The August 1 enshrinement of onetime Denver Broncos offensive lineman Gary Zimmerman in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was much deserved and long overdue. Unfortunately, though, Zimmerman's articulate and heartfelt acceptance speech was preceded by an introduction courtesy of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen that was sheer agony to endure -- clumsy, embarrassing and borderline inappropriate at times. The man best known for declaring, "This -- one's -- for -- John!" while hoisting a Super Bowl trophy on a platform he shared with John Elway should clearly be kept away from a microphone if he has more than four words to say.
When Bowlen approached the podium this time around, his bronzed skin was already glowing with flop sweat. Still, the awkwardness of his remarks came as a shock. He seemed so cowed by being asked to serve as a presenter that he mentioned it three separate times. He called the request "a huge responsibility," admitted that "I am a very nervous fellow up here" and yammered about being "new to this job," as if the day was as much about him as Zimmerman.
Worse, Bowlen complimented Zimmerman in a backhanded fashion, saying, "I have to agree with the selectors that Gary Zimmerman was the John Elway of the offensive line and the second best player to play for me." Yep, instead of simply calling him "one of the best players" on the team, he downgraded him in comparison to Elway (who appeared to be texting on his BlackBerry through much of the ceremony), and left any other Bronco from the era in the unenviable position of being ranked lower on the talent totem pole. When Shannon Sharpe is inducted, will he be referred to as third best? Fourth? And what if Jason Elam is fortunate enough to get in? Will he even make the top ten? And although the "play for me" reference may be true in one respect, it's crap in most others. Zimmerman may have played for Bowlen, but he also played for every Broncos fan. That should have been the most important thing -- to everyone but Bowlen, that is.
Granted, Bowlen suggested that Zimmerman's offensive line performance was "the major reason that we were able to go and win our first Super Bowl in 1997" and talked about his ability to inspire his teammates and persevere through pain. But when it came time for a personal anecdote, the best Bowlen could do was mention a post-Super Bowl bash at which the O-linemen were standing off to the side of the crowd -- and when Bowlen tried to drag them into the merriment, Zimmerman revealed that he'd played his last NFL game and would retire shortly thereafter. "That was the end of my evening," Bowlen said, implying that the most important part of the tale was how Zimmerman had harshed his vibe.
Maybe Bowlen was just emotional. He wrapped up early (thank goodness) because he said he was about to cry, and he gave Zimmerman an overly enthusiastic I-love-you-man! hug like the sloppiest drunk at the company Christmas party. But the egomania at the core of his comments, not to mention the boneheaded decision to rank Zimmerman on the Elway scale, can't be excused by sentimentality. Zimmerman deserved better, and so did the rest of us. -- Michael Roberts
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