John Elway surveyed the sea of Broncos blue and orange, heard the cheers, and offered his fans a tribute. "To all the Broncos fans out there, thank you for everything," Elway said yesterday, when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. "And a final Mile High Salute is for every one of you out there."
And there were thousands at Fawcett Field to watch Elway, Barry Sanders, Carl Eller and Bob Brown bring the Hall membership to 225. Denver is about 1,100 miles from Canton, but that hardly deterred Broncos fans from making the journey and donning their No. 7 jerseys.
Elway is the first Bronco inducted. And the fans chanted his name, cheered every time he was shown on the scoreboard and then listened intently as Elway's daughter, Jessica, 18, told them how her father taught his children to be tough.
Then Elway took the stage for what seemed like a Broncos home game. "I have to be totally honest, I have never heard that in Ohio before," he joked at the beginning of an emotional speech during which he paid tribute to his late father, Jack, his first coach; the rest of his family; to his city; to his team; and to his teammates.
"For every guy who ever stepped on the field with me, I accept this honor today on behalf of all of you," Elway said. "Thanks for protecting me, catching my passes, defending our goal line, sharing our highs and lows. And thanks for not losing confidence in me when I lined up for a snap as a rookie behind the left guard."
Elway said he was humbled by the company he was keeping, too. "I'll call him the best ever to play the game," he said of Sanders. "I wish I could have played with Bob Brown, and I am glad I didn't have to play against Carl Eller."
Sanders, 36, rushed for more than 1,000 yards in all 10 of his seasons with the Detroit Lions. But at 31, he walked away from the game in 1999 and this weekend became the third-youngest Hall of Fame inductee, behind Gale Sayers and Jim Brown.
Eller retired in 1979 after 16 NFL seasons, all but one with the Minnesota Vikings. A five-time all-pro defensive end who played in six Pro Bowls and four Super Bowls, he made a habit of recovering fumbles, grabbing 23 in his career. Eller, an admitted former substance abuser who became a drug counselor, stressed the importance of education and of serving as a role model in his strong speech.
Brown, a native of nearby Cleveland, made five all-pro teams and six Pro Bowls playing tackle for the Eagles, Rams and Raiders. A ferocious run blocker and pass protector, Brown was nicknamed "Boomer" for his hits.
-- From News Services