One of the big topics of discussion in the National Football League right now is free agency — who is coming, and who is going?
In Denver Broncos history, the most successful period is the time from 1996-98. The Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls the latter two years and had a 13-3 record in 1996 before suffering one of the most bitter losses in team history to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs.
Head Coach Mike Shanahan had taken over the reins of the Broncos in 1995, coming to Denver from the "finishing school" that the San Francisco 49ers were at that time.
One of the lessons Shanahan brought with him from San Francisco was the judicious signing of free agents, players who fit what the team was trying to do.
In 1995 the Broncos signed, among others, defensive tackle Mike Lodish, wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and guard Mark Schlereth, all of whom would be key performers when the Broncos won Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII.
In 1996 Shanahan added defensive tackle Jumpy Geathers, kick-return specialist Vaughn Hebron, linebacker Bill Romanowski (who already had gone back-to-back for the 49ers, and who would repeat that with Denver) ... and defensive end Alfred Williams.
This was a heck of a free agent haul, and it added to the mix of future Hall of Famers who were already here in John Elway, Gary Zimmerman and Shannon Sharpe, as well as Shanahan draftee Terrell Davis.
Williams describes that moment in time as it applied to him, but he says many other players felt the same way.
"When I became a free agent after playing one year in San Francisco — which is where I really feel I learned how to be a pro player —I basically used every other team to get back to Denver," Williams says. "I had a fabulous four-year career at the University of Colorado and we won the national championship in 1990, and I absolutely fell in love with Colorado from my first visit to the CU campus. I so badly wanted to come back.
"That was a great time for free agency and the Denver Broncos. It seemed like everyone wanted to come here, and every chance I had to talk to my peers, I did nothing but talk up the Broncos and what we were setting up to do."
Williams is one of the few Broncos ever who is known by just his first name, as in "Alfred said."
And in this case, Alfred said, "The whole time I was in Denver I just knew I was gonna have a great career."
"I still remember my free agency visit to Denver like it was yesterday. I went to lunch with personnel man Jack Elway and defensive line coach George Dyer. We went to C.B. and Potts for lunch and stayed for four hours. Nothing ever felt so good. We laughed, had some drinks, talked and just had the best time. I thought of George Dyer and the Broncos, 'Man, this is where I want to play and I want to play for this guy.'"
He speaks with true emotion that "It was one of the most memorable days of my life.
"Plus, Denver has the greatest fan base in the NFL. I basically used all the other offers from all the other teams to get back to Denver."
With a national championship at CU, membership in the College Football Hall of Fame ("Basically, I think I was inducted there in representation of the entire national championship team, and I am honored by it"), back-to-back Super Bowl titles and a superb local broadcasting career, Alfred Williams is just "Alfred" in our region.
Except he is never "just" Alfred.
"Our Broncos team was totally committed, and that was a huge part of our success," Alfred said. "We who came in as free agents blended perfectly with the guys who were already here, basically with everyone that Mike Shanahan brought in.
"Many of us from those teams still text each other regularly today. We were tight then, and we are tight now. That's when you know, in that locker room, that you have something special."
Aldred adds, "I wish my career had started here, but I am so glad it worked out that through free agency I ended up in Denver, Colorado and that I could help us win back-to-back Super Bowls.