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Ratto: Rocky road
Pro Football Hall of Fame bios
Allen, four others elected to Hall of Fame
Marcus Allen and James Lofton react to their election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Saturday, January 25
Elway, Sanders head next year's Hall class
By John Clayton
SAN DIEGO -- It's hard to believe that the Denver Broncos have been to six Super Bowls -- winning two -- and don't have a single player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Though the "Orange" were crushed Saturday by tackle Gary Zimmerman and linebacker Randy Gradishar not making the Hall of Fame, the future looks bright. John Elway is eligible next year and should be a slam dunk.
In many ways, next year's class should take better care of two of the better teams of the 1980s. The Broncos are looking for their first Hall of Famer. The Bill Parcells-coached Giants teams are looking to add Harry Carson to go with his linebacking mate, Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.
Each year between four and six modern day Hall of Famers are selected. Two will be easy -- Elway and former Lions halfback Barry Sanders. It's hard to believe that Sanders has been out of the NFL for four years. Sanders retired so young and would have easily beaten Walter Payton's all-time rushing record had he kept playing.
If there are only going to be four Hall of Famers selected next year, that doesn't leave much room for those who didn't make the cut this year. Once again, Gradishar will be battling Harry Carson of the Giants. Carson made the final six Saturday along with late Giants general manager George Young. Their names will be automatically placed in the final 15.
With Lofton making it, there is a good chance that Art Monk of the Redskins, who was eliminated from the cut down from 15 to 10, should have a good chance. For years, there has been a logjam at the receiver position that was cured when Lynn Swann and John Stallworth of the Steelers made in the past couple of years. Swann and Stallworth took votes away from each other and blocked other qualified candidates from getting votes.
Lofton made it after a five-year wait and three chances in the finals since 2000. Monk has been a finalist the past three years and is atop the list of eligible receivers. He caught 940 passes for 12,271 yards.
This is where backlogs can create problems, though. If the bulk of next year's class is Sanders, Elway, Monk and Carson, there isn't much room for the other candidates. Approximately 313 new players, including Sanders and Elway, are eligible next year.
An interesting dynamic developed this year that is going to negatively impact some of "contributors,'' the coaches, front office executives and owners who have meant so much to this league. Players who may not have been on Super Bowl winners from the 1970s and 1980s are re-emerging and getting consideration that is long overdue.
Bills guard Joe DeLamielleure was voted in with that in mind. He was a great player for a long time, and was making his first appearance in the final 15 after 13 years of eligibility. Defensive ends Claude Humphrey and Elvin Bethea each made their first finals after more than a decade of waiting.
Others from the 1970s and 1980s will be under consideration next season. The backlog will get worse. At some point, Broncos and Vikings left tackle Gary Zimmerman probably will be voted in. He advanced to the final 10 in his first year of eligibility. He was a great technician at the position and is a strong candidate that should make it.
Zimmerman's chance next year might be enhanced by Elway's presence. It might be the year of the Orange Crush. Finally.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com