Bron­cos trio closer to Hall

Davis, Lynch, At­wa­ter among Class of 2016 fi­nal­ists for Can­ton in­duc­tion

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala Nicki Jhab­vala: njhab­vala@den­ver­post.com or @Nick­iJhab­vala

Ter­rell Davis, John Lynch and Steve At­wa­ter are one step closer to Can­ton.

The three for­mer Bron­cos are among the 15 mod­ern-era fi­nal­ists for the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016.

With one more “yay” from the Hall of Fame’s 46-per­son se­lec­tion com­mit­tee, they could join the group of four for­mer Bron­cos al­ready in­ducted: for­mer quar­ter­back and cur­rent gen­eral man­ager John El­way (Class of 2004), of­fen­sive tackle Gary Zim­mer­man (2008), run­ning back Floyd Lit­tle (2010) and tight end Shan­non Sharpe (2011).

Davis, the Bron­cos’ all-time lead­ing rusher with 7,607 yards and 60 touch­downs, was a fi­nal­ist for the first time in 2015 and a semi­fi­nal­ist 10 times since re­tir­ing in 2002.

“I felt a lit­tle more en­cour­aged that I would make it at least back to this point,” Davis said. “So, slightly dif­fer­ent from last year, but make no mis­take about it, both times are ones where I can’t help but to smile be­cause it feels like it’s one step closer to ob­vi­ously even­tu­ally be­ing en­shrined.”

In his seven sea­sons, all with the Bron­cos from 1995-2001, Davis was a three-time Pro Bowl and first-team all-pro se­lec­tion, earn­ing two Su­per Bowl ti­tles. His av­er­age of 101.7 yards rush­ing per game (in­clud­ing the post­sea­son) ranks sec­ond to only Hall of Fame run­ning back Jim Brown. In his eight play­off ap­pear­ances, Davis had at least 100 yards rush­ing in seven of them — in­clud­ing Su­per Bowl XXXII, when he had 157 yards and three touch­downs to earn MVP hon­ors. Davis owns an NFL-record 142.5-yard rush­ing av­er­age in the post­sea­son (min­i­mum five games) and owns a Den­ver-record 1,140 ca­reer yards rush­ing in the play­offs, to go with 12 touch­downs.

“I took pride in be­ing at my best when the mo­ment was big,” he said. “That’s one thing I can live with. I don’t know how that com­pares to other play­ers and whether I was the best in the game when I played. I just knew that for what­ever my team needed me to do or what­ever my coaches asked me to do, I think I de­liv­ered.”

At­wa­ter, drafted by the Bron­cos in the first round (No. 20 over­all) in 1989, spent the first 10 of his 11 NFL sea­sons in Den­ver and was voted to eight Pro Bowls, the sec­ond-most of any Bron­cos player.

In 167 ca­reer games, At­wa­ter, a first-time Hall of Fame fi­nal­ist, made 1,356 tack­les (854 solo), 24 in­ter­cep­tions and five sacks. He played in three Su­per Bowls and four con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship games. Af­ter help­ing the Bron­cos win Su­per Bowl ti­tles in 1997 and 1998, At­wa­ter fin­ished his ca­reer with the New York Jets in 1999.

“I was really ex­cited. I’ve never got­ten this far be­fore and it’s really the first time where I could watch it on tele­vi­sion, as well, so it was su­per ex­cit­ing for my fam­ily and I,” At­wa­ter said. “I’ve watched a lot of the guys who have got­ten into the Hall of Fame and some­times it can be a long wait, so I’m happy to be here at this point, and hope­fully, I’ll move on.”

Lynch, a three-time fi­nal­ist, played the fi­nal four (2004-07) of his 15 NFL sea­sons with the Bron­cos af­ter spend­ing the first 11 with the Buc­ca­neers. In 224 ca­reer games, he amassed 1,227 tack­les (789 solo), 13 sacks, 26 in­ter­cep­tions, 100 pass breakups, 16 forced fum­bles and eight fum­ble re­cov­er­ies.

A Pro Bowl se­lec­tion in each sea­son he was with the Bron­cos, Lynch also was the 2006 Bart Starr Award win­ner and Byron “Whizzer” White Award win­ner for his off-the-field con­tri­bu­tions.

“I’m just ex­tremely priv­i­leged,” Lynch said. “You’d hope that the more times you keep bang­ing on the (Hall of Fame) door, even­tu­ally you bust right through.”

Lynch and At­wa­ter are two of only three de­fen­sive play­ers among the 15 fi­nal­ists, the fewest since 1993.

The Class of 2016 will be se­lected Feb. 6, the day be­fore Su­per Bowl 50 is played in Santa Clara, Calif.

Run­ning back Ter­rell Davis helped the Bron­cos win con­sec­u­tive NFL cham­pi­onships with Su­per Bowl vic­to­ries in the 1997 and 1998 sea­sons. Karl Gehring, Den­ver Post file

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