one of the most outstanding defensive players in franchise history. He played four positions within the front seven for Denver, which both he and the late sportswriter Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman have told me could be a hindrance, in that versatility sometimes masks greatness. He was named to six Pro Bowls, was named an Associated Press first-team All-Pro three times and first-team All-AFC five times by United Press International. The 1986 Football News AFC Player of the Year, Mecklenburg helped Denver to seven playoff berths and three Super Bowl appearances.

Denver was the only AFC team in the decade of the 1980s to make three Super Bowl appearances.

Also on those 1980s Broncos teams was safety Dennis Smith, who had a stellar 14-year career with the Broncos as one of the most feared safeties in the NFL. A ferocious hitter (you really had to watch him play to totally grasp this), Smith was a six-time Pro Bowler, a key part of seven playoff teams and three times received All-NFL honors (1985 AP honorable mention, 1986 Newspaper Enterprise Association first team and AP honorable mention, 1989 AP second team).

Like Mecklenburg, Smith also was a key component of seven playoff teams and three Super Bowl teams.

Like Mecklenburg, Smith also is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Like Mecklenburg, Smith, and Gradishar, neither is Louis Wright.

Louis Wright had a brilliant 12-year career with the Broncos at cornerback, where he routinely took one half of the playing field away from the other team's passing game.

Wright was a five-time Pro Bowl choice who helped the Broncos to six playoff berths, four division titles and two Super Bowl appearances. At the All-Pro level, Wright received first-team accolades in 1978 (AP, Pro Football Writers, NEA, Pro Football Weekly), 1979 (AP, PFW, NEA, PFW), 1983 (NEA) and 1984 (PFW, Sporting News).

Those who watched them know these players are all of Hall of Fame quality, regardless of the votes.

There are two former Broncos coaches worthy of selection as well, one of whom I think is eventually a cinch.

That would be the incomparable Mike Shanahan. HIs record is illustrious and has been recently discussed and written about at length, due to his recent selection into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.

The brilliance of Mike Shanahan's career is legendary. We will be writing a great deal more about Mike in the future and certainly look forward to seeing him on that stage in Canton, Ohio.

But another coach richly deserves strong consideration, and that is Dan Reeves.

He won 110 regular-season games and seven postseason matches as head coach of the Broncos from 1981-92 and followed that with great success for both the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. He took the Broncos to all of that previously mentioned success in the 1980s and also led the Falcons to the Super Bowl.

But most remarkably, he preceded his great coaching success with a playing career that included two Super Bowl appearances with the Dallas Cowboys, before beginning a coaching career in Dallas that brought him to three more appearances in the big game.

Reeves owns the distinction of retiring having participated in more Super Bowls (nine) than any other individual in NFL history, except for Bill Belichick (12) and Tom Brady (also at nine).

He became just the third NFL coach in history to lead two franchises (Denver and Atlanta) to the Super Bowl.

Anyway, there are personal feelings and promises made that enter into this, and eventually the vote is the vote.

But every year there is another vote, and those Bronco candidates are legit. I will hope and pray forever that several of them are honored by induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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