DENVER -- **As the 2015 Broncos gathered in their locker room early Sunday evening to await the delivery of their rings, another group of Broncos, already brandishing jewelry of their own, gathered in a nearby room.
They, too, had long awaited this moment.
Steve Atwater, Terrell Davis, Ed McCaffrey, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith and Alfred Williams were dressed for the moment, too. With Super Bowl rings from the 1997 and 1998 seasons already in their possession, they were there to welcome the 2015 edition of the Broncos to their exclusive club.
They would deliver the keys to unlock the gold boxes that awaited each member of the 2015 Broncos -- boxes that included a commemorative game ball, and, of course, 10-karat, white-and-yellow-gold rings festooned with 212 diamonds.
Davis and his teammates waited a long time to welcome others to their club. So long, in fact, that at the time of the Broncos' Super Bowl XXXIII win, Peyton Manning had just finished his rookie season.
"This franchise waited 17 years to win another championship. For those who are counting, that's 888 weeks -- or 6,216 days," Davis said.
"My question is: What the hell were you guys waiting on?"
Maybe they were just waiting on the chance to properly connect with their predecessors.
It was when the 1997 team visited last Nov. 1 that the 2015 edition finally showed its potential. As the contributors to that Super Bowl XXXII triumph basked in their reunion and celebration of Pat Bowlen's induction into the Ring of Fame, the current Broncos -- wearing the blue-on-white uniforms of the late 1990s -- finally displayed their full potential by dismantling the previously undefeated Green Bay Packers, 29-10.
After a 6-0 start featuring five wins closer than the gaps between laces on a football, the Broncos showed what they could be at their best. It was a performance that evoked echoes of 1997.
"They gave us some extra little motivation to definitely get that ring," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said.
Like the 1997 team, the 2015 team fought through adversity. A crushing November loss to Kansas City. Two consecutive December defeats that had fans questioning their worthiness of a championship.
But both teams ended the regular season 12-4 ... and won narrow victories as postseason underdogs en route to a Super Bowl win under a blue California sky.
With the spoils of victory now distributed, just one more connection remains to be established between these Broncos of different eras -- something Davis was happy to remind his successors with nine words near the end of his speech.
"You know what we did? We won another one."
The work toward that goal continues this week.
But as the 2015 Broncos took the final steps toward the elevators that would whisk them away to the party that served as the final celebration of their accomplishment, they treaded upon the words and slogans that defined their title run.
"IRON SHARPENS IRON"
"WE LET OUR PADS TALK. WE TALK WITH OUR HELMETS AND OUR SHOULDER PADS."
"IT'S HARD GETTING HERE. BUT IT TAKES A TEAM. THE TEAM REALLY WANTED IT."
"GRIND IT. WORK. THAT'S HOW YOU GET THE CHAMPIONSHIP."
"WE'VE BEEN THROUGH A LOT THIS YEAR. THIS TEAM HAS BEEN UNSELFISH. TOUGH. RESILIENT."
And then finally ...
"THIS ONE'S FOR PAT!"
Those last four words are inscribed on the rings dispersed Sunday night. Just like the 2015 Broncos, they now belong to the ages, with the rings serving as a symbol of a dream realized and a goal accomplished.
"As a kid, you just dream about winning Super Bowls," running back C.J. Anderson said. "Those 53 guys in that room today -- you can't take that from them. We're world champions for Super Bowl 50, and we're going to enjoy this."
And regardless of what comes next, they can enjoy it forever.
Each Bronco present Sunday night has been on dozens of different teams in his lifetime, since each year's team is its own distinct group. Teammates come and go. But when you win a championship, you are bound forever.
A first look at the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl 50 Championship ring.
The 1997 and 1998 Broncos know that. Now the 2015 Broncos will.
"We had a special bond," Davis told the team. "Now you all in this room -- you have a special bond."
And whatever they do and wherever they go, all they will have to do is put those 5.05 carats of stones on their finger to remind themselves of it -- and how it will last forever.
Perhaps someday, the 2015 Broncos will be able to pay it forward, handing the keys to their successors in orange and blue.
"Hopefully 20 years later -- not even that much later -- I'll be able to come back and do this for whoever else wins a championship," said Harris.
And when that time comes, hopefully no one will have to say, "What took you so long?"