BRONCOS

Ask Mase: Should Emmanuel Sanders be a Ring of Famer?

Sep 7, 2022, 9:52 PM | Updated: 10:00 pm
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders #10 of the Denver Broncos stands on the field as players warm up bef...
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders #10 of the Denver Broncos stands on the field as players warm up before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 25, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

This is a question on the minds of many:

The answer is “yes” … with a “but.”

(Which I reckon is better than “no,” with an “and.”)

Yes, he should be a Ring of Famer. But … his candidacy really can’t be considered until the backlog is handled.

Sanders should be a Ring of Famer. But so should the following:

  • Two-time All-Pro TE Riley Odoms.
  • The Broncos’ all-time interception leader, Steve Foley.
  • Five-time Pro Bowl LB and 2005 first-team All-Pro Al Wilson.
  • Four-time Pro Bowl DL and 1999 first-team All-Pro Trevor Pryce.
  • Two-time first-team All-Pro LT Ryan Clady, who also had four Pro Bowls and — for his work as a Bronco — is step-for-step with Gary Zimmerman as the best left tackle in team history.
  • WR Ed McCaffrey, who, like Sanders, had three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, including a 101-catch campaign. (McCaffrey had his in 2000; Sanders had his in 2014).
  • Two-time Pro Bowl DE and 1986 first-team All-Pro Rulon Jones, whose four double-digit sack seasons — including 11.5 in 1980 as tallied by pro-football-reference.com, before sacks became an official statistic in 1982 — are the third-most in franchise history, tied with Paul Smith and trailing only Von Miller and Simon Fletcher. Smith and Fletcher are Ring of Famers; Miller is a sure-fire bet to make it in his first crack, and could end up being the last Bronco to wear jersey No. 58.
  • 1981 Pro Bowl WR Steve Watson, who ranks sixth in team history in receiving yardage, trailing only Rod Smith, Demaryius Thomas, Shannon Sharpe, Lionel Taylor and McCaffrey.

And then, of course, you have Thomas, who is not yet eligible, having concluded his career after the 2019 season, playing his final game two years and a day before his untimely death last Dec. 9 at age 33.

You also have Gary Kubiak, whose candidacy is based on a unique resume: winning a Super Bowl as a head coach and two more during an 11-season stint as offensive coordinator. He even gets a point or two for his nine seasons as John Elway’s backup QB.

I’ll also make an argument for Joe Collier, the defensive wizard for two decades and architect of the Orange Crush. Long a member of the Ring selection committee, he deserves induction, too.

Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. are also certain to be considered when they become eligible, too. You can’t have a Broncos Ring of Fame without having the “No-Fly Zone” duly represented.

Point being … the Ring of Fame has some serious catching up to do. All of the above players meet standards that have generally been acceptable for induction.

Sanders should be in. But for better or for worse, he’ll have to stand in line.


A few moments about Sanders that I will always remember:

HE WAS THERE WHEN ’18’ NEEDED HIM MOST

Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. First Energy Stadium. Cleveland, Ohio, 44114.

Denver trailed, 23-20. About to lose to the Browns. The Browns! An undefeated start appeared to be going up in orange and brown flames. The offense continued to struggle; Peyton Manning’s previous throw ended in a pick-6.

And then …

Peyton Manning turned back the clock and uncorked a deep strike down the right sideline. Sanders didn’t have separation … but he had a window through which Manning squeezed through a pass.

Manning’s pass provided the first 25 yards. Sanders’ sprint gave the Broncos 50 more. The game would go to overtime, but Denver would never trail again, escaping with a 26-23 win and a 6-0 start.

HE GAVE US THE “WORLD OF SUCK”

Well, Vic Fangio actually uttered the words first. But it was Sanders who thrust them into the public sphere at Lambeau Field three years ago.

Denver was 0-3 after a 27-16 loss to Green Bay that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Joe Flacco threw an interception that saw Darnell Savage procure the football with literally no Bronco within eight yards. Sanders got shaken up trying to help make the tackle.

The game took place in a steady rain. Misery permeated the locker room. This was the Broncos’ seventh consecutive defeat dating back to the previous season. And that streak came not long after an 8-game skid in 2017 that was the longest endured by the club in a half-century.

And then Sanders unleashed the quote that best defined a sorry six-season era of Broncos football:

Sanders always had a habit of getting right to the point. And when he spoke again that week, he doubled down.

“Do I regret it? No, I don’t regret it. Because that’s where we are. We are living in a world of suck,” he said.

It got worse. The Broncos lost to the Jaguars the following week. That was their 24th loss in 32 games. Less than a month later, Sanders was a San Francisco 49er, rescued back into the relevance in which he would remain for the rest of his career.

REMEMBER SANDERS-VS.-D-MAC?

First of all, to see Darren “D-Mac” McKee and Sanders hug in the Broncos media room Wednesday was to receive another reminder time heals wounds and bygones become bygones.

But their lengthy on-air, in-studio conversation in March 2019 didn’t begin with the warm feelings in evidence this week.

McKee: “Why are you here?”

Sanders: “I mean, I’m here because I want to know, like, what’s your problem? I feel like everybody wants to know, like, what’s your problem with me? Like, there was a situation where you sit back and said, ‘The Broncos should cut Emmanuel Sanders.’ You said that I’m a cancer in the locker room.”

McKee: “I did not say that.”

Sanders: “You definitely said that I was a cancer in the locker room.”

… after some cross-talk and back-and-forth:

McKee: “I definitely have not.”

Sanders: “Have you ever said that the Broncos should cut Emmanuel Sanders?”

McKee: “I could have said that.”

Sanders: “And you said something about my personality or the way that I carry myself that the reason why — it’s not my play on the field.”

McKee: “It’s not your play on the field.”

Sanders: “No, you said it was because of who I am as a person that they should cut me.”

McKee: “That is correct.”

And it was on, for an hour:

HE HAD A THANKFUL SIDE

You could see that in his remarks Wednesday, when he expressed gratitude to the teams for which he played, the coaches that molded him, the teammates who helped make his success possible … and to a higher power in which he believes.

But it also manifested itself in small ways, as well. I recall one moment when I worked for the Broncos in 2016. I stood in the team cafeteria, grabbing an iced tea. He darted up to me to say, “Thank you!”

For what?

It was because I included him in a ranking of the top-5 Broncos wide receivers — at No. 5. I was stunned that he’d seen it, let alone that he saw fit to appreciate it.

Sanders let you see the jagged edge to him, as well. Good or bad, you always knew where you stood with No. 10. One can always appreciate that.

He was his authentic self. And that meant he showed his frustration. He struggled with the avalanche of defeats in the years following Super Bowl 50. Frankly, Sanders didn’t take them with a good-natured shrug. Furthermore, he often didn’t want to talk as the losses accumulated … and he wasn’t reticent about saying so. But who could blame him?

As Sanders said three years ago, “I’m not going to sit up here and be fake with you guys and lie to you guys and say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re 0-3 and I’m having the time of my life.’ Like, who does that?”

Not Sanders.

He’s headed for the television business now. If he maintains the same blunt candor he displayed as a player, he will flourish.


Got a question? Submit it here to be a part of the next edition of the “Ask Mase” mailbag, dropping weekly at DenverFan.com!

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Ask Mase: Should Emmanuel Sanders be a Ring of Famer?