After Thursday night’s game against Arizona, the 50th season of Broncos football is upon us. I’ll preview this season next week before the Broncos open up in Cincinnati.
But I would like to encourage you to vote for your all-time Denver Broncos team. You can do so through tomorrow (Friday, September 4) at www.DenverBroncos.com/50th and I guarantee you’ll have a lot of fun.
Be aware, however, that you’ll be forced to make some tough choices! There have been some great, great players over the decades.
Here is the team I voted for:
QUARTERBACK – JOHN ELWAY
No doubt here. He is the greatest Bronco of all-time. His talent, accomplishments and longevity speak for themselves.
RUNNING BACK – TERRELL DAVIS and FLOYD LITTLE
I know his career was short, but Davis had an incredible impact. With T.D. rushing the ball, the Broncos’ offense went to the next level. He is the Broncos’ all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns and he averaged a staggering 97.5 yards per game, third in NFL history.
Long-overlooked by the NFL Hall of Fame, Little rightfully took a huge step towards enshrinement recently. Until Davis came along, Little was the standard of excellence for Broncos’ running backs and is without a doubt one of the greatest Broncos of all-time. He only trails Davis in career rushing yards and holds the franchise record for all-purpose yards.
WIDE RECEIVER – ROD SMITH and LIONEL TAYLOR
For a guy that many thought would never make it in the NFL, Rod had an amazing career. He holds most of the Broncos major receiving records. But beyond the numbers, Rod loved being a Denver Bronco. He is orange and blue through and through. He cared about the organization, his teammates and community. He is one of a kind.
It was close with Ed McCaffrey but I give the nod to Taylor, one of the pioneers in the days when the Broncos were just getting started. Third in Broncos history with 543 catches, Taylor added 44 touchdown receptions. It is easy to overlook the guys who played a while ago, but Taylor gets my vote.
TIGHT END – SHANNON SHARPE
Amazingly, Shannon is second in franchise history in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. He was a difference-maker and forced teams to pay extra attention to the tight end position.
CENTER – TOM NALEN
Excellence and toughness over time. He was also a career Bronco who spent 15 years in the trenches.
GUARD – MARK SCHLERETH and KEITH BISHOP
It is hard to ignore a guy like Schlereth, who was a huge part of the Broncos’ dominating rushing attack. He was disciplined and devastating in the run and pass games. Bishop was a career Bronco who played throughout the decade of the 1980’s.
TACKLE – GARY ZIMMERMAN and KEN LANIER
The soft-spoken Zimmerman let his play do the talking and he anchored the left side of the line during the best years the franchise has ever had. Lanier earned the nickname “The Rock on the Right Side” and started three Super Bowls while playing 13 seasons with the Broncos.
DEFENSIVE END – SIMON FLETCHER and BARNEY CHAVOUS
Sacks aren’t everything but they are important. These two guys happen to be two of the Broncos’ all-time leaders in this category (Fletcher first with 97.5, Chavous third with 75). Fletcher seemed to be everywhere. He played eleven seasons and appeared in two Super Bowls.
Chavous was a big part of the Orange Crush and helped lead the Broncos into the elite of the AFC.With both of these guys, excellence over time was a big reason they received my votes.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE – RUBIN CARTER and PAUL SMITH
It’s not a glamorous position but these guys flat-out got the job done. Carter started 151 of the 166 games he played for the Broncos. Smith racked up 55.5 sacks from 1968-78. Greg Kragen deserves honorable mention at this position, but Carter and Smith get the nod.
LINEBACKER – RANDY GRADISHAR, TOM JACKSON and KARL MECKLENBERG
Somehow I tried to find a spot for Al Wilson but we are limited to three linebackers. Gradishar, Jackson and Mecklenberg were all tough, all appeared in the Super Bowl and all went to the Pro Bowl multiple times. They are, in short, players who left a tremendous impression at their position.
CORNERBACK – LOUIS WRIGHT and CHAMP BAILEY
These are two guys you could leave alone on the other team’s best receiver, knowing your defense would be just fine. And they were dependable. Wright started 163 of the 166 games in which he played and Bailey has started all 70.
SAFETY – STEVE ATWATER and BILLY THOMPSON
This was the toughest position to pick. How in the world could Dennis Smith not be on my 50th anniversary all-time Broncos team? Well, he happened to play the same position as Atwater and Thompson. Atwater was always around the ball and was one of the most feared hitters in the NFL.
Thompson was incredible, piling up 40 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries while starting every game he played in except one over a 13-year Bronco career. Probably the reason that gave Thompson my vote is his continuing role in the Broncos organization. Hey, something had to break the tie.
KICKER – JASON ELAM
One of the great players and great guys who have ever played for the Broncos. Time and time again, he was Mr. Clutch for the Broncos.
PUNTER – TOM ROUEN
This was another tough one and Mike Horan was really close. But the edge goes to Rouen.
KICK RETURNER – RICK UPCHURCH
He is still the Broncos’ gold standard at this position. Others have been good; no one has been Upchurch.