KUSA—In recent years, the Denver Broncos have made a laudable effort to honor several of their forgotten heroes.
The latest was Red Miller, head coach of the famed Orange Crush 1977 team. Miller was deserving because he was the Neil Armstrong of Broncos head coaches in that he led the franchise to their first three of 22 playoff appearances and first of eight Super Bowl appearances.
The timing of his election into the Ring of Fame with the 40th anniversary of the enthralling ’77 season was no coincidence.
Other Broncos from yesteryear who have been inducted into the Ring of Fame in recent years: Rick Upchurch, Simon Fletcher, Dan Reeves and Gene Mingo.
But there are still a few cracks for the six-man Ring of Fame committee to fill – including one of their own. Before getting on to the 9 Broncos who are most deserving for future Ring of Fame elections, it’s important to note cornerback Champ Bailey and head coach Mike Shanahan are not included on this list because they are not eligible until 2019. Nor is quarterback Peyton Manning, who is not eligible until 2021.
With apologies to Randy Gradishar, Louis Wright, Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith, Bailey was the best defensive player in Broncos history -- although Von Miller is now just a step or two behind.
Bailey will be a first-ballot Ring inductee and he should also go into Canton’s Hall of Fame in 2019.
Shanahan is unquestionably the best head coach in Broncos history and he should join Bailey in the Ring class of 2019 – providing the committee is convinced he’s finished as an NFL head coach or executive.
Manning will also become a first-ballot Ringer in 2021, the same year he will fly into Canton. He was only here four years but the Broncos were 13-3, 13-3, 12-4 and 12-4 in that span with two AFC championships, one Lombardi Trophy and all the league’s single-season passing records.
Here are 9 Broncos who I believe should also receive strong consideration for the Ring of Fame, in order:
1.Riley Odoms, tight end, 1972-83
Easily the most underrated Bronco. Former Raider tight end Dave Casper had 378 career receptions for 5,216 yards and was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Former Lions tight end Charlie Sanders had 336 catches for 4,817 yards and had his bust bronzed for Canton in 2007.
Odoms had more catches (396) and yards (5,755) than both Casper and Sanders and he’s not even in the Ring of Fame. And “The Judge” was a ferocious blocking tight end.
2. Ed McCaffrey, receiver, 1995-2003
He’s not just the people’s choice. McCaffrey still ranks fifth among Broncos with 462 catches and 6,200 receiving yards and his 46 touchdown receptions rank fourth. His two Super Bowl rings are also tied for first among players.
Eddie Mac and Rod Smith were also the two best blocking wideouts in Broncos history. See the rushing stats of Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Clinton Portis from 1995-‘03.
3. Steve Foley, cornerback-safety, 1976-86
The franchise leader in interceptions with 44, one more than Goose Gonsoulin, a charter member of the Ring of Fame. The Broncos elected Fletcher last year primarily because he’s been the team’s all-time sack leader for the past 24 years. Foley has been the team’s interception leader for 31 years.
4. Rulon Jones, defensive lineman, 1980-88
For the longest time, I thought Rulon Jones was already in the Ring of Fame. He was the AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1986, otherwise known as the year of The Drive. Unfortunately, a balky knee forced Jones to retire two years later. He left as the team’s all-time leader in sacks.
5. Al Wilson, middle linebacker, 1999-2006
There are but 12 Broncos who earned at least 5 Pro Bowl or AFL All Star berths. From this group, Wilson is the only Ring-eligible player who has not been elected into the Ring of Fame.
6. Joe Collier, defensive coordinator, 1972-88
He was also the team’s defensive backs coach from 1969-71, giving him 20 years with the team. There is no assistant coach in the Ring and as a longtime member of the Ring of Fame selection committee, Collier would never think of bringing himself up as a candidate. He is deserving, though, because he was the ingenious innovator of the Orange Crush defense when he gradually began to shift from a 4-3 to 3-4 defense in 1976. An original AFL coach.
7. Steve Watson, receiver, 1979-87
From Morton to Elway, Watson in the five-year period from 1981-85 produced 5,017 receiving yards, the league’s third-most in that span. Only future Hall of Famers James Lofton (5,804 yards) and Steve Largent (5,242) had more. Watson averaged a remarkable 17.3 yards per catch during his career.
8. Barney Chavous, defensive end, 1973-85; Rubin Carter, nose tackle, 1975-86
If it happens, they should share a banner on the stadium Ring. Almost every other member of the Orange Crush has said Carter and Chavous were the key to their defense. Carter, as one of the most famous nose tackles in NFL history thanks to his Sports Illustrated cover in 1977, held off blockers so Randy Gradishar was free to make tackles. Chavous not only set the edge against the run, he was later credited with 75.0 sacks, third-most in franchise history.
Only five players (John Elway, Jason Elam, Tom Nalen, Tom Jackson, Dennis Smith) had more Broncos’ service time than Chavous’ 13 seasons and Carter was a Bronco for 12 seasons.
9. Keith Bishop, guard, 1980-89
There are only two offensive linemen – Gary Zimmerman and Tom Nalen – among the 32 Ring of Famers. Paul Howard and Ken Lanier, who each played 13 seasons for the Broncos, also deserve consideration. Bishop gets the edge on this list, though, for two reasons. One, he was the team’s first ever blocker named to a Pro Bowl in 1986 and then again in ‘87. And two, he uttered the most famous in-game line in team history when he said, “We got ‘em right where we want ‘em!’’ as the Broncos huddled up for the first time from their own end zone to start The Drive.
Others worthy of eventual Ring of Fame consideration: Otis Armstrong, Bill Romanowski, Trevor Pryce, Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas, Chris Harris Jr.