Top 10: The Greatest Denver Broncos of All Time
"History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days." --Winston Churchill
Being one of the most successful franchises in the NFL over the past few decades, I thought it appropriate to take a closer look at the glory days (1990s) and some of the best players in Denver Broncos history.
I feel that most of the Broncos on this list come from the same era—that 1990s run. I wish I could have sprinkled in a few more oldies, however, in my opinion, most of the Broncos' best played for the team in the 1990s.
So, let us take a look back at the top ten Broncos of all time, and try to find strength in the fact that - we - at least used to be good.
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
(In no particular order...)
Mark Schlereth—Number 69 was a powerful bodyguard for John Elway when they won their two Super Bowls. Interesting fact about him is that he would piss himself on the field if he had to go. "I'm already miserable, my knees hurt, my back hurts, I'm not gonna hold it in." (Very slightly paraphrased)
John Lynch—Hard to put him on the list because of his limited time in Denver. Plus he will always be remembered as more of a Tampa guy. Nevertheless a blast to watch and a huge momentum changer at the safety position. Personally, one of my favorite Broncos of all time.
Tom Jackson—Played 191 games for the Denver Broncos. Member of the famed "Orange Crush Defense". What a player...
Louis Wright—A member of the 1970s All-Decade Team, this cornerback was the definition of a shutdown cornerback. Played for the Broncos for 11 years and while a great cover man, Wright was known for his punishing hits on the edge.
Karl Mecklenburg—Amassed 79.5 sacks in his career. A great Bronco from the under appreciated 1980s Denver squad. Also played in six Pro-Bowls... Not bad for a 12th round pick out of Minnesota.
Ryan Clady—Only his second year in the NFL but he is one of the best left tackles in the league and I project that he will be one of the all time great Broncos if he is not traded.
Bill Romanowski—A great linebacker for the Broncos when they won their two straight Super Bowls. He did have some character issues though.
Elvis Dumervil—An up-and-coming sack artist for the Broncos. Has always been talented, but since being moved to his more natural position of outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, he has exploded onto the scene with 17 sacks in a single season. May be a stretch to make this list just yet, but the future for this Hound Dog looks bright.
Rick Upchurch—A reciever and more notably, a return-specialist for the Broncos. Recorded eight punt returns for touchdowns and is a member of both the 1970s and 1980s All-Decade Teams.
Howard Griffith—A fullback who came to Denver in 1997 when they were on the cusp of a Super Bowl season, and he helped push them over the top with the huge holes he made for Terrell Davis.
Neil Smith—A phenomenal defensive end, won two Super Bowls with Denver, but the bulk of his career was played at Kansas City. Wouldn't be right to put him in the top 10.
Dan Reeves—Sure, he was never able to get it done when it mattered most as the Broncos head coach. And him and Elway didn't have the best relationship. However, without Dan Reeves, perhaps Elway never comes to Denver in 1983.
Ed McCaffrey—Think Fred Biletnikoff... This guy was the ultimate receiving threat. There is not much else you need to say about the guy.
This video is the only video I will embed in this slideshow. The play 24 seconds will forever be engraved in my memory. I was eight years old, living in Norway, where it was very hard to find the Super Bowl televised. It was the first Super Bowl I can specifically remember watching, and this play was the cherry on top for me.
Deserves His Own Slide: Mike Shanahan
He never taped up for a game with the Denver Broncos. He never donned a helmet or shoulder pads in Mile High. He does, however, deserve a special spot on this list for being the greatest Broncos coach of all-time.
He ended his career with the Broncos at 146-95. He led the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl wins.
There is no coach in the NFL that has ever been better at snagging late-round and free agent talent than Shanahan. (Terrell Davis, Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Mark Schlereth, etc.)
No coach has ever posted more wins in a three-year period than this man—46 from 1996-1998.
Favorite quote: "You can't see? It don't matter we just need you in there otherwise they won't believe we are gonna run it."—Talking to Terrell Davis
10: Champ Bailey
UPDATE: Hooray for Champ on electing to stay in Denver for the next four years!! (as of 2/23/11)
A record ten-time Pro Bowl corner back with 48 interceptions and counting. Champ Bailey deserves to be known as one of Denver's all-time great defenders.
Champ made an interception on his first ever play as a Denver Bronco... Talk about an immediate impact player.
He is one of the most feared corners in the league and is also known for his hard tackles on the edge. While his production has dropped in the past few years, he will be Canton-bound when he chooses to retire.
Favorite quote: "I'm like the FAA, all flights closed to my side." (This is my favorite sports quote of all time. He said it right before playing the Patriots in 2008. He preceded to hold Randy Moss to 0 catches in the first half before coming out of the game with a hamstring injury.)
9: Jason Elam
Kicker...in the top 10?
Why, you may ask?
Because no kicker has ever scored more points in the NFL than Jason Elam. (1983 points - Coincidently, the year Elway came to the Broncos). He also is tied for the longest field goal of all time at 63 yards. He won two Super Bowls with the Broncos and completed 99.5 percent of his extra points with the Broncos—an NFL record.
Favorite quote: "It's exactly like golf."
8: Floyd Little
UPDATE: Floyd Little was inducted into the Hall of Fame during 2010.
The seventh leading rusher in NFL history at the time he retired, No. 44, Floyd Little was drafted by the Broncos in 1967, and is considered the Broncos first superstar player.
While he never won a Super Bowl with the team, and he has not made it to Canton, Little helped the Broncos rise from a decade of mediocrity. For that, his jersey number is officially retired.
Favorite Quote: "I've given you the best that I've got. And I'm a better person for it. Thank you for being here with me and for me. I thank God for His favor today, and may God bless us all."
7: Steve Atwater
One of the hardest hitters in the history of football, Steve Atwater played safety for the Denver Broncos where he won back-to-back Super Bowls. He is a member of the 1990s all-decade team as well as an eight-time Pro Bowler.
His defining moment was when he laid out Kansas City running back Christian Okoye, the Nigerian Nightmare (pictured to the left). Known as the hardest runner in the league to bring down, Atwater proved nothing was too hard for him.
Favorite quote: "I was crying, and I remember looking over to the other sideline and thinking to myself, that's my team over there."—On playing the Broncos after being traded to the Jets.
6: Gary Zimmerman
Zimmerman was a five-time first-team All Pro and is a member of the NFL Hall of Frame. Also, he is one of only a few players to be a member of both the 1980s and 1990s All-Decade Team.
Zimmerman was an excellent left tackle for the Denver Broncos. A player who merged the old Elway days with the new Elway days. He protected Elway's blindside for many years.
He started 184 games in the NFL and definitely deserves to be recognized as one of the best in team history.
Favorite quote: "As long as No. 7 is on the field, I'll be there."
5: Randy Gradishar
Randy Gradishar of Ohio State was a linebacker for the Denver Broncos throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and was part of the famous "Orange Crush" defense.
With an impressive 20 interceptions and 2,049 tackles in his career, he was one of the best linebackers of his era.
Favorite quote: "We just started winning, and the fans went nuts, went crazy with excitement and enthusiasm. Painting their houses. Everything was orange and blue."
4: Shannon Sharpe
UPDATE: Shannon Sharpe was inducted into the Hall of Fame during 2011.
The tight end with a loose mouth.
Shannon Sharpe loved to talk, and he could get under anyone's skin. He backed up his talk with his eight Pro Bowl appearances and three Super Bowl championships (two with the Broncos). He is the second all-time leading tight end in total yards in NFL history.
It is expected that Shannon Sharpe will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Favorite quote: "Mr. President. We need the National Guard. We need as many men as you can spare because we are killing the Patriots."
3: Rod Smith
The Broncos' all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Rod Smith is the only undrafted NFL player to rack up more than 10,000 yards receiving.
He won two Super Bowls with the team and went to three Pro Bowls. He was a member of the Broncos organization for 14 years and never played for another team.
Favorite quote: "He's representing from Hawaii. He probably gets some free pineapples out of the deal. Maybe he'll give me one because I like pineapples."
2: Terrell Davis
Inventor of the Mile High Salute. Two-time Super Bowl champion. Super Bowl MVP. League MVP. Member of the 1990s All-Decade team. One of only five backs to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing in a single season. Just say the word and I'll stop...
Terrell Davis' career ended all too early due to a major knee injury, yet he is still considered one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. Imagine if he would have enjoyed an entire career in the NFL.
Davis started his career off with the Denver Broncos by making an amazing tackle on special teams during a preseason game in Tokyo. In poetic fashion, he essentially ended his career by trying to make another.
Favorite quote: "You can be the best person in the league, but if you don't win championships, something's missing."
1: John Elway
The man who needs no introduction. One of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, John Elway.
To stick with a team as long as he did and to lose as many Super Bowls and playoff games as he did, your heart has to go out to a player who was able to end on top...twice. John Elway is the heart and soul of the Broncos organization, and he always will be.
And as a side note, the helicopter play (pictured to the left) he made to get a first down against the Green Bay Packers in the 1997 Super Bowl may be one of the single greatest nonscoring plays in sports history... I don't think that is too bold of a statement, even as a biased Broncos fan.
Favorite quote: "I've experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows. I think to really appreciate anything you have to be at both ends of the spectrum."
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To see where Elway ranks amongst the best NFL QB's of all time, check out my newest article...Let the Numbers Decide: 30 Greatest NFL Quarterbacks of All-Time