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Sundays with Sacco: How the Hall of Fame should expand

This past week has been one of celebration in Broncos Country as the Denver Broncos added three new members to the team Ring of Fame. Kicker Jason Elam, linebacker/defensive end Simon Fletcher and safety John Lynch bring the membership in the Ring to 31.

Fellow AFC West members Kansas City and San Diego each have far more members in their team halls of fame (each team often calls their own by a unique name) than the Broncos, even though each of those noble franchises has just one Super Bowl appearance compared to the Broncos' eight.

And that brings up a bit of a sore point.

The Denver Broncos have four members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who played all of or the most significant parts of their careers in Denver: John Elway, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharper and Gary Zimmerman.

Of course, Willie Brown and Tony Dorsett also were Broncos, but we all recognize that they achieved most of their Hall credentials in Oakland and Dallas, respectively.

That there are so few Broncos in the Hall of Fame has always been a real sore point with Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen. I cannot count the times he has talked about Denver having unfair representation in the Hall of Fame, and many voting members have stated their agreement in print.

The Broncos are the only team with eight Super Bowl appearances that does not have a single defensive player in the Hall.

As I sat around before and after the Ring of Fame committee meeting, I chatted with my colleague Andrew Mason, who does such superb work, all of it appearing elsewhere on this site. Andrew has a depth of knowledge about pro football more often found in someone a generation or even two older, and he has a great idea about the Hall.

The Broncos' Ring of Fame honors those who have most impacted the franchise. Here are photos of all 34 members, arranged in order of their selection from when the Ring of Fame was created in 1984.

This is absolutely not a shot at the individual voters. They work hard at their jobs and take the vote very seriously. Our representative is Jeff Legwold of ESPN, and he is a career football writer who has never had a job that did not involve covering an NFL team. He makes great presentations of behalf of Broncos players and is nationally respected.

But I would like to see the Hall present the voters with Mason's idea, as a criterion, which would be to honor the very creation of the Hall, which inducted its inaugural class of 17 in 1963, By a once-a-decade class of 17.

Seventeen in the original class, seventeen once a decade. Why not?

The Hall of Fame currently has 295 members, including players, coaches and contributors such as owners and more recently, personnel people.

Pro football is coming up on the celebration of its first 100 years, and about 27,000 have played the game at the professional levle. The Hall is meant to be very exclusive, of course, but I believe both the football and baseball halls of fame should be more inclusive of greatness. I would say, it has "just" 295.

So why not a class of 17 once a decade?

Several years ago, baseball recognized that it had not done enough to recognize African-Americans who played in the Negro Leagues, and they added over 20 in one year, rather than parceling out these inductions gradually.

Baseball, which has been in existence professionally since about 1869, has 310 members in the Hall of Fame. That sport is much more restrictive that football, and its criteria for induction is, in my opinion, archaic. I would say, "just" 310.

The College Football Hall of Fame had a membership of 977 player and 211 coach inductees, representing 305 colleges and universities, 24 schools boasting 13 or more members. So there are 1,188 overall members in the college Hall, which annually inducts a group numbering in the teens.

There have been 1,963 Americans elected to the United States Senate since our system of government was founded, and there are believed to be (no one knows exactly) as many as 10,000 saints in the Catholic Church.

[A very interesting side note is that senators are voted on, as we all know, but for the first thousand years of the Catholic church saints were largely chosen by popular demand, which is why the total number is somewhat uncertain.]

There is an element of "popular demand" that still has value in pro sports today.

If a player looks to much of those coaches, players and fans in his game like a hall of famer, who is to say that he is not?

Are we concerned about saving bronze?

Speaking just of the Broncos, and just of defense, the "Orange Crush" (then and now) has had a strong presence on eight Super Bowl participants -- Randy Gradishar, Louis Wright, Steve Atwater and Karl Mecklenburg all have been Hall finalists. So has John Lynch, who of course also played for Tampa Bay before signing with the Broncos in this current age of free agency when many players play for multiple teams.

But none of them have been inducted.

Wright and Gradishar are currently being studied by the Hall's exceptional veteran's committee, and I have high hopes that one can crack the barrier.

Again, this is not about the voters. They can only vote for as many as they are told they can. But why not a class of 17?

The NFL's 100-year anniversary is 2019.

Why not celebrate it with a Hall of Fame class of 17 in 2019, and once every decade moving forward? There is really no such thing as giving honor to too many people.

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