Jason Elam knows the secret code to entrance into the Denver Broncos’ Ring of Honor.
Most people would think Elam’s favorite moment during his 15 years as the Broncos’ steady and clutch placekicker would have been his 63-yard field goal in an Oct. 25, 1998 game that at the time tied Tom Dempsey’s longstanding NFL record. That was sweet but that boot to end the half stretched a 24-10 lead to 27-10.
The Toro! Toro! kick from 42 yards at Buffalo to open the 2007 season turned defeat into stunning victory at the gun.
“Yeah, that would probably be even above the 63,’’ Elam said prior to his Ring of Fame induction Sunday. “Because that was for a win. The 63 yarder was more an individual thing. We were winning at the time and that was just a fun kick. But the Toro! Toro! thing, that was awesome. Just the way the whole thing went down. The season opener, on the road, everything about it was just a fun kick.’’
The Buffalo Bills, behind the rookie debut of running back Marshawn Lynch, had mostly outplayed the Broncos, but were trying to protect a 14-12 lead with 1:08 left when Denver coach Mike Shanahan was forced to take his final timeout with the ball on the visiting side of the 50.
Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler eventually threw an 11-yard completion to Javon Walker with 18 seconds left, moving the ball to the Buffalo 24.
Toro! Toro! was the call from the Broncos’ sideline which meant fire drill. The field goal team had to run onto the field and set up for Elam’s kick while the offensive team sprinted off the field. The clock was ticking.
“The fans were counting it down.’’ Elam said. “They were loud. Ten, 9, 8 … ‘’
What the fans didn’t realize is their countdown helped the Broncos’ field goal team. They knew how much they had to hurry, and how much they didn’t.
“They didn’t think for a second we were going to be able to get that kick off,’’ Elam said.
There was 1 second left when Elam struck the ball. The gun went off as the ball carried beyond the crossbar. Bills fans suddenly went silent. No one seemed to realize the game was finished and the Broncos had just won except for Elam, who ran backwards in celebration, and tight end Nate Jackson, who was blocking along the right side and ran to catch Elam at midfield, lifting him from behind with a bear hug. Mayhem ensued.
It was one of 24 game-winning or game-saving field goals Elam kicked for the Broncos, and one of 395 field goals he made for the team. He added another 15 field goals in the postseason, including a 51-yarder in the Broncos’ 31-24 win against Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII and two field goals against Atlanta in Denver’s 34-19 win in Super Bowl XXXIII.
“He was just money as a kicker,’’ said John Lynch, a Broncos’ safety who was inducted into the team’s Ring of Fame along with Elam and pass-rusher Simon Fletcher. “Throughout my career, I played with some really good kickers. Down in Tampa, Martin Gramattica comes to mind, but it was always exciting. You always watched. I hate to say it but with Jason you took him for granted. You just turn your head and go back about your business – ‘’kickoff team get ready, regardless of where he was kicking from. That’s how much faith we had in him.”
The Broncos’ all-time leading scorer, Elam was an easy choice for Ring of Fame induction.
“I think this is the biggest individual honor (I’ve received),’’ Elam said. “Obviously the Super Bowls were the biggest thing that we were going for, but individually, this is the biggest honor I’ve ever been given. I’m very thankful. I’m very thankful that I had the chance to play 15 years in the NFL for what I consider the best franchise in professional sports.”
Elam’s stay with the Broncos was so long -- from the time he was selected in the third round of the 1994 draft by then head coach Wade Phillips until he became a free agent and signed with Atlanta following the 2007 season – he overlapped his two Ring of Fame classmates, Fletcher, who retired after 1995, and Lynch, who last played in 2007.
“Simon I played with at the beginning of my career and John at the end,’’ Elam said. “Simon a great, great player and great to have on the team because he was a jokester. He was the class clown. And John, he was the team captain, just a wonderful human being.’’