Ramsey: Bowlen joins big crowd of Broncos hoping for Hall of Fame

August 1, 2014 Updated: August 2, 2014 at 12:51 pm
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Former Denver Broncos offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman, left, stands next to his bronze bust with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and former Broncos quarterback, Hall of Famer John Elway, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2008 in Canton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Pat Bowlen has joined a distinguished and depressingly large collection of Denver Broncos, a group beloved in Colorado, a group unappreciated everywhere else.

Bowlen, the Broncos owner, is another Bronco great struggling to garner enough support to earn entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This group includes linebackers Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson, defensive backs Louis Wright, Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith, defensive lineman Karl Mecklenburg and running back Terrell Davis.

On July 23, John Elway forcefully stated his belief Bowlen belongs in the Hall of Fame, located in Canton, Ohio.

"I think that, at some point in time, should happen," Elway said.

Elway often struggled to speak as he considered Bowlen's accomplishments. Bowlen is Elway's employer and close friend. No. 7 wants Bowlen's bust beside his own at the Hall. That, Elway said, "would be the best thing that could ever happen."

His wish is unlikely to come true. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a tough place to enter, even tougher than the basketball and baseball halls of honor.

Broncos fans with a sense of history are frustrated by the limited number of their heroes honored in Canton. The Kansas City Chiefs, with two trips to the Super Bowl, boast 10 players in the Hall while the Broncos, with seven Super Bowl trips, claim only four.

Part of the problem for the Broncos is there is no clear candidate towering over the rest. Talk to a few Bronco fans, and you will hear at least three different names.

Many say Gradishar, the one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But many other highly-educated fans go with Wright, the elegant cornerback. Others, emphasizing the Broncos consecutive Super Bowl titles, point to Davis.

Gradishar and Davis played a total of 17 seasons. Peyton Manning, on his way to the Hall, begins his 17th season in September. If Gradishar had delivered another three or four strong seasons, he would be in. And if Davis had not suffered a severe knee injury chasing a ball carrier after a Brian Griese interception, he might have gained 15,000 yards in his career.

Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are flashy shows. At the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., a huge throng gathers on the grass to see their heroes honored. In Canton, crowds fill a high school stadium and listen to long, teary speeches.

I attended the 2010 Hall of Fame induction in Canton and watched Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith thank just about everyone he had ever met. His wife, his teammates and his friends wept with joy during this celebration of his distinguished, blessed career.

What we miss during these happy ceremonies is the frustration of the dozens of players who wish they stood in front of the crowds. We miss the anger of thousands of fans. We miss the sadness.

The crusade to place Bowlen in the Hall of Fame is unlikely to succeed. Only 12 NFL owners have reached Canton's halls.

But there is hope. For Bowlen, for Gradishar, for Wright, for Davis and for the rest of the Broncos' stars.

In 2010, Broncos running back Floyd Little ended a long journey. He had retired in 1975 and endured decades of agony, hoping each year to gain entrance to Canton.

The wait ended Aug. 7, 2010. Little stood that night beside Smith and Jerry Rice. He delivered a brief, powerful speech.

"I am still standing!" Little shouted. "No one travels this world alone!"

Maybe someday a few more Broncos will stand beside him.


Twitter: @davidlukeramsey

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