|05-21-2007, 04:13 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Broncos, back your 'backers
The Chicago Bears have four linebackers, the New York Giants three, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs two and five NFL teams one in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Broncos have exactly none.
Canton is two Broncos shy of a load.
But if the Broncos' body of work at the position is examined closely, no team in the league has produced more quality linebackers during the past 30 years.
The latest eminent Denver linebacker is gone. It doesn't have to be so, though. Bring back the Broncos 'backer. Since the Broncos' inception in 1960, they've been blessed with gifted - and sometimes weird - linebackers. Wahoo McDaniel, the Oklahoma Choctaw-Chickasaw, arrived in 1961 and started and starred at middle linebacker - and occasionally posed in his football uniform topped by a Native American ceremonial headdress - for three seasons. He led the parade.
In 1965, the Broncos' second draft choice was a University of Illinois linebacker.
Dick Butkus chose the Bears and the NFL over the Broncos of the AFL.
Yet, the Broncos wound up with John Bramlett, a wild and crazy linebacker. He was here for two seasons until becoming a little too wild and crazy. The Broncos didn't draft a linebacker with their first-round pick until 1974. Randy Gradishar became their best all-time linebacker. He should be in the Hall of Fame. Gradishar had more than 100 tackles in each of his final nine seasons. (And there were only 14 regular-season games in three of his pro seasons.)
As a member of the Hall of Fame committee, I tried my hardest to get Gradishar a bust in Canton and did everything but blackmail my colleagues to put him in the final-day balloting once. He barely fell short.
Karl Mecklenburg, the 12th-round draft pick made good, also belongs in Canton. But there hasn't been enough support across the country, and most of the younger voters in the room don't know what he accomplished as a man who played everywhere, and admirably, on the Broncos' defense.
There wasn't a better 3-4 linebacking group than the Broncos' Kiddie Korps from 1975-1978. Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Bob Swenson and Joe Rizzo became a four-headed monster - ask John Madden - but played as one as the Broncos went to the Super Bowl for the first time. Swenson suffered a serious knee injury; Joe Rizzo left in 1980; Gradishar retired after the '83 season; and Jackson became a famous football commentator for ESPN after Super Bowl XXI.
Some of the other special linebackers were Simon Fletcher, switched from defensive end, Jim Ryan, Chip Myrtle (a six-year starter in the 1960s), first-rounder John Mobley, whose career was shut down by a neck injury, and Michael Brooks.
And, of course, Bill Romanowski. "Romo" was a freak of nature and pharmaceuticals, but he was a starter at linebacker for the Broncos for six consecutive seasons, including the two they won the Super Bowl. It will be interesting to see if he is considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame or the Broncos Ring of Fame.
Arguably, Al Wilson, a first-round choice by the Broncos in 1999, was the greatest in the long line of linebackers. He was selected to more Pro Bowls (four) than any of the others. It cannot be argued that any of the others were greater leaders than Wilson. Gradishar and Mecklenburg were quieter. Jackson was louder, and Romanowski was stranger. Wilson was the anchor to the defense physically and emotionally. He was The Man on defense for eight seasons.
I give the overall edge to Gradishar, but only slightly. Wilson's career in Denver was shorter, and his teams never reached the Super Bowl.
I am biased toward Wilson. He was born about 90 miles from where I was born; he was born the same year as my daughter; he and I went to the same university (he was captain of a national championship team); we wound up far away from the state of Tennessee; and his last name and my middle name are Wilson.
Wilson's past few months have been well-documented. He wasn't treated with proper respect by the organization, and his neck injury was devastating.
We hope Al can play again. If he can't, the Broncos should rectify the error of their ways.
Wilson should be allowed to bring the fire back to the belly of the Broncos' defense. The Broncos already have three former linebackers as assistants - Jim Ryan, Rick Dennison and now Keith Burns. Mike Shanahan should add Wilson to the Broncos staff - as a linebackers and leadership assistant. Keep the linebackers tradition alive in Denver.
|05-21-2007, 11:52 AM||#3|
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Topeka, KS
Yep. The HOF means nothing to me. Elway was a no-brainer to get in, but there are so many Broncos throughout history who deserve the honor...