DENVER (AP) — The Denver Broncos will be partying aplenty at this weekend’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies with Peyton Manning, Steve Atwater and John Lynch going in.
Atwater, who starred in the franchise's back-to-back Super Bowl victories in the late '90s, goes into Canton with the Class of 2020 in a ceremony Saturday night that was delayed a year by the pandemic.
On Sunday, it's the Class of 2021's turn, and that includes Manning and Lynch, both of whom capped their careers with fantastic four-year runs in Denver.
“It’s a big weekend for us and we’ll be well-represented for three very worthy Hall of Famers,” team president and CEO Joe Ellis said.
That will make 10 Broncos enshrined in Canton, including late owner Pat Bowlen.
John Elway was the first in 2004, followed by Gary Zimmerman in 2008. Floyd Little in 2010, a year before Shannon Sharpe's enshrinement. Terrell Davis made it in 2017 and Bowlen and Champ Bailey were both inducted in 2019.
Atwater insists there's plenty more Broncos who should be joining them in the Hall of Fame.
“We have a lot of guys that we need to see go in: Randy Gradishar, Karl Mecklenburg, Dennis Smith, Rod Smith," said Atwater. "This franchise has been overlooked for many years. And fortunately we’ve gotten some players in in the last several years, but we have to keep it going because we still are very much underrepresented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Ellis would like to add Mike Shanahan to that list.
“He’s the best coach that this organization has ever had. I would think he has a really good chance of getting in there based on the way the Hall has set up their criteria now," Ellis said. "He deserves to go in.”
Atwater can't believe the famed Orange Crush defense of the 1970s isn't represented: “How could they not have one person in the Hall of Fame? To this day I just cannot understand that. Hopefully in the coming years that will be taken care of.”
Like Little, Atwater waited a long time to get that knock at the door telling him he'd finally made it. He said he didn't mind having to wait 18 months for his big celebration because now he gets to go in the same weekend as his good friend Lynch.
“I know we're two different classes (but) it will be special that we're going in together,” Atwater said.
Lynch joined the Broncos in 2004, the same year Bailey was acquired from Washington and they played together until 2007.
“Those were four great years,” Lynch said. “I'm really thankful that the Broncos were there for me at that stage in my career. I played 11 years in Tampa and the thought of going anywhere else was really hard to digest and they gave me a really nice landing spot.”
Manning knows just how Lynch felt.
“I certainly wanted to play for the Indianapolis Colts my entire career because they were the team that drafted me,” said Manning, who parted with the Colts after missing the 2011 season with a neck injury, becoming the most coveted free agent since Reggie White.
“And Denver just, boy, they just welcomed me with open arms,” Manning said. “They were the only team that understood I think what I was going through emotionally, physically, and I think a lot of that is Elway.
“And they were the only team that said, ‘Hey, Peyton, give us your Indianapolis Colts playbook, we will form this hybrid offense with the plays that we like here in Denver, that we think will help you at this point of your career, we’ll form this mesh of an offense and really give you a chance to get back going again.’ And not every other team was doing that.”
Manning capped his career with a win in Super Bowl 50.
Lynch still laments not winning a ring with the Broncos. The closest he came was in 2005 when Denver lost the AFC championship to Pittsburgh at home.
“My only regret is not having won a championship," Lynch said, "but I gave it everything I had and Denver became and will always be a special place in my heart and that of my family’s, as well.”
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