Dec 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; General view of pillars of former Denver Broncos players at the Ring of Fame at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The old adage “better late than never” applies to the newest members of the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.
Gene Mingo, Rick Upchurch and Dan Reeves will finally receive the honor they should have gotten a long time ago. The news was announced by the Broncos in May. They will get inducted at halftime of Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs and it will be a special moment for them, their families, the fans and the Broncos.
One could make the argument that the Broncos Ring of Fame was incomplete without all three, but especially with Upchurch and Reeves mysteriously absent. But that is arguing over semantics since Pat Bowlen and the other members of the committee who determine the Ring of Fame finally came to their senses.
Mingo was an original member of the Broncos. He paved the way for black players in the NFL who followed. He was the first African-American placekicker drafted in the NFL.
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Mingo also was a running back and punt returner. That’s where Mingo’s feats of history continue. He had the first punt return for a touchdown in AFL history.
He is the fourth original Bronco to be inducted into the Ring of Fame, joining Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin, Lionel Taylor and Frank Tripucka.
Mingo was the Broncos legend who announced the second-round selection of receiver Cody Latimer at the NFL draft.
Upchurch is one of the greatest Broncos of all-time.
Upchurch spent his entire nine-year career in Denver as a receiver/special teams returner and was named a first-team 1970s NFL All-Decade selection by the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee. He also earned second-team 1980s All-NFL Decade honors as a kick returner. The four-time Pro Bowler and five-time Associated Press All-Pro is also a Colorado Sports Hall of Famer.
At the time of his retirement, Upchurch’s eight career punt returns for touchdowns were tied for the most in NFL history. That number still ranks first in Broncos history. Upchurch should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but that’s a topic for another day.
Jan 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos fans in the grandstands against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Reeves is the first coach to be inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame, and just the second non-player to earn that distinction. He joins former owner Gerald H. Phipps, who was inducted in 1985.
Reeves coached the Broncos from 1981-92 and compiled a 110-73-1 record in his 12 seasons in Denver. During that span, he led the team to a franchise-best five division titles and three Super Bowl appearances. All three came in a four-year span from 1986 to 1989. His 110 regular-season wins and seven playoff victories each rank second in Broncos history behind former head coach Mike Shanahan.
Reeves’ teams finished with a losing record just twice, one of which came during the strike-shortened 1982 season.
As the numbers show, how it took this long for Upchurch and Reeves, and to a lesser extent Mingo, to get inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame is a stain on the honor.
It should have never taken this long.
Kudos to Bowlen and the committee for finally getting over whatever it was that held this up for so many years. When the committee announces honorees in the future, members of the media and fans won’t be forced to say, “Yeah, but what about Upchurch and Reeves? You can’t have a complete Broncos Ring of Fame without those guys in it.”
When it comes to the Broncos, that announcement is one of the best in the organization’s history. Without Upchurch and Reeves, the Broncos don’t become the organization they were or are today. Three of the most important Broncos in history get the honor they deserve.
As the old adage goes, “better late than never.”
Hopefully, next year we can celebrate Simon Fletcher finally getting that honor.
Jan 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Confetti falls as Denver Broncos fans in the grandstands celebrate the victory over the New England Patriots during the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports