Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, the Denver Broncos have won 411 games — only the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys. Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers have won more. The Broncos’ six Super Bowl appearances are more than the five of the Niners and Dolphins, and the Broncos’ pair of championship matches Miami’s output.
Go to Canton, the home of the NFL’s Hall of Fame, however, and you’d never guess it — because the Hall’s selection committee seems hell-bent on keeping Broncos out.
Only three players who wore Bronco uniforms for the majority of their career have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame: John Elway (2004), Floyd Little (2010) and Shannon Sharpe (2011).
Gary Zimmerman, inducted in 2008, played less than half his career in Denver (the rest in Minnesota), as did longtime Tampa Bay Buccaneer John Lynch, named one of the 15 finalists by the selection committee on Thursday. If and when Lynch makes it, Broncos fans can claim the pair as their own, but in the end, both men were primarily voted in based on their time with a different franchise.
The other four teams with more wins than the Broncos average 11 inductees — and that’s only counting the players whose careers occurred since the merger. Dallas has 14, Pittsburgh 13, Miami nine and San Francisco eight; the lowest still more than double the Broncos’ total.
Perhaps the good people at the Hall are considering championships the major factor for induction? There’s absolutely no evidence of that. Minnesota (11), Kansas City (nine), St. Louis (nine), Chicago (eight), Buffalo (seven), Green Bay (seven), Tennessee (seven), San Diego (six), and even woebegone Detroit (four) all have more Hall-of-Famers from the 1970s on, despite none of those aforementioned teams having more wins, Super Bowl wins or appearances than Denver during that span.
Go ahead and read that list again. Are any realistic football fans to truly believe that Broncos have accomplished their extraordinary success with nary an all-time great in sight? Or are we to understand that that teams like the Lions and Bills had such luminous talent, but they weren’t able to win like the Broncos because their teammates were uniformly awful?
There’s no way to spin this — the Broncos are being ignored, and it’s hard to believe it’s accidental anymore. On Thursday, Terrell Davis, Steve Atwater and Karl Mecklenburg were all eliminated from consideration as finalists after being teased by the Hall yet again by being named to the semifinal list.
Davis’ omission is particularly galling. Davis is often compared to Bears legend Gale Sayers, another dominant running back whose career was cut short by injury.
That comparison is terrible, however — Davis was clearly better.
In seven seasons with the Broncos, Davis ran for 7,607 yards and 60 touchdowns, plus another 1,140 and 12 touchdowns in the postseason. Davis won the Super Bowl MVP in 1997, and followed it up with the league’s MVP award in 1998.
Sayers also played for seven seasons, rushing for 4,956 yards and 39 touchdowns. While he was also a terrific kick returner, he never played a single postseason down. Sayers was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Of course, Davis never wrote a book that became a popular movie. Sayers wrote “Brian’s Song”, a touching memoir of his time with teammate Brian Piccolo, which released to great fanfare in 1971 and greatly furthered Sayers’ fame thanks to Billy Dee Williams’ performance.
This is not to say that Gale Sayers doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame — he does. Which makes the constant derision of Davis’ career by Hall voters even more insulting.
You’ll hear national media members — and even some local ones — call Colorado a “flyover state”, as if that means it should be ignored. That’s nothing but pejorative laziness, and it’s exactly what the Hall of Fame is acting out of as it continues to ignore the great history of one of its most storied and successful franchises.
A recent poll by Public Policy Polling of North Carolina named the Broncos America’s favorite football team, garnering 14 percent of the vote and holding the Dallas Cowboys in second at 12 percent.
Of course, the Cowboys like to call themselves “America’s Team” anyway. Maybe the Broncos just need more bombastic, egomaniacal, Jerry Jones-styled marketing — because the Hall of Fame still isn’t paying any attention.
Shawn Drotar is in his 20th year as a national sportswriter and editor, and his work has appeared on ESPN, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, Yahoo! Sports and in the USA Today, among others. He’s appeared on television on ESPNEWS and the Altitude Sports Network, and can currently be heard on Denver’s KKFN-FM/104.3 The Fan as a sports-talk radio host.
Follow Shawn on Twitter: @sdrotar
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