DENVER — Five years after his retirement, Tom Nalen's penchant for anonymity finally is breaking down.
Nalen, the five-time Pro Bowl center for the Denver Broncos who shied away from reporters and seldom spoke publicly during a 15-year career that ended in 2009, has been thrust front and center as the latest inductee into the Broncos' Ring of Fame.
And like it or not, he was celebrated as one of 24 honorees with sculpted bronze pillars in the Broncos' Ring of Fame plaza at Sports Authority Field that was unveiled in ceremonies Friday night. The pantheon of Broncos greats supplements the ring around the stadium bearing their names, putting faces and individual stories on embossed 8-foot pillars within sight of fans walking into the stadium. The plaza will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and remain lighted at night.
"I think it helps us remember the past, the history of the Broncos and as one who is in there, it's an honor," said John Elway, the Broncos' Hall of Fame quarterback who now serves as the team's chief executive of football operations. "The older guys, we're the foundation that this franchise was built on as far as the players are concerned. Plus, with the unveiling of these statutes, to me, it's a tribute to (owner) Pat Bowlen and what he's done in the 30 years that he's been here. For him to do this, it's truly an honor. "
In a departure from the code of silence he followed as a player, Nalen, a contemporary of Elway who was a member of two Super Bowl-winning team, said he's looking forward to addressing the crowd publicly following the formal induction ceremonies at halftime of Sunday's game.
"I don't think that will be very difficult," Nalen said. "It will be brief. It shouldn't be a problem. I don't have a problem speaking in front of people. I just felt in my career, it didn't really serve a purpose for me to promote myself, to say dumb things that may come back to haunt me. To say dumb things about other players and other teams. I didn't really see a point in that."
Elway, though, had no problem in piping up and making clear just how important Nalen was to the Broncos' consecutive Super Bowl runs in 1997-98.
"He was the best center that I ever played with and I think one of the top two or three centers to ever play the game," Elway said. "He was a guy who was tough, athletic, physical and very smart. He was a little undersized but he had the strength to stuff the big guys and the quickness to get around them.
"It's a very well deserved honor for Tommy and hopefully the first of many for him."
Nalen said he viewed his induction into the Ring of Fame as a pinnacle in his professional football career.
"It's the best honor I could get," he said. "It's your team, the people that know you, who know how you played football and how you carried yourself, and they decided you were good enough to be in this select group. So, to me it's the highest honor you can get as a football player."